No school Monday in the district, union still distant despite new proposals

By | November 13, 2023

Portland Public Schools and its teachers union remain far apart in new contract offers exchanged Sunday, despite notable movement on both sides, with teachers calling the district’s proposal “insulting.”

The still-significant gap ensures that the district’s 44,000 students will remain out of school for a seventh straight day Monday, as the district’s first-ever teachers strike enters its third week.

Both sides gathered all weekend at the Portland Fire Fighters Association headquarters for mediation sessions. The district hoped its offer, which now includes a one-time 1.5 percent bonus for the top 50 percent of educators in its salary scale, would be a final proposal and board President Gary Hollands spoke with hope of attracting students. back to school on Monday.

But the union’s offer — despite significant changes to the class size cap and a decrease in their request for a cost-of-living adjustment — throws cold water on that potential, given that both sides remain millions of dollars apart on compensation alone.

Previously, the two sides were at least $200 million apart in their proposals. Only the district presented cost estimates for its proposals on Sunday, calling the package a “compromise that strains district resources.” Teachers union leaders have not said why their latest proposal does not include cost estimates. On Sunday evening, a spokesperson said the union was working on responses to questions from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking clarification on the costs of its proposal.

But they made their feelings about the district’s proposal clear in an email sent to members Sunday afternoon, saying, “Based on the proposal we received from them this morning, it would appear that management does not is completely unwilling to meet the needs of educators and students. What has been proposed is symbolic at best and insulting at worst.

In a note to families, the district said its offer would add $147 million to its bottom line, requiring about $103 million in budget cuts over the next three years, including $10 million for the year current school and $27 million next year.

They did not specify where these reductions might fall. But Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said during a news conference Sunday that the district is first looking at administrative costs, discretionary spending and contracted services. Spending on central office functions is approximately $60 million per year.

“The central office cannot absorb the $103 million budget gap that we have to fill (over three years),” Guerrero continued. “We will do more than our proportionate share. » In a note to families Sunday, the district wrote “it will not be possible to avoid cuts in many areas that impact school communities.”

Among the notable parts of the two offers:

  • Class sizes: The Portland Association of Teachers increased proposed caps to 26 in kindergarten, 28 in first grade, 29 in second through fifth grade and sixth grade in K-8 schools. They also increased teaching load limits for middle and high school teachers. Teachers have asked the district to eliminate “extra pay” for educators when their class sizes exceed caps and use that money to hire more teachers. The district responded by proposing to reduce the maximum class size by one student at all grades in high-needs, high-poverty elementary schools and first through fifth grades in all other schools. Under this proposal, for example, fourth and fifth grade classes would have a maximum of 32 students instead of 33.
  • COLA: PAT’s latest offer targets a cost of living adjustment of 8.5% for the first year, then at least 5.5% in the second year and 4% in the third year, depending on inflation from the West Coast. The district has not changed its offer of annual cost of living increases of 4.5%, 3% and 3%. But they sweetened the pot for the 50 percent of educators who have been in the district for a dozen years and are no longer eligible for step increases. They offered these senior teachers a one-time bonus of 1.5% of their salary, in addition to the cost of living adjustment. All other teachers would receive a one-time bonus of 0.5 percent, and special education teachers would receive an additional $3,000 annual raise.
  • Planning time: The union is demanding that 440 minutes of time be set aside per week for elementary and secondary school teachers to plan lessons, grade homework, communicate with families and try to meet students’ individual academic and behavioral needs. The district’s offer is 410 minutes per week for those grade levels, achieved in part by reducing staff meetings from 30 per year to 10. High schools, however, would remain at the status quo, which the union called unfair in its email to members. . The district also said it would add art, music and other “specialty” teachers in elementary schools to free up planning time for K-5 teachers and that it would change middle school schedules district-wide to allow more space for scheduling. Both sides agreed that the school day would be 15 minutes longer for students.

It is still unclear how this impasse will be resolved, given the still significant financial gap between the two parties on compensation alone and the absence of cost estimates on the union’s proposals.

A state analysis of the district budget that concluded Friday confirmed that the state’s assessment of how much the district must spend this year and next was virtually identical, except for a potential $12 million tied to the forecast registration for 2024-2025.

But the union, in communications sent to its members, disputed that conclusion, citing an email that President Angela Bonilla sent to school board members Thursday evening suggesting the review showed there were about 60 million dollars of unaccounted local property tax revenue. to the district over the next three years.

However, when state budget analysts from the Oregon Department of Administrative Services and the Oregon Department of Education met with both parties the next morning, they said this was inaccurate because the allocation of the The state to district had been reduced to balance the increase in local funding.

“The numbers showed that PPS estimates for this year were the same as the state,” school board member Julia Brim-Edwards said Sunday. “So there was neither $20 million nor $100 million extra. »

Gov. Tina Kotek’s office said she was not available Sunday to provide clarification on her budget analyst’s findings or next steps in the overall dispute.

In an email to union members, negotiators said they planned to take a day off from bargaining on Monday to join pickets and protests. They said they planned to resume negotiations on Tuesday, but added “we are still on standby and available to meet at any time during this process.”

—Julia Silverman, @jrlsilverman, [email protected]

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