Kotek’s office secures mediator for Portland teachers strike

By John Hill (OPB)
Nov. 7, 2023 9:07 p.m. Updated: Nov. 8, 2023 5:52 p.m.

Portland Public Schools and the teachers union faced a two-day pause in negotiations this week if they couldn’t find a state mediator

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.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Negotiations between Portland Public Schools officials and teachers nearly hit a new snag Tuesday as the district’s first-ever teachers strike canceled a fourth day of school.


Officials with Portland Public Schools said the district and the Portland Association of Teachers were facing the prospect of a two-day pause in talks Wednesday and Thursday, due to the anticipated absence of a state mediator.

District officials reached out to Gov. Tina Kotek for an interim facilitator to keep talks going. According to a statement sent by Kotek’s spokesperson Elisabeth Shepard late Tuesday, the governor’s office “successfully worked to secure a mediator to remain at the table with PAT and PPS.”

The governor’s office also affirmed the state CFO, Kate Nass, had been directed “to work with leadership at Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers during ongoing mediation sessions.” The statement said she’d been asked to “review financial information at the center of this dispute to ensure the district and union are working from the same set of numbers.”

The teachers strike began last Wednesday and, after several bargaining sessions, the two sides reportedly remain far apart on key concerns regarding class size, working conditions and teacher compensation. Few signs of progress have emerged from those bargaining efforts.

Even as the strike was just beginning last week, political leaders called for it to end — and said the state will not bail them out.


State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, said last week she’d gotten calls and emails asking for the Legislature to swoop in, but she said there are no plans to provide an emergency funding package when lawmakers convene next week in Salem.

“I’m very frustrated,” Steiner said. “I’m not swooping.”

Portland-area legislators, Kotek and the teachers union have asked Portland school board members to get more involved in contract negotiations, and some members have attended bargaining sessions.

A large, vocal crowd is attended Tuesday’s board meeting, its first regular meeting since the strike began. Portland teachers rallied outside the district headquarters to apply pressure on the board.

Elsewhere in the region, parents, union leaders and school officials in Clark County have been watching and reflecting on their own recent labor stoppages.

Earlier this fall, Evergreen and Camas school districts endured contentious contract negotiations much like the standoff now in Portland. One of the big takeaways parents, teachers and district officials shared from that experience: They wish they’d found a way to avert those strikes.

“Nobody teaches you in superintendent school how to go through a strike,” said John Anzalone, who became Camas School District’s superintendent two years ago. “I think when you go through something like this, it’s important to help others, too.”

Rob Manning contributed to this story.