PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Days before the end of the school year, teachers working for Portland Public Schools organized a district-wide walkout Thursday amid their ongoing fight for smaller classes, increased support and better pay.

The educators protested during and after the school day, saying they feel overworked and underfunded. Teachers told KOIN 6 that returning from digital learning has exposed issues the district already faced years ago – but were exacerbated by the pandemic.  

President Angela Bonilla of the Portland Association of Teachers said they have invited educators across the district to join their pledge to ensure a better learning environment for “every single student.”

“Our students can’t wait. We have had immense need for our communities since before COVID, closures and distance learning,” she said. “We have seen community health centers at schools close, we’ve seen educator positions cut while administrator positions continue to grow, and we continue to see students being underserved.”

Among these issues is support for special education. The subject is top of mind for former special education teacher Natalie Drummond, who says she was forced to leave her role.

“I was a special educator up until this year. And I just was so frustrated with how little support that we had for our students that I actually ended up leaving that position,” she said. “So that’s a big hope of mine. Also mental health supports. I would love for us to be paid a wage that is livable and that honors us as professionals.”

Educators said they want to see PPS management use the $75 million that they helped secure for the district to go toward supporting students and staff.

But the district told KOIN 6 they already plan to use half of the estimated $87 million in their reserves – saying in a statement that it would leave them with $43 million, and their board policy requires the district to maintain a minimum of 5%, or $41 million. 

“PPS is fully aware of the misinformation campaign led by PAT [Portland Association of Teachers]. Our board policy requires the district to maintain 5% of our annual funding in reserve, which is what we are doing,” the statement reads. “We will continue to be fiscally responsible and work with integrity and transparency while centering our students in all of our decisions.”

Bonilla said teachers need to come together and fight for their students and communities, and they “need to do that now.”

“When there’s a will, there’s a way, right?,” she said. “Whenever the district has a new initiative, they find the money to pay for it. So, let’s find the money to invest in our students.”

Stay with KOIN 6 as this story develops.