The Bend Bulletin – Kent Wieber
We all know that PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) unfunded liabilities have led to school district cutbacks around the state and we face an uncertainty that PERS will be solvent for many of its public employees. An article by the Oregon Education Association president mentioned this and also highlighted what many of us teachers believe: that we are undercompensated.
One solution to fixing PERS is to target hardworking Oregonians who happen to work for a corporation. In this view, these corporations are the reason school districts suffer cutbacks and teachers may not have the PERS we hope for. If they could be taxed at a higher rate, our problems would be solved. This is strange, considering PERS hasn’t always been in a state of crisis, even though the corporate tax rate was the same as now. Moreover, Oregon’s economy is red-hot right now and yet PERS will be about $23 billion short in two years, even though its investment fund is now making 12.5 percent.
What is this preoccupation to demonize corporations? As teachers, we don’t like it when the public blames us for low graduation rates, poor student behavior and attendance. Much of that can be linked to family situations or even a culture that embraces behaviors contrary to healthy bodies and minds.
Yet we like to blame corporations for our financial predicament. These corporations are filled with hard workers who pay taxes and support families. Many of the corporations are generous financial supporters of school districts. I am hoping that my union would cease and desist this attack on hardworking Oregonians.
The aforementioned article seemed to blame state Rep. Knute Buehler, a gubernatorial candidate, for the PERS crisis. It insinuated that Mr. Buehler would be taking away teachers’ future retirement. This is strange, considering Republicans have proposed more money for education the past two budget cycles than the Democrats. Moreover, Buehler voted for Ballot Measure 98 in 2016 and voted to fund it while Gov. Kate Brown did not. This was the measure to improve college readiness and graduation rates. I spoke with Buehler. He thinks something can be done so that teachers and school districts don’t have to cover these huge amounts in the future therefore securing what is promised for educator pensions. He wants to stabilize PERS so that school districts can actually use the extra money that the state budgets.
The article goes on to say that Oregon has steadily taken away resources for schools and educators as if to blame Buehler and the Republicans. When I ask my liberal friends about the lack of education funding by Democrats compared with Republicans, they typically respond by saying that the budget would not balance under the Republican plan and would have caused cuts somewhere else. Perhaps, but not in education. Why does our union give so many dollars to Democrats if they aren’t going to properly fund education?
Moreover, many of us educators who lean right of center on the political spectrum wouldn’t mind a tax hike if we could trust that our taxes actually went to help teachers, police and fire or funding education. So much is wasted or even fraudulent like the Cover Oregon fiasco. Yet it sounds like Democrats would rather keep that going than take care of teachers and students with a higher education budget.
I suspect that the Oregon Education Association article was an early attempt to sway the gubernatorial election. There are a significant number of teachers who see that 30 years of Democratic leadership in our state plus the past eight Democratic-led legislatures has not solved this crisis. It is time for bold new thinking and a vote for those who support a higher education budget.
— Kent Wieber has taught in Bend-La Pine Schools for 20 years.