PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Wednesday marks exactly two weeks since the Portland teachers’ strike began, and both sides are one step closer to a deal.
Portland Public Schools passed a late-evening settlement package, including more planning time, more teachers to lower classes, and a new building-level class size process.
“It feels productive, it feels like we’re starting to enter a path toward settlement,” PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said. “I think we’ve cleared 10 smaller articles, tentative agreements, which is a positive sign that we’re getting momentum. We still have some of the bigger issues left to tackle.”
The ongoing bargaining also received an added financial boost: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Carmen Rubio fast-tracked nearly $20 million for PPS infrastructure updates — one of the other demands on the table as they seek health and safety-related building improvements.
Wednesday also marked an important timeline. The teachers’ health insurance reportedly set to expire at midnight, though the Oregon Education Association said they would step in to keep it going.
“We’re fully prepared to cover insurance costs if need-be during a strike. It’s something that we planned for and something that we do for any local that is in this position,” OEA President Reed Scott-Schwalbach said.
Miles away at the Oregon State Capitol, three Republican lawmakers announced plans to introduce legislation next session limiting teachers’ unions from walking out on school days in an effort to prevent this from happening in other districts.
“This is about protecting children. This is not about union bosses and what they want. I think this is a dangerous precedent if we allow this to happen in our biggest school district in the state,” state Rep. Christine Goodwin, representing Southern Oregon, said, adding that the state is still catching up in the aftermath of COVID closures. “There are 37 other states that already have similar legislation including Idaho and Washington. We recognize that this is really detrimental to kids. This is their school time.”
The OEA says longtime collective bargaining laws ensure voices are brought to the table, and they don’t see that changing anytime soon.
“We would not be in favor of changing a law that Oregon has had for decades,” Scott-Schwalbach said.
KOIN 6 reached out to the PAT about the new settlement offered by the district.
“For the first time, PPS responded to PAT proposal in regard to class size limits — a key issue for Portland educators, families and students,” PAT president Angela Bonilla said in a statement. “Although it’s nowhere near enough, it’s a good start.”
The PAT also said that some issues may be close to agreement, but others remain far apart on cost-of-living adjustments and mental health support.
The strike is set to continue on Thursday. Schools will remaining closed.