By Don McIntosh
Belinda Reagan, 70, retired June 30 as president of Portland Federation of School Professionals, AFT Local 111. Local 111 represents about 1,400 clerical and teaching support staff at Portland Public Schools (PPS), and Reagan has been its full-time top officer since 2009.
Reagan grew up in Portland, and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1969. In 1998, she was looking to get back to work after raising two sons as a stay-at-home mom. At the suggestion of her classroom teacher friend Cathie Holmes she got a job as a library assistant at Smith Elementary School, and found that she loved it. Later, her friend Becky Wright, a para-educator at the district, encouraged Reagan to get involved in the union, and she did, in a big way.
“It made me angry when I would hear things that the district was trying to do to the classified employees, and I’m pretty vocal,” Reagan said.
Soon she was taking part in bargaining, serving on committees, producing a union newsletter, and volunteering in the union office. When Smith closed in 2006, she transferred to Fernwood Middle School, now called Beverly Cleary. She was elected to the union board, and in 2007 was hired as a field representative.
“I realized that my one greatest attribute was that I’m a loud mouth, and that old adage about the squeaky wheel could be put to use,” Reagan said. “I sat in front of the school board regularly and complained about the caste system and the treatment of classified employees.”
For years Reagan found she had to battle with district higher ups, and especially with combative PPS labor relations chiefs like Steve Goldschmidt and Laird Cusack.
Those bad old days appear to be history; Reagan says today’s top brass is the best she’s seen at the district in her years in the union. Superintendent Guadelupe Guerrero—hired by the district in 2017—meets with regularly with union leaders, and always took Reagan’s calls on his cell phone when the union had an issue to address.
After the Supreme Court’s antiunion Janus decision in 2018, Reagan and others worked hard to get more represented employees to become full dues-paying members of Local 111, and succeeded in raising membership levels to over 71%, compared to 50% before Janus.
In retirement, Reagan expects she’ll volunteer in the community. As union president, she is succeeded by Local 111 field rep Michelle Batten, who was elected by acclamation in March.