Classes are canceled for another day as the Portland teachers strike continues.
Portland Public Schools officials announced Monday morning that their bargaining team was refining its proposals in the hope of reaching an agreement with the Portland Association of Teachers.
PPS students haven’t had a single school day this month. Tuesday marks the eighth day of canceled classes.
Union leaders told OPB they remain focused on getting a settlement that “gets students what they need and back in the classroom.”
No mediation was scheduled for Monday, but more bargaining is on the calendar for Tuesday.
The two sides had mediation sessions over the holiday weekend. Pay increases, firmer class size limits and more teacher planning time remain key sticking points. The district says it cannot afford what the union is proposing. The two sides have yet to agree on what’s financially feasible, even after meeting last week with the state’s chief financial officer, Kate Nass.
Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek sent Nass and her team to help the parties get on the same page when it comes to available resources for the teachers’ contract. The biggest difference was in each party’s assumptions for the funding formula for the State School Fund, the primary funding source for Oregon’s K-12 schools.
The data reviewed by the state and shared with the bargaining teams shows the district could have about $12.4 million more in new, available resources for the 2024-25 school year that was not previously captured in their updated budget documents. District officials emphasized the additional funding is a projection, not guaranteed dollars.
Kotek said Nass encouraged the two sides to evaluate other resources and factors, such as the Student Investment Account, through the mediation process to come to a resolution.
“Given the ongoing significant impacts to students and their families, PPS and PAT must arrive at a compromise,” Kotek shared in a statement Sunday evening. “I expect both negotiating parties to use the information provided by the CFO to update their proposals and get students back in the classroom.”
Students are off next week regardless for the fall break. Monday and Tuesday are supposed to be parent-teacher conferences.
Possible loss of benefits
If teachers aren’t working by Thursday, Nov. 16, they lose their eligibility for December health benefits, the district confirmed to OPB this week. PPS officials said this is because teachers must work half the month to qualify for benefits. The district confirmed teachers are covered through November because of their work in October.
There has been confusion on whether PAT members’ work in October counts toward December’s eligibility. The district says it does not.
The district’s HR department sent a message to PAT members on Oct. 23 with an FAQ outlining this potential loss of benefits should the strike last a long time, as we’re seeing now. The district said they told PAT that the union’s information to members leading up to the strike — which outlines a mid-month to mid-month pay period and, therefore, indicates they could be covered in December — is inaccurate.
However, as of Tuesday, PAT maintains its assertion that its members have worked sufficient hours under PPS policy to have healthcare through December.
If the two sides reach an agreement by the end of the month, it may not matter. A settlement agreement would likely wrap up loose ends, such as back pay, lapsed benefits, and other logistics for returning and recovering lost instructional time.
Additionally, district leadership or the school board could theoretically decide to allow PAT members to still be covered in December, even while striking, given the rare circumstances. However, district officials said PPS is worried about the precedent that sets — could someone not work for half a month in the future and still claim to be eligible? District officials said they are still figuring out options.
Oregon Education Association president Reed Scott-Schwalbach previously told Willamette Week that OEA will ensure PAT’s members have health care coverage “until they have a fair contract.”
Petitions and letters
Meanwhile, several petitions and letters have circulated in the Portland community, pushing for various actions.
A couple of GoFundMe accounts have been created to raise money for teachers struggling the most financially during the strike. A letter from PPS parents in solidarity with the union, signed by about 2,000 people, circulated as well. PAT officials said at least one parent from every school in the district signed it.
A smaller petition with just shy of 130 signatures calls on the teachers to end the strike and continue mediation with the district while students return to classrooms.
And PAT created a petition of no confidence in Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, which is open to the public and has garnered slightly more than 4,600 signatures.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated Tuesday to clarify the potential loss of health benefits for PAT members.