Portland teachers go back to work

By DON McINTOSH

Portland Public Schools (PPS) reopened Nov. 27 after a 26-day strike that led to improved contract terms for 3,700 teachers, school counselors, and librarians. It was the first-ever strike by the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), and the longest-ever teacher strike in Oregon. The new three-year agreement, ratified by teachers Nov. 28, includes across-the-board wage increases totaling 14.6%. Before the strike, the district said it couldn’t go higher than 10.5%. High inflation had resulted in teachers losing 5% of their purchasing power in the previous contract. The three annual raises in the new contract — 6.25% retroactive to July 1, 4.5% July 2024, and 3% in 2025 — will catch them up.

“We’re really working towards making sure that all educators can afford to live in the city that we work in,” PAT Vice President Jacque Dixon told the Labor Press. Under the previous contract, annual pay started at $57,080 for a teacher with a master’s degree and rose to $85,277 after 12 years.

A core issue of the strike was class sizes: PAT wanted caps on the number of students in a class. PPS refused to agree to hard limits but agreed to continue paying stipends any time class size goes over certain thresholds: 24 in kindergarten, 26 in grades 1-3, 28 in grades 4-5, and maximum student loads of 150 in middle school and 160 in high school. PPS also agreed to form committees of parents, teachers, and administrators in each school any time class sizes exceed a threshold.

The district also committed to increase the number of counselors and to devote funds to improving building health and safety protections after teachers made an issue of excessively hot and cold classrooms, mold, and rodents.

The agreement also guarantees 410 minutes per week of protected planning time for educators at every grade level, an increase of 90 minutes for elementary school teachers.

The strike overlapped with four school holidays, two parent conference days, and one teacher planning day, but students still lost 11 instructional days. To make up for those, the two sides agreed to shorten winter break by a week, delay the start of summer break by three days, and eliminate three teacher planning days.

Dixon and others said teachers were buoyed throughout the strike by the level of support from parents and the community.

“We had a lot of parents and students joining us on the line, joining us at rallies, speaking out in support of educators,” Dixon said. “I think it really kept us going.”

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