Teachers across Columbia County and the State of Oregon are taking their passion for children from the classroom to the political arena to support additional funding for education.
The St. Helens Education Association, the association representing the St. Helens Public School teachers, plan to join a statewide teacher action on May 8 in an effort to demonstrate their support for adequate school funding.
The participating local teachers plan to march between 2 and 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8, from the St. Helens High School tennis courts to Lewis and Clark Elementary School.
The following is a conversation with St. Helens Education Association President Keith Meeuwsen about the teachers concerns.
The Chronicle: Briefly tell us what the impact is now and could be in the future with the lack of school funding in your school district?
Meeuwsen: Our schools have faced a budget crisis for years, this is finally coming to a head and if you had been at the school board meeting last week you would have seen a crisis in our schools according to the staff at Lewis and Clark. Even the principal says he has been begging for help. At that school there has been a lot of disrupted learning especially in the k-2 area. They had a list of needs so kids there can get the support and help they need to achieve and it all boils down to dollars and cents.
One need was for additional counseling, something kids today need more and more as society has become more and more stressed.. Here at the high school when I started 33 years ago we had 4 counselors, today we have 2. We have more kids with more issues and less support! Our schools need help. Our textbooks for health are from the 1990's.
We have cut in every area, librarians, custodians, support staff, music, art, the list is way too long and the lack of investment in our schools for the past 30 years is noticeable. It is time to work back to at least where we were in the 80s. Think of 8 years ago. We cut and cut at this district. Very little of those cuts have been returned. Now is the time.
The Chronicle: What is the propose of the teacher walkout and what do they hope to accomplish?
Meeuwsen: We want to be a part of the statewide movement to move the needle on school funding and give kids the education they need and deserve. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make real change to school funding and we want to do our part. We also want to march through town and hope that members of the community come and join us in supporting kids and their education.
Another reason for the march through town is to show the state that our community cares too, just like many other communities in the state. This is a giant moment for education and we want to be a part of it because it matters so much.
On Wednesday, May 1, members of the Rainier Education Association (REA), the union that represents public school teachers in Rainier, rallied in front of Rainier City Hall. The association plans an additional rally at 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7, at the Lewis and Clark Bridge and plan to join teachers statewide on May 8 seeking additional classroom funding.
“This is too important to only talk about on one day,” Jessica Fawcett and Emily Collins, the REA co-presidents, told The Chief. “It is our duty to support students and their families by raising our voices and public awareness of the current situation in schools.”
Fawcett and Collins said Oregon schools have been inadequately funded for decades.
“Students and staff do without on a regular basis,” they said. “Teachers have done so much with so little for so long we are now expected to work miracles with close to nothing. In the end, we try to prepare students to be solid citizens with old textbooks, minimal technology, broken chairs and supplies we have bought ourselves in buildings that are in a constant need of repair while trying to teach over the rumbling of empty stomaches.”
Clatskanie Education Association Co-President Lucius Jones said the CEA wants the community to better understand the school funding crisis.
“The community needs to know that we are doing this on behalf of the students in our community,” he said “The students deserve to be fairy funded. What we have done up to now has not been making a difference, so this is what we believe is our next step.”
Jones said the CEA teachers will leave the school on Wednesday afternoon, May 8, and walk to the stop light in downtown Clatskanie to rally for support of improved classroom funding.
“We focus on the positive and what we can do for students,” Jones said. “We are now are focusing on lawmakers. Our school district and our kids deserve more and that is exactly what this is about.”
Clatskanie School Superintendent Cathy Hurowitz said the District and Clatskanie School Board support the teachers’ efforts.
“We have early class dismissal on Mondays, but we are switching the next early out to Wednesday, May 8, so that teachers have an opportunity to support full school funding for our schools,” she said. “Students are not missing any instruction times. We are just shifting the early out day. Many schools are closing and taking really needed instructional time. We don’t want to take away that time, but we still want to support the funding.”
Follow this developing story online at sthelenschronicle.com and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.