Portland teachers and Portland Public Schools inched closer to a tentative contract this weekend but now have a new — and seemingly final — holdup.
People connected to the 44,000-student school district were hopeful to see a deal reached by Thanksgiving, but lingering disagreements, including parental involvement on class-size committees, pushed negotiations into the holiday weekend.
Then, early Saturday morning, a new obstacle came to the public’s attention — whether and how much employees would be paid for an added teacher workday next school year.
In a letter to the PPS community Saturday evening, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said there’s been progress toward a settlement with the Portland Association of Teachers, including new tentative agreements on several parts of the contract since Friday.
PPS says the union and district signed a tentative agreement days before that would extend educators’ workyear by a day beginning in the 2024-25 school year. They said this came after weeks of negotiations, during which PPS raised its cost-of-living offer to include adding this day, citing past documents.
However, the district says the union Friday night made a “last-minute” ask — an additional 0.5% increase to reflect the extra day. District officials added that the union did this “even though this increase has already been factored into the district’s offer.”
PAT proposal increases package price by $4M, PPS says
The teachers’ union, in a statement received by OPB shortly after 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, said an agreement was reached on last week’s main issue of parental involvement on class size committees. The union also said the two sides agreed on student overage thresholds — which designates when and how much educators are paid more for having additional students — as well as building safety issues. Educators also offered, through the state mediator, a willingness to make up lost student instructional days as full days, though the union didn’t offer further details.
According to the PAT statement sent from Oregon Education Association communications officials, the only issue standing in the way of settlement is educators being compensated for the additional day added to the academic calendar starting in the next school year. They claim: “The district is demanding that educators work that additional day for free.”
The district has accounted for this additional day in year three of the contract, they said, but is refusing to pay educators for their additional work in year two of the contract.
District officials argue the union is pushing for additional pay beyond what’s been agreed upon.
“At every stage of our negotiations, we’ve given PAT annual-salary schedules — and when the district agreed to add an extra day for teacher planning time, we raised our annual compensation offer to cover the extra day,” Will Howell, director of communications for PPS, sent in a statement late Friday night. “To be clear, we’ve already included extra pay for an extra day. We have a limited window of time to get students back on Monday and PAT’s 11th-hour demand for an additional $4 million threatens to derail this agreement.”
PPS officials said this would increase the total package price by roughly $4 million.
“This would be more spending in a contract that will already require us to make over $126 million in cuts,” Guerrero said in Saturday night’s letter. “At this scale, cuts will range widely, from administration and contract spending to support services for students to staff. What we have agreed to is already on the edge of what is fiscally sustainable; we simply cannot accept $4 million more spending.”
He said this is the “only issue” now stopping them from finalizing the terms of the complete compensation package and is, therefore, the only issue standing between them and a tentative agreement.
“To reiterate what we have said before, we want students back in school as soon as possible,” Guerrero said.
‘In Oregon, we don’t ask people to work for free,’ PAT says
Teachers union leaders are also eager to get the contract wrapped up and students back to school, too — but say they’re arguing with administrators over a core principle.
“We are unbelievably close to settling this contract,” PAT President Angela Bonilla said. “It’s a pretty fundamental labor issue — and with a single day over a three-year contract it’s not even an expensive one — in Oregon we don’t ask people to work for free.”
In a Saturday bargaining brief, Bonilla said PAT presented a back-to-work proposal to PPS that morning that would enable kids to return to classes as early as Monday afternoon. The union said Saturday that the district had received their proposal.
She said both the union membership and board must ratify the agreement to conclude the strike.
“PAT knows how important the ratification process is for our 3,500+ members,” Bonilla continued. “We are prepared to take that critical step once the contract receives board approval so students and educators can be back in classrooms as soon as possible.”
The PPS school board has a handful of special meetings scheduled for Sunday and Monday to be used if a tentative agreement is reached so that the board can hear public comment and vote.
This is a developing story and may be updated.