No agreement as Portland teachers union continues contract negotiations with district

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Dec. 7, 2021 2:39 a.m.

The union and the district still disagree over how to handle a range of issues from difficult student behavior to inadequate staffing

The union representing Portland teachers is still bargaining with Portland Public Schools to address a range of learning and behavior challenges stemming from the pandemic.

At the heart of its proposal, the Portland Association of Teachers, or PAT, is asking for a schedule change: One asynchronous instruction day for high school students and one shorter school day per week for elementary and middle school students. The union clarified that high schoolers can be at school during the asynchronous day — to catch up on school work, go to club meetings or visit with counselors. PAT said that plan will give teachers more time to prepare as well as some relief during a staffing crisis, and it would provide students with a better experience.


When the two parties began bargaining last week, Portland Public Schools representatives stated that reducing in-person learning time would not be in the best interests of students and their families.

They stuck to that argument on Monday, during their most recent bargaining session.

Instead of PAT’s weekly changes, PPS has proposed three days with modified schedules — one day per month in January, February and March — to allow students to focus on social-emotional learning, and for staff to have time for professional development.


PAT members say one modified day per month is not enough.

“We’re going to need something dramatic, something substantial, something that really changes the status quo and not just tries to tweak things a tiny little bit — a couple hours here and a couple hours there,” PAT bargaining member Steve Lancaster said Monday.

In its latest presentation to the district, Lancaster and other PAT members noted that they’ve seen more fights at schools, as well as more drug and alcohol use and weapons on campus.

“I think the problems that we are facing now are deep enough and wide enough and profound enough that we are going to be dealing with the consequences of this time of COVID for years to come potentially,” Lancaster said. “And we’re going to have to rethink how we support students.”

District representatives said they had many questions for the union but needed to end the bargaining session at its scheduled time. The two parties will meet again for their next bargaining sessions late next week.

Union members said it’s crucial they and PPS come to an agreement before schools close for the upcoming break. The two sides have discussed meeting on Dec. 16 and 17.

“These are the last two days before the winter break begins, and we need to give clarity and hope to the educators who are struggling in this moment,” PAT consultant John Berkey said. “We need this done before the winter break starts, if it’s at all possible.”