(PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The ball is in the Portland Public Schools’ court.
The Portland Association of Teachers met with the School Board’s negotiating team on Thursday and offered what they call a “comprehensive mediation settlement proposal” in order to avoid a strike.
“Portland teachers don’t want to strike. We want to be with our students,” said Bill Wilson, PAT’s bargaining chairman and a Grant High School science teacher. “We are doing everything we can to reach a settlement that’s fair for teachers and good for kids.”
PAT leaders say their offer reflects “significant movement and creative solutions that meet the overarching goals of holding teachers economically harmless overall; “providing real, meaningful class size and workload relief; and striking a fair balance between teachers’ concessions on board priorities with improvements to the current contract that help teachers do their job.”
The School Board’s team is expected to offer a proposal in response.
“We hope the board takes our proposal seriously and that they respond with a willingness to compromise, achieve balance and do what it takes to avoid a strike,” said PAT President Gwen Sullivan.
The two sides are scheduled to meet again Feb. 16.
Superintendent Carole Smith said Thursday that both sides had agreed on a plan to exchange mediation proposals, and the two bargaining teams would meet again Sunday, Feb. 16, to respond to the proposal.
“Both teams continue to work hard to reach a negotiated settlement,” Smith said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
State of emergency?
The Portland School Board voted Wednesdsay to delegate temporary authority to the superintendent to prepare for a possible teachers’ strike.
The unanimous Feb. 12 vote declares a state of emergency and grants Smith authority to fund expenditures not appropriated for in the budget, such as materials and supplies, wages, transportation and safety for personnel.
“Our goal continues to be to reach a negotiated settlement,” said Board Co-Chairwoman Pam Knowles. “At the same time, it’s our obligation to the community to prepare for a strike and prepare a safe learning environment for all our students.”
The resolution also allows Smith to suspend district policy where it is necessary to best serve PPS students during the state of emergency, and to temporarily close any school or facility and consolidate the students and programs to another school if there is a concern for the health, safety and welfare of those students.
“I want to assure our community that while we are taking this step we are still looking for a settlement,” said Co-Chairman Greg Belisle. “We take very seriously the impact of a potential strike on our students and families. I want to let folks know we are pursing both tracks with due diligence and commitment because we have to prepare for both.”
Smith will report to the board details of expenditures after the board lifts the state of emergency.
District gears up for a strike
Inundated with questions about what to do in case of a strike, Portland Public Schools plans to launch a community hotline on Thursday that will provide information about the district’s plans.
The phone number is 503-916-3260.
The hotline will operate from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in English as well as English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Somali and Russian.
The bargaining teams for PPS and the Portland Association of Teachers met for four hours in mediation on Tuesday but did not reach an agreement.
According to PPS, “The teams agreed on a plan for exchanging proposals and are developing a schedule for future meetings.”
There’s less than a week left for those future meetings to occur.
PPS and PAT have been bargaining for 10 months, trying to reach a settlement on the last several issues with the help of a mediator since October. The district has 48,000 students and 2,800 teachers.
The teachers’ union members met Feb. 7 to authorize a strike beginning Feb. 20.
Earlier this month, PAT filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Oregon Employment Relations Board, for allegedly “threatening and bullying” substitute teachers to work during the strike.
PAT claims that substitute teachers are caught in the crosshairs, both sides claiming that they’re within their legal rights.
According to one PPS substitute, who did not wish to be named, “I just got an email from PPS today (Tuesday), demanding that I tell them by the 14th which days I’m not available for, and if I don’t respond, they will automatically book me. I will not be crossing the picket line, but I don’t know the best way to handle it.”
In the email, PPS Chief Human Resource Officer Sean Murray wrote: “We are expecting all licensed substitutes to work during the strike. Substitute teachers who work during a strike will not jeopardize their license or employment status. In fact, the PAT Substitute Teachers’ Agreement has a No Strike Clause (Art. 5); therefore, substitutes are expected to work.”
Substitutes who don’t return the attached or online form (which does not work) will be scheduled accordingly, the letter says, and those who take no action will be considered a “no show.”
According to the PAT, however, substitute teachers are PAT members who have a separate labor contract with the district, and Article 7 of the substitute teachers’ contract allows them to ask to be removed from further assignment when the district’s regular teachers are involved in a lawful work stoppage.
Ray Amling, chairman of the Portland substitute teachers committee, says that of the 780 substitutes his committee has talked with, “the response has been nearly unanimous that they will honor a picket line if the teachers are forced to go on strike.”
In the meantime, according to PPS’ strike plan, PPS says they will prioritize opening elementary, middle and PK/K-8 schools with high schools to follow.
Families can choose to keep their student home during a strike.
Most before- and after-school programs and child care offered by community partner organizations would operate, but school-sponsored activities and athletics would not.
Some childcare providers may offer full-day care for students when school is closed.
Schools will have security personnel present to ensure that students, parents and staff can come and go from the school safely, while also acknowledging the right of teachers to picket off of school grounds.
PPS will tightly control access to the school. Visitors must check in at the front office and may not be permitted elsewhere in the school.
PPS aims to provide school meals and operate bus transportation as usual, and provide “a range of educational and social activities” during the school day, including supervised recess according to modified staffing levels.
PPS will work to reschedule tests and makeup work as needed. Some special education programs and alternative schools will not operate in the event of a strike, including: Alliance Alternative High School, Portland Evening Scholars, The Reconnection Center, Teen Parent Services and PPS Child Care Centers.
In dual language immersion programs, instruction will be offered in English only due to limited staffing. ESL students will also not receive special pull-out sessions.
Schedule to handle strike
Here is PPS’ anticipated strike schedule:
Monday, Feb. 17: President’s Day, no school
Tuesday, Feb. 18: Regular school day. PPS Board meets.
Wednesday, Feb. 19: The PPS scheduled late-start time is canceled. Instead, students will be dismissed early as teachers prepare to walk out, at a time to be determined.
Thursday, Feb. 20: Teachers’ strike begins, schools closed for staff training.
Friday, Feb. 21: Schools closed for staff training
Monday, Feb. 24: Schools closed for staff training
Tuesday, Feb. 25: Prioritize opening elementary, middle and PK/K-8 schools with high schools to follow
For more info:
• Email questions to email@example.com.
• Visit pps.net or the PPS Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pps.homepage.
• Call the hotline, 503-916-3260.
• Two community meetings for ESL and multilingual families are scheduled: 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 12 at Harrison Park School, 2225 S.E. 87th Ave.; and 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 13 at Cesar Chavez School, 5103 N. Willis Blvd. Information will be presented in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Somali, Arabic, Oromo and Hmong.