Is PERS the Problem in Oregon School Funding?

One of the things I know about being an advocate for kids and schools is that I am always learning and always finding new gaps in my knowledge that I need to fill.  When I started teaching my educational equity courses, I had no idea that I’d also become well versed in an understanding of how public schools are funded, federal and local tax systems,  local political structures and figures, etc.

The current area of my reading and knowledge gathering is on teacher’s unions and the media’s scapegoating of teachers in the ongoing discussion of school reform.  So, when I stumbled upon this article about Governor Kitzhaber’s recent speech declaring a need for PERS reform to fix schools, my ears perked up and a flow of questions began to form.  I still don’t have all of the answers, but I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask the questions even if I don’t know where they’ll lead.  That’s part of learning.

Please take a look at this recent article about Kitzhaber’s plan, and let me know what you think.  If you have additional knowledge about this retirement system and the governor’s ideas, I’d love to hear them.

The one quote that really bothers me is the following:

“For that extraordinary increase in investment [increases in the amount being paid in to PERS],” Kitzhaber said, “we will not see lower class sizes, we will not add days to the school year, we will not be able to buy back programs like art and like vocational studies.”

Is the purpose of PERS to lower class size or to add school days to the academic calendar?  Is the purpose of the union to protect art and vocational studies?  No.  It’s not.  It is to protect teachers for a variety of reasons and to make sure they receive benefits to compensate their public service.  Maybe there are reforms that make sense, but is should a reform of teacher benefits really be at the forefront of discussions about how to adequately fund our public schools?

Again, I’d love to hear more thoughts on this, dear students and readers.




5 thoughts on “Is PERS the Problem in Oregon School Funding?

  1. PERS is such a hot issue for teachers right now. I recently interviewed a high school teacher for my ED 420 class, and he talked a lot about PERS, even though none of my questions directly touched on the subject.

    He was generally infuriated about the way that teachers have been perceived, especially with regards to being given “too many benefits.” I had set up the interview so that he could talk about the way that policies have affected students, but he focused almost entirely the way policies and mindsets have affected him in his job. He is so furious with the current PERS battle that he didn’t even consider how my Race to the Top questions could be related to his students.

    In short, having this kind of hostile backdrop has limited his ability to put the student first.

    In the end, teaching is a means to an end just like any other job. The problem is, our students still get caught in the cross-fire of these battles.

    I don’t know what the answer is to the PERS question, but I know that the needs of the teachers need to be considered in tandem with the needs of the students. Sometimes, their needs are pretty darn compatible.

  2. So interesting, Ashley! It sounds like this teacher’s experience is that there are a lot of things out of balance in schools today. I can’t help but think that proposing cuts to teacher benefits as a way to bail out struggling public school budgets isn’t a good idea — what the teacher said about hostility makes a lot of sense. It would be difficult to feel respected in this kind of situation…

  3. Zapoura,

    I can’t help but wonder about the way the economy has changed in the last 30 years. My mother-in-law is the only person that I know that has a company paid pension. She has been working for Franz, and through union negotiations she has a pension. Every other single person that I know and every job that I have ever worked doesn’t offer a company paid pension. In fact, when I first heard that people get money from their company after they retire, I was shocked. A 401k contribution I can understand but the nature of private enterprise has changed from (at least) the 90’s. Aside from my mother-in-law people don’t work for the same company for 30+ years.

    That makes me wonder about the dichotomy of public service vs. private. I am absolutely in the “reward people for public service” camp. I think that this change in retirement money in our society has greatly affected the conversation because people like me, and younger, can’t relate to a job paying you after your retire. It is a foreign concept and the further private industry takes the approach perpetuating the idea of “take care of yourself for retirement” the more the public servants get the shaft. Aside, of course from politicians. I assume the congressional retirement payments won’t be affected?

    Interesting subject.


    • That is a very interesting comparison of the private market to the public sector, and how it’s changed over time. Both my mom and my grandmother worked (or works, as in my mother’s case) for Kaiser as nurses, and the same shift has been seen there.

      For example, my mom gets full health care coverage while she works, but when she retires, she’ll have to pay for coverage until she’s 65, when Kaiser will cover her again. My grandmother, on the other hand, got full coverage after she retired, no matter her age. And in case anyone’s interested, doctors still get covered for free when they retire, and don’t have to wait till they are 65.

      And of course the congressional payments won’t get stopped. They get paid to act like 5 years olds having a strop about not getting their own way, why would they care about fairness?

  4. Zapoura,

    PERS is a very sensitive and interesting issue to talk about. I actually didn’t know what PERS is until after I read the article. It’s hard for me to take a side, because the teachers are not getting what they deserved, but public schools are also suffering from the lack of funding. I have thought of proposing the common idea of increasing public taxes, but again, due to the down slide of our economy, it’s understandable that people would be up-in-arms against this measure. So we end up with this “tug of war” situation where nothing can be solved. Maybe it’s time for every parent to be more responsible for their children? Moreover, I support Gov. Kitzhaber’s one of the three specific changes that he wants to bring to the Legislature: “eliminating a tax benefit for out-of-state retirees who don’t pay taxes here.” I personally don’t think that these people should become the burdens of our state, and there’s no law that I know of that can be used to ask these people’s previously resided states for money. So let them be responsible for themselves! Thanks!

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