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.
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.
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.
As Portland teachers prepare to strike on Nov. 1, tensions are rising in other districts across the state. Here’s how a sample of state residents feel about teacher strikes and issues facing K-12 schools.