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A Message From The Superintendent April 15, 2023

To the Woodburn community:

As you are likely aware, the Woodburn Education Association (WEA), which represents Woodburn School District teachers, has officially notified the School Board of its intention to strike on Monday, April 24. This is an incredibly difficult position for our school district, and there is no clear best option. 

During Tuesday’s board meeting, in letters and in person, the educators of Woodburn described the great financial and personal hardships they are experiencing. They put their time, energy, heart and lives into teaching and caring for our community’s kids, and they deserve the things they are asking for. They deserve to be fairly compensated and they deserve to have manageable class loads. They deserve respect from the community; they deserve dignity.

However, if the State of Oregon does not intervene, as a district we cannot meet the WEA’s requirements without moving into a fatal financial situation. Oregon has consistently underfunded public schools for more than 30 years, regardless of the leadership in Salem. They continue to pass legislation with unfunded mandates, but when it comes to funding districts, they have been unwilling and unable to make any meaningful change.

At the end of the day Woodburn School District, like every organization, is constrained by how much money we have. Unlike private companies, we cannot find new revenue sources or sell off assets. We only have the amount of money provided to us by the Oregon State Legislature, and if we agree to the WEA’s current demands, Woodburn School District will experience significant staffing cuts to avoid a bankrupt bottom line in the next two school years. 

A bankrupt school district destroys a community. It creates problems that take years or even decades to resolve. I have been an Oregon educator for 30 years now, and one thing has always been the same: our state’s failure to adequately fund its K-12 schools. I deeply hope that our government can intervene, properly budget the funds they do receive, and get us required, stable funding so we can meet the demands of our educators.

A teacher’s strike is a massive disruption. Some of the ramifications include providing meals for the vast majority of our students who rely on us for food security, and providing childcare so that parents can continue working. 

The School Board and district leadership are working with community partners on the answers to these questions. Even in the event of a strike, we will continue to feed Woodburn children regardless of whether or not we are reimbursed by the State of Oregon or the federal government of the United States. We will also, in partnership with local nonprofits and faith organizations, coordinate and offer as much childcare as possible.

The major question this weekend is whether or not we will “open” schools. Historically, during strikes, school districts sometimes try to operate schools in person using substitute teachers. That is not possible in this educational environment.

We have considered offering remote instruction to our students because remaining technically open offers some advantages. The federal government will reimburse us for the meals we serve to students, and we can continue to pay more than 300 classified staff members. If schools are “open,” even though students will not come to the schools, cafeteria workers, secretaries, maintenance, educational assistants and more would go to work preparing and delivering meals, assisting with community-based childcare efforts, keeping campuses safe, and offering cursory online lessons so that we meet the state’s instructional day requirement for meal reimbursement. 

But we cannot truly educate and care for our students without ALL our staff. It requires everyone — our teachers, nutritional workers, principals, custodians, secretaries, coaches, tech staff and so many more — to give our students safe places to learn, grow and become the people they want to be. 

If we officially close our schools, we will work with our community partners to provide food and childcare to the greatest extent possible. In either situation, district leadership will begin sending regular updates to Woodburn families starting Wednesday night. We will share as much as possible about the negotiations, plus information and resources as they become available. These emails may be very short or in-depth, depending on how much we can share, but we want to keep lines of communication open with families. 

On Friday, April 21, schools will be in session for half-day and students will be released early so plans for the possible strike on Monday, April 24 can be implemented if necessary. School principals will share dismissal times and transportation information with parents by Wednesday, April 19. 

We are continuing to negotiate in sincere, good faith with WEA with the hope of averting a strike so our community will not have to once again go through the frustration and pain of closed schools. We are working with community partners to coordinate as much support and logistical care as we can for Woodburn families in the event of a strike. 

Above all, it is my deepest hope that the State of Oregon will intervene on behalf of one of Oregon’s most special yet vulnerable school districts — and, indeed, all K-12 school districts — to avert long-term academic, emotional and financial destruction.

Most sincerely,

Dr. Joe Morelock, Superintendent