Saturday, December 9, 2023

PPS teacher strike: Union claims school board rejected settlement, district says union left bargaining table

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Negotiations between Portland Public Schools and the union that represents its 3,500 teachers have stalled after almost 24 straight hours of bargaining as both sides Monday morning blamed each other for prolonging the strike.

The two sides had been bargaining since early Sunday morning and continued through the night to try to wrap up negotiations and end the teacher strike that started Nov. 1 and has resulted in 11 missed school days for students.

Just before 9 a.m. Monday, the Portland Association of Teachers posted a bargaining update alleging that the school board had rejected a settlement recommendation reached by both parties, further extending the strike.

“We have a transformational deal between the PAT and PPS bargaining team, where both sides moved towards shared goals bringing improvements to Portland schools,” Portland Association of Teachers President Angela Bonilla said in a statement. “That the PPS school board yanked this deal out from under us, and extended the strike, displays an unprecedented failure of leadership.”

But Portland school board chair Gary Hollands said that was not the case. In a call with The Oregonian/OregonLive, Hollands said that the district rejected a proposal from the union, not a final joint settlement, after continued disagreement about the role of parents on committees to arbitrate classroom sizes. Hollands said the district intended to send a counter offer to the union, but union representatives got up and left.

A union official told The Oregonian/OregonLive that they did leave the bargaining table but only after the school board rejected a settlement that both the union and district had agreed to.

However, Hollands said that the two sides were still negotiating over teacher compensation and the process for re-entering schools as of Monday morning. Documents posted to the district website Monday show that the union and district have agreed on a handful of articles, including a proposal on planning time, which had been a key point of contention. The planning time agreement includes the addition of 90 minutes per week for elementary and middle school educators to plan lessons and grade papers, but keeps high school educators mostly at the status quo.

However, the documents do not include any agreement on compensation and class sizes, or a plan on making up loss instructional time.

“We’re still here and we’ll be here until hopefully we get something done,” Hollands said. “They can come back and we can finish it up. There were just a couple minor issues and we thought we were going to have a deal today and unfortunately, it turned out the way it turned out.”

Heading into the weekend, it appeared that the two sides were poised to reach a settlement after the union backed off its proposal for hard class size caps, asking instead for increased overage pay for teachers whose class sizes exceeded certain thresholds.

But a proposal by the Portland Association of Teachers to allow families two seats on a “class size” committee at each school emerged as a last-minute hurdle in negotiations Sunday. Such committees would negotiate the terms of allowing students to join classes when they are already at a particular threshold, which could be anywhere from 24 in kindergarten to 28 in fifth grade.

For example, committees could recommend that a reading specialist spend more time working with children in an over-threshold classroom or that an educational assistant should be hired. District officials have said including parents on such committees raises concerns about federal education privacy laws. The union has pushed back, accusing the district of undervaluing parental involvement.

— Sami Edge covers higher education for The Oregonian. You can reach her at or (503) 260-3430.

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