After more than three weeks out of the classroom, and a tumultuous back-and-forth between district and union bargaining teams, more than 40,000 Portland students will return to school on Monday.
Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers have reached a tentative deal, essentially ending a teachers strike that’s kept schools closed since Nov. 1.
According to PPS’ letter sent to families Sunday afternoon, union members will need to ratify the terms, and the school board will also need to approve the full contract at their Tuesday meeting. But students will return Monday on a two-hour delay.
“We are relieved to have our students returning to school and know that being out of school for the last three weeks — missing classmates, teachers, and learning — has been hard for everyone,” Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and the PPS school board said in the letter.
“We thank our students, families, and community for your patience and perseverance through these protracted negotiations,” the district said in the letter. “We also want to express our deep appreciation for our educators, who are the backbone of our district, and who enrich the lives of our students.”
PAT said educators are ending the strike, securing a “historic tentative agreement” with key wins for student mental health support, class size, protected planning time, building health and safety protections, and cost-of-living increases.
Teachers and administrators were “very, very close” to an agreement last week, according to school board members, but the two sides couldn’t agree on the structure and role of proposed committees that would weigh in on overcrowded classes. While details weren’t immediately released Sunday, statements from both district and union leaders suggest they found a compromise.
The district’s statement said the agreement includes “processes for resolving class size concerns that involve impacted educators, school leaders, and parents.” The teachers union suggested parents would be more than simply involved, describing the new structure as “shared decision-making committees involving educators and parents.”
When asked at a press conference Sunday night, PAT president Angela Bonilla said parents would not gain access to private student information — a key concern of the district — and noted that the discussion would be less about individual students and more about identifying necessary “supports” for classes that are growing too large.
“That might look like saying, ‘Hey, this class is in the small classroom on the second floor now that they have an extra student, we gotta move them to the big classroom,’” Bonilla offered as an example. “But we know that the best solutions to problems that we have in our schools come from the folks who actually attend them, who work at them and who send their students to those places.”
The tentative deal outlines a nearly 13.8% cost-of-living adjustment over three years. The district initially proposed just shy of 11%, and PAT had proposed over 20%.
As outlined in statements from PAT and PPS, the contract also increases dedicated planning time, access to mental health support teams for students throughout the district, and funding to address building conditions, among other things.
“This contract is a watershed moment for Portland students, families and educators,” Bonilla said. “Educators walked picket lines alongside families, students and allies — and because of that, our schools are getting the added investment they need.”
District officials said the contract will cost about $175 million over the next three years. They said this will mean making “significant cuts” during the spring budget process for the upcoming school year.
Guerrero and the board added that they will also turn to the Portland community for future advocacy in Salem and support for a property tax levy set for renewal in May, which directly supports PPS educators.
Joni Auden Land and Rob Manning contributed to this story.