PPS, union focus on class sizes and caseloads as smaller agreements emerge

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Nov. 17, 2023 8:29 p.m.

Portland Association of Teachers’ latest approach to limiting class size would back away from “caps,” but Portland Public Schools said it still appears to be prohibitively expensive.

FILE - Students in Elise Weigandt's fourth-grade classroom wait for the first day of school to begin on August 29, 2023, at Sitton Elementary School in Portland.

FILE - Students in Elise Weigandt's fourth-grade classroom wait for the first day of school to begin on August 29, 2023, at Sitton Elementary School in Portland.

Caden Perry / OPB

A few days after the Portland Association of Teachers floated a class size proposal that didn’t quite live up to the financial breakthrough it was billed as, the union returned Thursday night with a new offer that looks more like the district’s current approach to oversized classes. PAT said the earlier proposal would cut more than $90 million, but the district later said it would have saved far less than that.


The latest union proposal is a further attempt at progress on a major point of contention, as the strike canceled an 11th day of classes Friday.

“We continue to fight for true workload relief,” the PAT bargaining team said in a message sent to members late Thursday night. “We carefully crafted a method to ensure that your classes aren’t overloaded in the same way they are now and includes the families in problem solving.”

The latest PAT proposal removes the word “caps,” generally replacing it with the word “threshold” or “overage,” and shifts the approach toward continuing to offer additional pay for teachers whose student numbers exceed the threshold.

Related: District officials close Portland schools through Thanksgiving weekend, frustrating union leaders


PAT’s latest proposal lowers limits for special education teachers, counselors and speech and language pathologists, and incorporates overage pay for them.

But according to a preliminary Portland Public Schools analysis shared with OPB Friday morning, the union’s effort again appears to remain costly. District officials ran the numbers on just speech pathologists, and found that applying overage pay in the way PAT is suggesting would cost $5 million. That’s compared to what the district says is a current cost for overages across all PAT member groups of up to $3 million annually.

The PAT proposal maintains a structure the union had suggested in its previous proposal earlier this week: a school-based “class size committee” at every school intended to help guide better decisions about where students are placed and how to respond to larger cohorts. The committee would be comprised of the school principal, an assistant superintendent or proxy, a teacher from an affected classroom, a PAT representative and two parents. The idea behind the committee, according to PAT’s language, is for them to advise and help address potential problems that could arise from having overcrowded classrooms.

“The committee will develop a plan on what to do about each potential class, or grade level in elementary, with a class size issue,” the PAT proposal said. “Possible solutions, including but not limited to scheduling additional reading interventionists or additional push in support, will be presented to the affected teachers for their feedback and/or possible approval.”

Related: Union, district disagree on health insurance benefit cliff for those on strike in Portland

Article 8 of the union proposal, governing class size and caseload limits, remains a thorny issue. But PAT and PPS pointed to several agreed-upon articles as evidence of movement.

Articles that shared agreement relate to academic freedom, retirement, reduction in force procedures, and what the contract calls “extended responsibility,” which refers to a variety of things including changes to the school year, days set aside for planning and grading, and training and professional development days.

PAT and PPS bargaining teams continued to meet Friday and said they may talk as fall break begins next week. School is canceled Friday and parent-teacher conferences scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday have been postponed indefinitely. The PPS school board has scheduled executive sessions for each of the next several evenings, in the event they’re needed to weigh in on the latest steps in bargaining.

This story may be updated.