Portland Public Schools strike closes schools Wednesday

Portland Public Schools teachers rejected the district’s last offer and began a strike that closed all 81 schools.

After a 10-month standoff, the first strike in district history, district and union leaders were unable to agree on even basic budgets. It is not known how long the strike will last, although sources say it could range from three days to two weeks. If teachers do not return to work by mid-November, they will lose their health insurance for December.

There’s at least a $200 million yawning gap between what teachers can find and what the district says it can handle without making deep and painful cuts in the coming years through layoffs, fewer instructional days, closed schools or more. Three. The two sides won’t meet again for talks until Friday, meaning schools will also be closed Thursday. Friday was already scheduled as a day off for students and a teacher professional development day.

Union leaders say teachers need bigger raises to keep up with inflation, class size limits to allow them to meet the academic and emotional needs of students following the pandemic, and more planning time to adjust instruction to widely varying achievement levels.

Any deal would have to pass not only with a majority of the union’s roughly 3,500 teachers, but also with the school board, which has said it is determined not to push the district into deeper financial deficits.

The district has offered cost-of-living adjustments that will increase teacher salaries by nearly 11% over the next three years, and will give first-year teachers and special education teachers a $3,000 bonus. That represents a small gain from the district’s original offer of a 7.5% cost-of-living increase over three years, but it’s still only half of what the union wants. On Tuesday, district officials gave elementary school teachers 40 minutes of additional planning time per week, up from the current 320 in the current contract and the 400 minutes they had previously scheduled.

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Union negotiators did not offer a counterproposal Tuesday, said Jonathan Garcia, Portland Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero’s chief of staff.

The district’s latest offer would require program cuts in the current budget, district director of research, accountability and evaluation Renard Adams said Tuesday during a press conference outside Markham Elementary School in Southwest Portland. It’s not yet clear what those cuts will be, but they could include a hiring freeze for central office staff and reductions in outside contracts and procurement, he said.

“We’ve already provided cost-of-living increases that have far outweighed the increase in revenue,” Adams said. “We know the union’s bargaining team believes this is not enough, but we cannot responsibly accept the 23% increase they are proposing. Both the class size limits and the union’s scheduling proposal will create mandatory staffing positions while we reduce enrollment, with more than 500 new Teachers should be appointed.

Angela Bonilla, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, did not immediately respond to texts seeking comment. But a group of Markham teachers came out to hear Adams’ comments on Tuesday. Afterward, second-grade teacher Grace Groom, a member of the district’s Community Budget Review Committee, said she believes the union’s priorities include more money.

“Why doesn’t more money go directly to schools to serve students?” he asked, noting the increase in central office staffing amid declining enrollment.

District negotiators said many of those central office employees work at multiple schools, including campus safety team members, dyslexia support specialists and restorative justice coordinators.

Gov. Tina Codec this week called for both sides to stay at the bargaining table and continue negotiations instead of striking. The governor was in “active dialogue” with Guerrero on Tuesday, his chief of staff, Garcia, said. Codec spoke with Bonilla and sent his legislative director, Bob Livingston, to the Tigard headquarters of the Oregon Education Association to help mediate between the two sides.

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“He’s pushing for an agreement that gives educators a fair deal, prioritizes dollars in the classroom and keeps students in school,” said his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Shepherd.

Picket lines and rallies will begin early Wednesday morning at most Portland public school campuses.

Other school districts around the state, including Salem, Hillsboro and Medford, are also close to impasse with their own teacher unions. Key budget lawmakers were wary of bailouts for Portland Public Schools on Tuesday, noting that schools have received a record $10.2 billion in funding over the past two years. Schools advocates, however, have said schools across the state are at least $100 million short of what current programs provide.

The strike in Portland is being watched closely nationally. Peggy Pringle, president of the National Education Association, who flies in Tuesday and wants to join teachers on Wednesday’s picket; His arrival was first reported by Willamette Week. Portland is the latest in a progressive-learning group of West Coast cities where teachers have gone on strike in recent years, joining Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles, three cities where teachers have won major concessions in recent years.

Those concessions come with some consequences.

In Seattle, for example, teachers won a 14% cost-of-living adjustment and other priorities in three years, but the district now faces a $100 million budget gap and is preparing plans to close several schools.

Like major urban school districts across the country, Portland Public Schools is struggling with declining enrollment driven by low birth rates and high housing prices. Its enrollment decline was exacerbated by prolonged pandemic closures, which prompted some families to homeschool or send their children to private school.

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— Julia Silverman; [email protected]

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