With a tentative agreement reached on a three-year, $175 million contract between Portland Public Schools and its teachers union, students in Oregon’s largest school district will return to class Monday for the first time since the strike began Nov. 1.
The district has also set a schedule to make up for the 11 lost instructional days resulting from the Portland Association of Teachers strike, said Portland Public Schools’ Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero in a letter to the school community.
“We are relieved to have our students returning to school and know that being out of school for the last three weeks — missing classmates, teachers, and learning — has been hard for everyone,” Guerrero said. “We also want to express our deep appreciation for our educators, who are the backbone of our district, and who enrich the lives of our students.”
Guerrero added that the tentative agreement would spur “significant cuts during our spring budget process for the upcoming school year.”
During negotiations, a demand from the Portland Association of Teachers was a 23% raise to keep up with inflation. The district ultimately agreed to a 13.8% cumulative cost-of-living salary increase for all educators over the next three years. Half of the educators will receive an additional 10.6% raise from yearly step increases, although it is not specified which educators this would apply to.
Rising inflation has put a dent in public school teachers’ salaries nationwide, according to recent research by the Economic Policy Institute. At the same time, districts like Portland Public Schools are having trouble meeting teachers’ financial needs.
Previously, the Portland district noted that revenue has not kept pace with operating costs. “During our last three-year contract with the Portland Association of Teachers, we served fewer students with more educators, and the costs associated with those educators increased three times as much,” the district said.
In his most recent letter, Guerrero said the negotiation process with the teachers union illuminated the “state’s underfunding of quality education.”
Other points in the tentative agreement include adjustments to student discipline processes, new class size thresholds, additional instructional time, increased mental health support for school communities, expedited hiring processes, and more instructional and planning time during the school day.
The Portland Association of Teachers said in a statement that the tentative agreement signifies schools are getting much-needed additional investments.
The “contract is a watershed moment for Portland students, families, and educators,” the Portland Association of Teachers said. “Educators have secured improvements on all our key issues. These changes will make a huge difference on priorities like mental health supports for students, educator workload relief, and safe and welcoming school environments.”
The deal now awaits ratification by the union and approval from the Oregon district’s school board.