- Teachers from Portland Public Schools went on strike Wednesday — causing 81 schools to close — as negotiations over a new three-year contract stalled between the Oregon district and the Portland Association of Teachers. The strike is expected to continue through Friday, according to the district.
- There is a roughly more than $200 million gap between the final offers made by the union and district during the last days of contract negotiations in September. The primary ask from the union is for a 23% raise over three years to keep up with inflation. The district has offered a 10.9% raise for the same period.
- The union also wants to cap class size at 25 students, but the district will not budge on that request on the grounds that it wants to maintain access to neighborhood schools while keeping funding equitable.
The union is also pressing for additional planning time and professional development for teachers, wraparound services for students and “schools that are safe, well-maintained and fully staffed.”
“The Portland Association of Teachers bargaining team has negotiated for months in an attempt to reach an agreement, but PPS continues to ignore the voices within our community and invest in our schools in a way that will improve outcomes for our students and make important changes in the lives of our educators,” the union said on its website.
The union's demand for major pay raises comes as research from the Economic Policy Institute recently found that rising inflation had hurt public school teachers’ salaries nationwide, causing weekly wages to drop $128 — from $1,457 to $1,329 — between 2021 and 2022. The salaries of similarly educated professionals remained practically unchanged in the same period, dropping just slightly, from $2,170 to $2,167.
However, the Portland district said revenue is not keeping up with the cost of operating its schools. “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.
Student enrollment decreased by 7.7% between 2019-20 and 2022-23 — dropping from 46,624 students to 43,023, according to the district. At the same time, it said it hired 5.5% more full-time union members and increased by 16% the total amount spent on teachers in the same period.
The Portland teachers’ strike points to a larger issue districts nationwide are starting to face as they approach the spending deadline for the influx of federal emergency pandemic funds. Some school districts have considered closing schools permanently due to historic and ongoing enrollment declines.
Meanwhile, as Portland teachers began striking Wednesday, a teacher strike in Fresno Unified School District, the third-largest school system in California, was averted when it reached a tentative agreement with the Fresno Teachers Association on Tuesday. The Fresno union had also planned to strike on Wednesday.
On Wednesday night, the Fresno district and union signed the contract, with 92% of union members voting in favor, ABC 30 reported. The groups agreed to a 21% raise for teachers over the next three school years. Student-teacher ratios will also be reduced.
“Our students have been the innocent bystanders waiting through the difficulties of negotiations,” Superintendent Bob Nelson told a news conference on Tuesday. “This deal is really about you [students]. It’s our joint commitment to avoid a strike because there’s really nothing more important than making sure our students have the opportunity to be in school every day, all the time.”