Portland teachers go on strike for first time in district history

By Natalie Pate (OPB) and Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Oct. 31, 2023 6:56 p.m. Updated: Nov. 1, 2023 11:07 a.m.

After months of bargaining without an agreement on teacher contracts, Portland Public Schools closed on Wednesday.

Teachers and supporters took to picket lines early Wednesday morning. The first-ever strike of educators at Oregon’s largest school district affects more than 80 campuses, with the exception of charter schools, and follows months of unsuccessful negotiations between Portland Public Schools administrators and the Portland Association of Teachers.

Teacher Melanie Hindman, center, uses her “teacher voice” as she cheers at a Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023. Hindman teaches French at Lincoln High School in Portland.

Teachers, parents and a few students protest outside of Abernethy Elementary School on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Capitol Hill Elementary School art teacher Allie Anderson writes a chalk message in front of the school on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Teachers and supporters picket at McDaniel High School, Nov. 1, 2023, in Portland, Ore.

Portland Public Schools Board of Education Chair Gary Hollands, center, speaks at a press conference at the PPS district headquarters in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Miriam Van Zandt, center, a second grader at Buckman Elementary School in Portland, Ore., helps lead the chant "We love teachers,” to which the protesters called back, “We love students!” on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Brittany Dorris, left, a fifth grade teacher at Capitol Hill Elementary School in Portland, Ore., leads the picket line outside the school on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Portland Association of Teachers president Angela Bonilla addresses striking teachers at McDaniel High School on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

The weekly Bike Bus arrives at Abernethy Elementary School in Portland, Ore., to show support for staff participating in the Portland Public Schools strike, Nov. 1, 2023. The strike affects more than 80 campuses districtwide, with the exception of district charter schools. This is the first teacher strike in PPS history.

Winslow Stoertz, 8, left, hugs her teacher Liza Springgate, a third grade teacher at Abernethy Elementary School, on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Capitol Hill first grade teacher Allyson Casey takes a picture of a pair of students as they show support for teachers on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Capitol Hill Elementary School fifth graders Evelyn Hamilton, left, and Kathleen Sanford, right, help with the chalk art and pass out Halloween candy to folks on the picket line in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Calvin Lafortune, right, a student at Abernethy Elementary School made a sign and joined the picket line on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Darshanpreet Gill, a career and technical education teacher at McDaniel High School, pickets at the school, Nov. 1, 2023. in Portland, Ore. She’s says class size is her biggest concern. “I currently have just over 30 classes. And it’s very difficult to serve every kid when there’s so many kids. It grinds you down when the reasons you got into this was to serve children and you’re not given the support to do so.”

Jenny Morgan, a counselor at Abernethy Elementary School, leads a chant on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Mayra Capistran, a social worker at McDaniel High School, pickets at the school, Nov. 1, 2023, in Portland, Ore. “This strike to me means better schools for my child and the students I support.”

Cara Jamison, left, and her daughter Hailey Moore, 8, attend the Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023. “Seeing what the teachers are dealing with in the classroom, in school, how much they’re doing for the students—I know how much it affects my daughter and she values them. I think it’s important to show support,” says Cara Jamison. Hailey attends Sitton Elementary School and adds, “I think it’s really important to help support our teachers and get what we need and get what our teachers need to help us learn.”

Teachers, parents and a few students protest outside of Abernethy Elementary School on the first day of the Portland Public Schools strike in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Hundreds of people gather at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., to attend a Portland Association of Teachers rally, Nov. 1, 2023.

Despite the pouring rain, hundreds of people attended Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Despite the pouring rain, hundreds of people attended Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Courtney Sherman, wearing hat, center, cheers as she attends a Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023. Sherman is a school climate coach at Peninsula Elementary School in Portland.

Despite the pouring rain, hundreds of people attended Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Hundreds of people attended Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, gets the crowd fired up at the Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

Hundreds of people attended Portland Association of Teachers rally held at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 2023.

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At Sunnyside Environmental School, picketers included third-grade teacher Tiffany Koyama Lane. As people chanted “Whose schools? Our schools! Whose students? Our students!” she spoke about the goals for Portland educators.

“We are asking for more planning time so we can serve our students better,” Koyama Lane said. “We are asking for mice-free and mold-free buildings. We are asking for reasonable temperatures in our classrooms, So no colder than 60 degrees or hotter than 90 degrees.”

Teachers across the district started picketing outside their schools at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday and planned to keep the demonstrations going for several hours.

PPS officials have repeatedly said that the union’s proposal was not financially possible.

Prolonged negotiations come to a head

Members of the district bargaining team have said even the district’s own offer would require at least $45 million in structural budget cuts over the next three years. They estimated the teachers union’s proposal would require upwards of $277 million in cuts in that same time frame.

“We must work within our financial means to provide the best possible education for our students,” they wrote in an update for families.

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In remarks to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Renard Adams, Portland Public Schools bargaining team member and chief of research, assessment and accountability, said the two sides need to agree on the same financial reality.

“We understand we have significant disagreements on critical issues,” Adams said. “We can only bridge these and reach agreement through dialogue, cooperation and compromise, and an acknowledgment that we do not have the resources to cover their proposals.”

PPS district leaders pleaded with the union to call off the strike. A letter to PAT’s bargaining team from Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and the PPS bargaining team Tuesday said, “Whatever else we disagree about, we agree that students must be at the center of our decisions. In that spirit, we ask that you do not strike tomorrow. [Keep] schools open and stay with us at the bargaining table.”

Members of PAT leadership said there’s been no movement on major issues like cost-of-living increases. They also said the district has refused to bargain over issues such as class size limits and student mental health support. In addition, they said that PPS’ latest proposal removes language regarding special education they’d already agreed on.

“Our cause is just, our proposals are feasible, and our community is overwhelmingly supportive,” PAT’s bargaining team wrote in a Tuesday update to members. “District management has been unwilling to listen to us at the table, so now they will have the opportunity to hear from all of YOU on the picket line. Together WE WILL WIN!!”

For some educators who have been with the district a long time, like Markham Elementary School teacher John Miller, the contract disagreement is the culmination of years of disinvestment in Portland schools.

“This isn’t a current problem — it’s not a COVID problem — this is a problem that goes back many, many years. So I think what we’re proposing and what we’re willing to strike for, is something that has been building for, probably say a generation — a really long time,” Miller said.

The strike will cancel classes through at least Thursday unless there’s an agreement soon. Students were already not expecting to attend school on Friday, which had been designated as a professional development day. If the strike continues through Friday, district officials said, report cards will be delayed.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff and Tiffany Camhi contributed to this report.

This is a developing story and may be updated.



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