Education

Portland teachers cut proposal by $120M as strike cancels 9th school day

By Rob Manning (OPB)
PORTLAND, Ore. Nov. 15, 2023 2:22 p.m.

The Portland Association of Teachers said late Tuesday that an offer sent to the district cut the financial gap between the two sides by $121.6 million, largely by changing its approach to class size limits.

A protest sign is held up during a Portland Public Schools board meeting at the district office in Portland, Nov. 7, 2023. The teachers union has made a proposal it says brings it closer to a deal with the school district.

A protest sign is held up during a Portland Public Schools board meeting at the district office in Portland, Nov. 7, 2023. The teachers union has made a proposal it says brings it closer to a deal with the school district.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

It’s not the end of Portland Public Schools’ first-ever teachers strike, but an announcement from the Portland Association of Teachers late Tuesday after a long day of bargaining gave the most promising sign of an imminent deal from either side since teachers took to picket lines Nov. 1.

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PPS announced that schools would again close on Wednesday — marking the ninth school day canceled by the ongoing strike. But unlike previous announcements, the district said in its brief text message to parents that the two sides weren’t ending talks for the day, but instead were going to push into the evening.

“The bargaining teams have met today/will continue tonight, and we remain hopeful for resolution,” PPS said in a text message sent shortly before 6 p.m.

About four hours later, PAT released a statement indicating bargaining had ended for the day after the union had “offered movement and solutions” to end what has felt like a stalemate between the two sides.

An analysis by the state’s chief financial officer and the Oregon Department of Education recently concluded that there weren’t the large sums of money necessary to fund PAT’s proposals. PAT leaders have insisted there is money available to fund teachers’ priorities, such as by spending down reserves, repurposing money from the state’s Student Success Act and by shifting money from central office toward classrooms.

Related: What's happening with other unionized workers during the Portland teachers strike

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But district officials have consistently argued those sources don’t add up to what the teachers’ proposals cost and would have downsides. The latest offer from PAT suggests the union felt it had to offer a less costly proposal to move talks forward.

“PAT’s updated proposals will close the gap between PPS’ and PAT’s proposals by $121.6 Million over the life of the 3-year agreement while maintaining the six priorities that are most important to PAT members,” the message from PAT said. Those six priorities include cost of living increases, class size reductions, planning time, mental health support for students, improvements for special education programs and cleaner school buildings.

In a bargaining brief for PAT members dated Nov. 14, a summary of the proposal indicates the lion’s share of the reduction in the teachers’ proposal comes from a new approach to reducing class size. Rather than firm limits on class sizes — and the potential high cost of hiring additional teachers to staff classes with fewer students — the union said it would allow students to be added to classes that are above agreed-on caps, if a school-based “class size committee” approved it. That change alone, the union estimated, would save the district roughly $94 million.

“While the Association vigorously disputes the District’s assumption about the cost of the Association’s class size limits proposal, our new proposal would reduce the assumed cost from $100.67 million to $6.6 million or less,” PAT said in its bargaining brief grid explaining the changes and cost reductions.

In its cost estimates of PAT’s proposals, PPS has said that class size provisions were among the most expensive aspects of the union’s demands.

Related: Portland parents adjust to school closures during teachers strike

Other cost reductions in the PAT proposal include changing its approach to middle school planning time — a cut of $5 million — and removing $3,000 stipends for teachers in special education, which the union estimated would save $7 million. The union summary also said a total of more than $14 million would be saved through changes to its compensation and housing articles.

In a statement released Tuesday night, PAT president Angela Bonilla said union members and other supporters know “we are going to get the very best possible deal for our students our schools.” Bonilla went on to say PAT’s latest offer included “real solutions” that include “class size conversations for the first time.”

By late Tuesday night, PPS officials had not released any statements responding to the latest proposal from PAT. Bargaining teams are expected to resume talks Wednesday.

This story may be updated.

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