After restorative justice coordinators unionize, Portland Public Schools ‘unassigns’ them


Last month, about 30 restorative justice coordinators in Portland Public Schools (PPS) unionized with the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT). About two weeks later, many were told their positions may be eliminated next school year as part of $30 million of anticipated budget cuts. 

Although there’s no indication that the cuts are linked to their organizing efforts, workers say they feel anxious and disrespected. In emails to parents, PPS officials have said that the budget cuts are necessary because of the $175 million contract it ratified with PAT after a historic teachers strike. 

The district added the restorative justice coordinators in 2021 to respond to student behavioral issues and discipline. The coordinators work one-on-one with students to resolve conflicts and build healthy relationships with their peers. Instead of getting suspended for acting out, students can meet with a restorative justice coordinator to talk about what caused the behavior and how they can prevent it in the future.

In September, an overwhelming majority of the coordinators signed cards to join PAT, but PPS objected, and the case was sent to the state Employment Relations Board (ERB). After reviewing the case, ERB ordered the district to recognize PAT as their bargaining representative. 

Around the same time, district officials asked principals to cut about 2% of their school budgets for the 2024-25 academic year. The decision where to cut was left to the principals, but many picked restorative justice coordinators. The cuts have targeted other student support staff like librarians, counselors, and behavior analysts. 

Not every principal has finished their proposal, so the total number of workers on the chopping block is still unclear. And the district retains the right to change a principal’s proposal before approving any cuts. For now, workers were told they were “unassigned,” meaning their position will not exist at their school next year. Being unassigned is not the same as a layoff, because they can move into a similar role at a different school. But two restorative justice coordinators told the Labor Press they’re worried that when all is said and done, no more restorative justice positions will be available to move into. 

PAT is asking the district to move cuts away from students and trim from central administration instead, or use more of its budget reserve to lessen the cuts. The union plans to bargain over any job losses. 

CORRECTION 3/20/24: PPS employs about 30 restorative justice coordinators. An earlier version of this story included the incorrect number of positions.

Editor’s note to readers 3/15/24: We removed a quote that was in the initially published version of this story. We want to honor commitments we make to sources, and in this case there was a misunderstanding about whether an interview was to be treated as off the record. The quote added color but its removal doesn’t otherwise change the story.


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