PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Schedule changes likely to hit grades K-12 in Portland Public Schools come January have yet to be determined.
Despite weeks of negotiations and talks between the school district and its teachers union, the two parties have yet to agree on a new weekly calendar that would give educators more time for critical planning and collaboration without cutting too many in-person learning hours from students.
Negotiations began in late November and continued Thursday, Dec. 16, spilling over into Friday, Dec. 17. The school district and the Portland Association of Teachers had hoped to reach an agreement before the winter break.
“Although we made significant progress in our conversations to provide a robust educational experience in a challenging year for our students, we have not reached a tentative agreement with the union,” a statement from Portland Public Schools released late Friday said.
During negotiations Friday, the teachers union and school district discussed a proposal for a weekly, one-hour early release day for all K-8 students, beginning Jan. 31. If that proposal moves forward, schools wouldn’t see more than three early release days a month. The same proposal asked for a flex period twice a week for high school students, where students would have a built-in study or tutorial hour, giving teachers time to catch up while providing individualized, or one-on-one student instruction for those who need extra help in a certain subject.
Ongoing discussions between PPS and its educators have been tense. Teachers say they’re experiencing unprecedented workloads due to learning and socialization loss among students. Students in the same grade are at widely varied academic levels, requiring more time to plan and find appropriate curriculum to get all students up to speed.
“Elementary teachers teach multiple subjects, five or six times a day,” Emily Markewitz, a member of the union bargaining team, said Thursday. “Each of those subjects has multiple groups of students that need different interventions. We’re looking for timely ways to respond to the needs of our students.”
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Union reps say the requests being made for additional planning time for teachers are on par with what neighboring districts already provide their employees.
Teachers say the challenges are causing many educators to leave the profession, which could make the district’s existing staffing shortages even worse. Union reps said many teachers have approached them asking how to take an extended leave period or quit altogether.
Steve Lancaster, chair of the PAT bargaining team, criticized the district’s alternative schedule proposals as inadequate, likening them to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
School leaders say it’s not just teachers experiencing stress. They said any calendar changes will burden families who may need to find childcare arrangements on short notice, if schedule changes are enacted in January.
“We’ve all experienced trauma, especially our students,” Jonathan Garcia, chief of staff for PPS, said Thursday. We’ve experienced complexity of human emotion. As you all know, we’re all experiencing burnout. We’re living in a state of unknowns. … We also know we need consistency.”
PPS said its administrative team offered to meet again with the union Monday, Dec. 20, but by Friday evening, there was no follow-up meeting scheduled.
“We are hopeful that we can come to a shared understanding with the union that balances the need for teachers to prepare with students being in school,” the district’s statement added.