Oct 23, 2023 - News

What a teachers strike would mean for Portland Public Schools students

A billboard that says "Can't put students first if you put teachers last" and shows an image of the president of the Portland, Oregon teachers union speaking through a billboard.

A billboard supporting teachers in contract negotiations with Portland Public Schools along Broadway just north of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Photo: Meira Gebel/Axios

Thousands of teachers working in Portland Public Schools intend to go on strike beginning Nov. 1 if they can't reach an agreement with the district within the next week.

Why it matters: It would be the first such strike in PPS history, disrupting learning for more than 49,000 students across 81 schools.

Catch up quick: The district's contract with the Portland Association of Teachers — representing almost 4,500 union members — expired in June, months after negotiations had started over a new three-year contract.

  • Despite over a year of talks, the two sides disagree on several issues, including planning time, class size, pay, and the appropriate response to students who are acting out.

What they're saying: "I'm totally behind the teachers, but I am concerned about the disruption," Tina Nuñez Osterink, parent of a fifth grader at Llewellyn Elementary School, tells Axios.

  • Counting school closures due to the pandemic, her child has had "one disruption after the next. The long-term impact is my concern," she said.

Meanwhile, Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) president Angela Bonilla told reporters Friday that the "ball is in the district's court."

  • "They have to turn the tide and decide that the investment in our schools is more important than the investment in their central office," she said.

The other side: District official Renard Adams told reporters the district wants "to do everything at all costs not to have schools close," although no bargaining sessions are currently scheduled.

  • "There simply isn't enough money in central administration to bridge the over $220 million gap between our proposal and the PAT proposal," he said.

How it works: District officials told families that if a strike happens, reading tutoring will be available for kindergarten through to second-grade students identified as most needing it. No other instruction — virtual or otherwise — will be available.

  • No homework will be due and no one will be marked absent.
  • The district is sharing links to online learning resources for independent work.
  • Any makeup days would need to be negotiated between the district and the union.
  • Free breakfasts and lunches would be available for pick up.
  • All extracurricular activities except high school varsity sports would stop.

Zoom in: The union wants two more hours a week of planning time, which would cost about $140 million. The district is offering a smaller increase for elementary school teachers but no change for other grades.

  • Teachers are also asking for cost-of-living increases between 6% and 8.5% each year over three years.
  • The district is offering increases of 3.5% a year.

Zoom out: Portland's potential teachers' strike is part of recent growth in labor action.

  • Teachers in Camas and Evergreen, both in SW Washington, reached contract agreements after strikes last month that delayed the start of school by more than a week.
  • Last week in San Francisco, teachers reached a last-minute deal, avoiding a planned strike.

Our thought bubble: If a strike starts Nov. 1, Halloween won't be on a school night.


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