Teachers across Oregon — including those in Bend-La Pine Schools — planned a mass walkout from schools May 8 in a plea to the Legislature for more education funding. But now Bend-La Pine teachers are saying they won’t walk out and instead are holding an after-school rally that same day with the same intent.

There were several reasons behind the Bend-La Pine teachers union not participating in the walkout, including not wanting to extend the school year into an extra week and wanting to pay attention to families’ needs, said union president Janelle Rebick. The union also wanted to avoid having teachers and classified staff miss a day of pay, she said.

“We were trying to be sensitive of the fact that if we weren’t there that day, they would lose pay,” Rebick said. “That would be hugely impactful … especially if (they live in) a two-teacher household.”

According to the Oregon Education Association, the May 8 walkout is in response to large class sizes, low graduation rates — only two states have worse graduation rates, according to the organization — not enough librarians, counselors and nurses in schools and other issues tied to a lack of statewide education funding. A 2018 Oregon Department of Education study said the state currently under-funds education by about $1.96 billion.

Gov. Kate Brown wants to raise nearly $2 billion for education in the 2019-21 biennium, and lawmakers are considering a number of proposals to raise the money. But such proposals have already seen pushback from many Republicans and some in the business community.

After students are dismissed May 8 — a shortened school day like every Wednesday — teachers wearing red and holding signs asking legislators to fully fund schools will gather at various intersections and areas throughout Bend and La Pine. Rebick said teachers would be gathered by Bend High School, at the Les Schwab Amphitheater, on Newport Avenue and more.

At 2:45 that afternoon, Rebick said, teachers will gather in front of the Bend-La Pine Schools district office downtown, where a variety of speakers will talk about the importance of Oregon budgeting more money for education. Rebick said she will be one of the speakers, along with Bend-La Pine Superintendent Shay Mikalson, a Bend-La Pine school board member, current and former students and a classified union member. The classified union represents nonteacher school employees, such as bus drivers, maintenance workers, secretaries and more. After the speeches, the group will march around downtown Bend.

According to Rebick, a similar, smaller-scale event will be held at La Pine Elementary School’s playground at the same time so the La Pine and Sunriver communities can participate. Jim Boen, Bend-La Pine’s executive director of south county and middle school programs, will speak there along with school board members.

Families and community members are invited to join school staff and teachers at both events, Rebick said. She also encouraged people to contact their state legislators and ask them to support more education funding.

Andy High, Bend-La Pine School Board’s chairman, said he was happy to collaborate with the teacher’s union and school district to push for education funding without canceling class.

“I’m excited that we’re going to be able to work together about fully funding education collectively, without a walkout or disrupting our education,” he said. “I think that’s critical, that we’re not putting parents or students in a tough choice.”

The Oregonian reported that some school districts in the Portland area, including Portland Public Schools, Gresham-Barlow and North Clackamas, have already canceled class on May 8 because of the walkout, and either added a day to the end of the school year or decided to hold class on a day that students previously had off.

Rebick said because of Bend-La Pine’s five snow days from the heavy snowstorm in late February and early March, the last day of school for students is currently a Friday. If teachers walked out May 8, that final day would be a Monday, which the union felt “wouldn’t be super popular” with families or staff, she said.

John Larson, the Oregon Education Association’s president and a Hermiston high school English teacher, said the statewide teacher’s union supports Bend teachers’ alternative plan.

“We’re so excited about the May 8th activities in Bend in support of Bend-La Pine students,” he wrote in an email.

If the Legislature doesn’t pass sufficient school funding during the current session, a teacher walkout in the fall is still a possibility, Rebick warned.

But for now, she said she was happy to collaborate with administrators and school board members to make a point to Salem.

“It’s not just teachers saying, ‘We need this,’” she said. “We’re all saying, ‘We need smaller class sizes and mental health support, and we can’t have those if we don’t have better funding.’”

A letter emailed to the over 2,000 Bend-La Pine staff members confirmed that all six board members and various union leaders and district administrators were in support of the May 8 rally.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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