Portland Association of Teachers says strike could begin Nov. 1

Oregon’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools, could soon face a massive teacher strike after contract negations reached a stalemate Tuesday.
Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 7:14 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Oregon’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools, could soon face a massive teacher strike after contract negations reached a stalemate Tuesday and the union voted to authorize a strike.

“Tonight, we received a notice from the Portland Association of Teachers,” Communications Director of Portland Public Schools Will Howel said. “The union representing our educators, that they intend to strike beginning November 1. We hope they will come back to the bargaining table and work with us to negotiate a resolution, but we have also made contingency plans if they strike

Voting began Monday and union members have until Thursday to vote on whether to authorize the strike. A union spokesperson said that if teachers vote in support, an official strike could begin 10 days after voting wraps up and the union gives the district notice of the strike. This means teachers could walk off the job by the end of the month.

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According to the union and district officials, the tense points of negotiations include disagreement over increased teacher pay, smaller class sizes, and how to handle student behavioral issues.

Roosevelt High School chemistry teacher, Shannon Kittrick, has already voted in support of authorizing a strike, and says teachers are at a breaking point in the classroom.

“We need more time to plan and get ready for classes,” Kittrick said. “My caseload is 180 students. Now, if you think about that, 180 students - just to give 5 minutes of feedback to those kids every week - it’s 15 hours of work. How can you do that?”

One of the top PPS officials leading contract negotiations, Chief of Research, Assessment, and Accountability, Dr. Renard Adams, said the agreements put in place in the most recent contract between the district and union compensate teachers for overloaded class sizes, and that trying to downsize classes too much could have consequences.

“We have not reached an agreement yet on class size. Part of the reasons is, they’re seeking class size caps,” Adams said.

Adams said class size caps could have consequences such as students attending schools far from their homes, or impact a students’ class selection.

“We’re really opposed to the idea of at the elementary level, forcing students out of their neighborhood school, and at the secondary level, not having students take preferred electives or graduation requirements.”

Adams also said class sizes, particularly elementary schools, are currently in a fairly good spot.

“We have one of the lowest class sizes among large districts in the state,” said Renard. “Right now, 75%, three out of four of our elementary school classrooms have 25 students or fewer.”

A statement from the Portland Association of Teachers says negotiators on the union’s end are standing firm until their demands are met. The statement reads in part.

“When the district is ready to talk seriously about smaller class sizes, wage increases that keep up with cost of living so teachers can stay and work in the district, increased mental health and special education staff to support our students, we will bargain into the night. If PPS management want to avoid a strike, they need to come to the table with more funds and resources for our students and our schools.”

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Roosevelt High School teacher Shannon Kittrick is also a mother of two children in PPS schools. She said regardless of the outcome of these contract negotiations, her livelihood and her children’s education are at stake.

“It’s about our kids, and it’s about making sure that we get the support that our kids need,” she said. “And if we do strike it, which I hope we don’t. I really hope that PPS comes to the table with a fair contract. But if [district officials] don’t, I think that teachers are ready to stand up to change the story.”

According to Dr. Renard Adams, there are no more mediation sessions scheduled with the Portland Association of Teachers at this time, and that another mediation won’t be scheduled until after the vote on if to authorize a strike is completed.