Final mediation sessions are underway in Oregon’s largest school district as Portland teachers prepare to strike starting Nov. 1.
More than 90% of the Portland Association of Teachers, or PAT, voted earlier this month on whether to authorize a strike should negotiations reach that point. A sweeping majority — nearly 99% — voted in favor.
As tensions intensify in school districts across the state, teachers unions may feel emboldened by a sense of public support for strikes, based on recent polling they commissioned.
The umbrella organization for PAT and other teachers unions in the state, the Oregon Education Association, released polling results to OPB this week that looked at what major issues residents are concerned about in local schools, whether they feel the issues are worthy topics for a strike, and how people feel about strikes in different parts of the state.
The poll was conducted by GBAO Strategies, a Democratic polling firm based in Washington, D.C. GBAO polled 1,000 registered voters in Oregon — 600 voters statewide with oversamples of 100 voters each in the Portland, Salem-Keizer, Eugene and Bend-La Pine school districts. They conducted the poll via landlines, cell phones and text-to-web in September of this year.
According to the results, Oregonians are concerned about a range of issues — from teacher shortages, salaries and burnout, to inadequate K-12 funding and student mental health support.
The majority of those polled said they would support educators if they went on strike to advocate for such goals as hiring more teachers, reducing class size and increasing support to reduce disruptive learning environments.
Results varied depending on the reason.
For example, nearly 90% of respondents said they would support a strike if educators were advocating for recruiting and retaining “highly qualified educators.” But on the opposite end, only 50% said they would support a strike over providing housing support for educators.
It’s important to note that labor strikes like these are often not about a single issue.
The latest data also shows that support is especially high in Portland. In the Bend-La Pine district, support is highest for strikes about recruiting and retaining highly qualified educators, while in Eugene, it’s highest for reducing class sizes.
Across the country, polls in recent years have shown increasing support for teacher strikes and higher compensation for educators. The success of recent strikes in Southwest Washington has led Portland educators to believe a strike in their district could help move the needle.
But some individuals have said they feel Portland teachers are asking for too much.
And some families are concerned with what a strike will mean for kids day-to-day. Their support could be conditional on how long the strike lasts or how disruptive it is to their lives and their children’s learning.
Nov. 2 is the end of the quarter in Portland schools. Nov. 3 was already scheduled as a teacher professional development and planning day, meaning Portland Public Schools, or PPS, students wouldn’t be at school anyway. A strike would close all public schools in the district.
Tensions and worries are already surfacing as a potential strike draws nearer.
Willamette Week reported that high school seniors are scrambling to get college applications in before the strike when college counselors and teachers will no longer be available to write letters of recommendation. State universities have already granted Portland students a two-week extension.
Varied reactions are seen on social media. One district leader claimed online that some staff are refusing to pass out Chromebooks. Another message has circulated, encouraging families to refuse PPS services during the strike in support of teachers.
I am disgusted, disappointed, and heartbroken that @pdxteachers are asking families to refuse resources during their strike.— Christine M. T. Pitts, PhD (@cmtpitts) October 26, 2023
If anyone wants to have a conversation with me about equity in @PPSConnect schools we can start right here: pic.twitter.com/InmMhomKMu
PAT President Angela Bonilla told OPB that the communication about Chromebooks was started by PPS parents in an effort to show support for teachers and that it has been forwarded since.
PAT leaders said the sentiment is that supporters don’t want Chromebooks, they want the district to settle an agreement before a strike and give educators the support they’re calling for. The union did not direct staff to refuse the distribution of resources.