COOS COUNTY — A crowd of red-clad educators swarmed the corners of Newmark and Broadway on Wednesday in support of House Bill 2019.
The bill, also known as the Student Success Act, would bring an additional $2 billion to Oregon schools across the state if approved by the legislature.
Demonstrators gather Thursday at the corner of Newmark Avenue and Broadway Avenue in North Bend to show support the Student Success Act, which…
Hoping to get their enthusiasm for the bill noticed in Salem, the Stand Up for Students Down at the Corner took place in cities throughout the state. On Wednesday, local supporters were made up of teachers from Coos Bay, North Bend, and Coquille school districts. Many held signs, which encouraged passing cars to honk in support, which was done with enthusiasm.
“The bill is a good start,” said Emily Parkhurst during the energetic Stand Up, a school nurse for the Coos Bay School District. “Of course, it’s just proposed right now. I’d love to see it officially put in place.”
For Parkhurst, she sees the bill as an opportunity to provide better nursing care for students. Right now, the Coos Bay School District has 2.8 school nurses, which is below the recommended ratio of 5 school nurses.
“If we don’t get this $2 billion, which sounds like a lot but it goes to the whole state, we will be right where we are and that is not enough for our students,” she said.
State Senator Arnie Roblan pointed out that though House Bill 2019 has been in the works for just over a year, the need for it began in 1990 when Ballot Measure 5 was passed and moved education funding away from property taxes.
“Since that time, we’re between $3 and $4 billion short to meet the required amount to run our schools,” he said, adding that during the budget shortfall there have been numerous conversations to build up appropriate levels of funding for Oregon schools.
Adding to the shortfall was a decreased corporate tax. Back in the ‘90s, money from corporations made up 16 percent of the state’s general fund. Now it’s six percent.
“So there’s been a shift away from corporations to the general public through those years,” Roblan explained.
A year ago, the senate president and speaker of the house decided to put together a joint committee to go around the state and talk with people to collect information for the transportation package. It was so successful in coming up with a plan to raise revenue and ensure that roads and bridges get fixed over a ten to fifteen year period that state officials decided to copy the method to fix education.
“So the question was, could a similar process be done with education?” Roblan remembered. “They believed it could, but it was more complex.”
Oregon has 197 school districts and 17 Education Service Districts, with a new emphasis on early childhood education. To better understand the needs of these districts, the state put together a committee of 14 people who went to 55 schools, traveling nearly 3,000 miles.
“That was an amazing experience for us,” Roblan said, having been part of the committee. “We had some workgroups involved at the same time asking how to spend the money.”
During that school tour, which made stops at Coquille, Reedsport, Coos Bay and North Bend, the group heard from students and businesses on concerns and needs. One of the challenges voiced came from elementary teachers who said children coming into school are more disruptive now than ever before. When a child has an issue, or outburst, the rest of the class is cleared until the child is back under control.
“We did a bill for the room clears, working with special needs, and it’s moving through the system,” Roblan said of the issue specifically. “We are trying to figure out how to help kids get ready for school to prevent that from happening in the future, to removing the kids rather than removing everyone else.”
Kindergarten teacher at Madison School, Mary-Margaret Stockert, navigates her day of teaching around the classroom clear-outs. She hopes that if House Bill 2019 is approved, the Coos Bay School District will be able to afford smaller class sizes and a teacher’s assistant, both of which would cut down on classroom disruptions.
“There are children who lose their temper so much or get frustrated that they throw things,” she said. “Last week, I had 500 books thrown on the floor because one student got frustrated. He wasn’t throwing them at people, but children shove chairs, tables, throw hard things when they get mad. At that point, we get the children out of the way so they don’t get hurt.”
Another way to help reduce these classroom disturbances, according to Stockert, is having the money to bring on more school counselors. She remembered when Madison School had one counselor, but had to share them with Blossom Gulch School.
“You can’t serve 1,000 children as a therapist,” she said. “The important thing is not to blame anybody though. People like to blame pre-school, parents, teachers for problems but the fact is Oregon schools have been underfunded for 30 years and families are struggling. We need to pull together and help each other and in the long run be better off for it.”
Though House Bill 2019 won’t be voted on until the end of the month, Roblan said if it is approved with the required 18 votes it would take up to a year and a half before the revenue package is worked out and implemented.
“If we pass the bill, there is no emergency clause so it won’t take effect until January,” he said.
Right now, the revenue subcommittee has presented three plans for the bill.
“Each one has its own nuance,” Roblan said. “There is a different rate on charging businesses and percentages. It gets complex quickly. It also has another portion that reduces income tax since we’re bringing in more revenue from businesses.”
As for the Stand Up action taken by teachers and student supporters this week, Roblan said it is a way of showing that the legislature listened to them.
“We have amazingly dedicated teachers trying to do their best with the resources they have,” he said. “We heard consistently from the 197 school districts that each one believes they are unique in geography, what needs improvement, so they wanted to make sure part of this bill also gave them the option to develop their own plans.”
For Coos Bay Schools Library Media Clerk Teri Jones, she saw the Stand Up for the bill as exciting.
“I love that we have so many groups coming together for education, not only certified and classified unions, but administrative support,” she said. “It’s exciting to see people coming together saying it’s time to fund education. It gives you hope. It is time.”