Oregon's largest school district are preparing for what could be the first strike ever in Portland Public Schools this Wednesday.The Portland Association of Teachers represents more than 4,500 teachers and coaches in the negotiations. The previous collective bargaining agreement ended in June.
After months of negotiation, The bargaining teams will be scheduled to meet with a mediator from the state on Monday and Tuesday before the teachers will go on strike starting on Wednesday. If there is a strike, PAT leadership has stated that educators are expected to protest outside of their school or work sites every morning as well as hold after-school protests.
Family members, district employees, and workers across the city are making contingency strategies. The strike could mean the closure of the entire PPS schools.
The parties could come to an agreement prior to Wednesday's deadline and avoid a strike; however, there are a number of issues in the discussions. Both PAT and PPS representatives continue to express anger that the other doesn't negotiate reasonably or isn't ready to accommodate the demands of one of them.
In addition, Portland teachers are calling to expand student mental health programs and fewer tests that are standardized, as well as expand restorative justice practices and policies in addition to safer, healthier living conditions in the building.
The priority list of PAT at the beginning of mediation contained more than ten items, which the district has criticized as being excessively long and not revealing what the main issues are for them. District officials also say it's about something other than being in a position not to meet the demands of union members; however, they're not able to. The union has responded by citing the budget numbers that they claim prove the district is able to pay for the funds.
District bargaining officials have said that even PAT's proposal will need at minimum $45 million of cuts to the budget structure for the next three years. They estimate that PAT's plan would call for cuts worth $277 million during the same period.
Compensation is just one aspect that is not resolved, but it is one of the most significant inequities. Union members want an increase in cost-of-living adjustments, and the district would like to offer an increase. The two options differ greatly.
The district has provided approximately an 11% increment for three years; however, the union is calling to double that. The district also offers an annual stipend of $3,000 to special education teachers, which includes school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and trained mental health specialists. The union would like the special education classrooms to be staffed with full-time staff and caseload limits to be enforced.
The union's proposal that was discussed in mediation last week offers a smaller rise of around 18.5 percent over the next three years. This is, however, only in the event that the school district can agree with other conditions. Union officials say these numbers are subject to change as part of the debate.
The union is also seeking greater planning time than what the district has been able to provide in the past, as well as an increase in the size of classes.
Instead of paying teachers extra if they're teaching more students than they are allowed to have in the "soft limit," which is what the district currently is, the union has asked the contract to force the district to open a second class at the school or to move them into smaller classes. If there's no alternative, students will be required to attend a different school.
Districts already have the "equity-based formula," which helps to put teachers in schools most in need.
District officials recently announced on their website for bargaining that "both sides are in agreement that optimal classes are beneficial to students." District officials said PPS is among the most compact class sizes across the entire state and is one of the only districts in the state that pays overages. The union would like to keep the current formula in addition to the new "hard caps."
Suppose the school is unable to place students in the right course or must relocate to a different school from the neighborhood of the student. In that case, District officials have said that this could mean that the student is unable to take the electives or classes that are required to graduate.
The union demanded the payment of a $300 housing allowance to educators, as well as the establishment of a working group to talk about the possibility of affordable housing for educators who are starting.
They have yet to propose any student accommodation specifications for students. They've suggested that the district "create a task force, in partnership with PAT and any other relevant non-profits and government offices that could explore coalitions, partnerships as well as funding options to help aid in affordable housing developments within the schools (areas)."