Layoffs at Portland Public Schools?

This was supposed to be the year the layoffs ended, says Portland Federation of School Professionals (PFSP) president Belinda Reagan. With the real-economy recession winding down, state revenues were up, and the Oregon Legislature increased K-12 public school funding, even curtailing public employee retirement benefits to generate more funds.

Yet at Portland Public Schools, Reagan says 70 members of her support staff union received notice in April that they were “unassigned” — including 11 library assistants and 27 of the district’s 224 educational assistants. PFSP Local 111, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), represents 60 job classifications at the district, including educational assistants, special ed para-educators, and school clerical staff.

“Everybody was talking about how we finally have a decent budget and everybody’s happy, so we were shocked to get 70 members unassigned,” Reagan said.

Unassigned doesn’t necessarily mean laid off, but if unassigned workers don’t replace someone who’s quitting or retiring, they could be laid off. Reagan predicts about 15 layoffs, and says members should know by mid-July if they’re coming back in September.

“There should be no layoffs,” said Gwen Sullivan, president of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT). “If anything they should be adding more, because they have the money to do it.”

PAT’s new collective bargaining agreement, ratified in February after a near-strike, commits the district to hire not less than 150 full-time teachers, and hold the line on teacher workload. Laying off classified support staff, Sullivan said, would add to teacher workload.

Reagan said it rankles her and her members to think that the district is downsizing education assistants who make $14.04 to $19.45 an hour at the same time it’s hiring new high-paid administrators — at least six by her count — at over $100,000.

Reagan, a former library assistant at Fernwood Middle School, said if this year’s unassigned notices turn into layoff notices, it would be the eighth year in a row of cuts to the bargaining unit, which currently stands at about 1,200.

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