Portland Public Schools reach tentative deal with teachers union, classes resume Monday with 2-hour delay

Portland Public Schools in Oregon announced on Sunday it had reached a tentative agreement with its teachers union, and students will return to classes on Monday with a two-hour delay after more than three weeks out of school.

Teachers who have been on strike since Nov. 1 over concerns about pay, class sizes and planning time will still need to vote on the agreement. The deal must also be approved by the school board, although the union is allowing classes to resume while the votes move forward. 

The district’s 45,000 students missed 11 days of school before the district’s Thanksgiving break last week. The last day students attended school was Halloween and there was no online education during the strike.

“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,” Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said in a statement. “We thank our students, families, and community for your patience and perseverance through these protracted negotiations. 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.”

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The teachers’ union said the tentative agreement represents a victory for both teachers and students regarding teachers’ salaries, classroom size, health and safety and mental health support for students still struggling from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Students will make up the 11 missed school days by cutting a week off winter break, three days off summer break and three additional days in the new calendar year that were initially going to be days off from classes.

The contract will cost roughly $175 million over the next three years.

“This contract is a watershed moment for Portland students, families, and educators” Portland Teachers Association President Angela Bonilla said in a statement. “Educators have secured improvements on all our key issues. … Educators walked picket lines alongside families, students, and allies – and because of that, our schools are getting the added investment they need.”

The deal would provide teachers with a 13.8% cumulative cost-of-living increase over the next three years and about half of them would earn an extra 10.6% from yearly step increases, the district said. The agreement would also increase classroom time for elementary and middle grades beginning next year and increase elementary and middle school teachers’ planning time by an hour and a half each week.

PORTLAND SCHOOLS CLOSED FOR 9TH STRAIGHT DAY AS TEACHER STRIKE DRAGS ON

The district would also triple the number of members on its Rapid Response Team to support students’ mental and behavioral health, and mandatory minimum student suspensions will be replaced with “trauma-informed processes.”

The Portland Association of Teachers, representing more than 4,000 educators, said this was the first teachers strike in the school district. The union has been negotiating with the district for a new contract for months after its previous one expired in June.

Teachers were upset about growing class sizes, lack of classroom support and planning time and salaries that were falling behind inflation.

Portland Public Schools insisted that it did not have the money to meet the union’s demands. In June, Oregon lawmakers approved a record $10.2 billion K-12 budget for the next two years, but the district said that still was not enough.

The district called for state lawmakers to allocate additional school funding and said it would have to make budget cuts to afford the concessions to the teachers union.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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