PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of the biggest sticking points in the ongoing Portland teachers strike is their demand for reducing the size of classes.

Despite a year of negotiations and a strike that began November 1, the Portland Association of Teachers say there is little movement on the key concerns from educators. Leaders with the Portland Public School District say class size and hiring more teachers are inextricably linked.

Parents, such as Susannah Reese, say class sizes are too big.

“My son had 35 kids in his classroom, which is too many 3rd-graders in one classroom,” Reese told KOIN 6 News.

According to the previous contract, elementary classroom size thresholds ranged from 24-28 students. Anything beyond that requires overload pay or adding an educational assistant.

But the target for when an additional teacher is added is a gray area.

That doesn’t sit well with parents like Reese.

“We had to make our voices really loud,” she said, explaining why she and others support the strike.

School board members say it’s not always that simple.

“We do have targets in which if that gets to a certain point, we do add another teacher — and that’s always been our policy,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards, who is also a Portland School Board member. “Sometimes when you get to a larger class, there actually isn’t another classroom available.”

PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said while they’re trying to meet teachers’ asks, all the demands from PAT come at a cost.

PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, November 13, 2023 (KOIN)
PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, November 13, 2023 (KOIN)

“We have a gap between the ask and what we think we can at this moment put on the table,” Guerrero said. “When you want to drive down class size, that means you want to hire more educators. So I’ve been saying this from the beginning: compensation, class size, you have to manage those two dials. Or you could put your school district in insolvency. We don’t want to do that.”

Late Monday night, PPS released an update with their calculations about the cost of PAT’s proposal.

The PPS estimates show the union plan would cost $358 million. Of that, about $100 million would be capping class sizes, which would require the district to hire another 350 teachers.

The overall cost of $358 million is $211 million more than the PPS proposal.

“It is disappointing to see these proposals on the heels of our work last week with the State’s Chief Financial Officer. Her team identified only $12.4 million more that we could have available for next school year,” PPS officials said in the release. “$12.4 million is significantly less than that $211 million gap that separates us.”

But parents say their kids are more than a line item on a spreadsheet.

“We don’t want to have to fight so hard for our kids to be able to have space and attention from their teacher to learn,” Reese said.