Strike Deadline Nears For Portland Public Schools

As reported prior, the looming possibility of a strike at Portland schools in Oregon continues as the strike date nears and the board has declared a state of emergency to move forward with preparations.

The resolution was approved by the school board, and is essentially a formality to allow Superintendent Carole Smith the freedom to spend money on strike preparation, which includes hiring substitute teachers. Smith will be required to report all spending to the board after the strike is over.

Portland Public Schools is the state’s largest school district, and if the strike takes place on February 20th it will be the first in the district’s history.

According to Nicole Dungka at the Oregonian, educators at the school are packing up their rooms, and school officials have plans to collect district property from teachers in preparation for the strike.

“Employee workload” is one of the issues the teachers union named to justify a walkout in its required notice to the state. Other issues include salary and fringe benefits; the length of the school year; hours of instructional and preparation time; disciplinary procedures; performance pay; and duration of the contract.

Board members were disappointed with the vote, and one member said it was “inconceivable” after the district has faced years of budget cuts. She says the teachers’ workload will get better when state funding improves. The union has criticized the board after they refused to hire 176 teachers to help reduce educators’ class size and workload.

One of the reasons behind the strike may be class sizes. If this is the case then the state does not allow unions and employers to bargain over the issue. A complaint was filed with the Employment Relations board arguing that one of the union’s reasons for striking is class size.

The complaint asks the state to cancel the strike, order the union to eliminate class size from the proposal, or return to bargaining for at least 30 days before going on strike.

A hearing is set for the day before the start of the strike (February 19th) but the board does not have to rule on it until a week later.

Board Member Steve Buel is backed by the teachers union and states that he is not in favor of keeping the schools open during strike, but that the resolution needed to happen so the superintendent can ensure the students’ safety.

Board co-chairman Greg Belisle said that both sides are hoping for an agreement but that the district must be prepared.

Board members and district officials have made it known that they are not ready to let the teachers strike, the district’s legal counsel filed the complaint stating the teachers were walking out against state guidelines, and the board has not voted to force teachers to work under a contract.

Superintendent Carole Smith agrees that both sides are eager to reach an agreement and have plans on meeting without a state mediator.