Moving Backwards on Bargaining

Last Tuesday, PAT members turned out in force to let the School Board know that negotiations are headed in the wrong direction.

For years we’ve heard Board Members and District leaders talk about rebuilding trust after our last bargain and we took them at their word. For a year-and-a-half we’ve been engaged in Interest-Based Bargaining with the District, and I’m really proud of our bargaining team. We’ve offered a lot of really creative ideas, and tried to work together despite a lot of bumps in the road.


But now the District has dropped all semblance of cooperation. They are ignoring our agreements and unilaterally imposing terms. Indeed, right after my testimony the School Board adopted a budget for 2017-18 that directly violates our contract. During my testimony I warned the School Board that we would be forced to file unfair labor practice charges if things didn’t change pretty dramatically. You can see the entire testimony here:

District officials walked out of bargaining the very next day!

Unlike PPS, we kept our word and filed charges against the District, covering four key violations of our contract and Oregon state law.

A Better Year Before a Longer Year – In our last contract, we allowed the District to extend the school year by up to two extra days, with educators paid at a per diem rate, ‘provided that extended days would have to be cut prior to a reduction in staffing levels.’ It’s right there in black and white. And while the School Board made some progress restoring counselors, media specialists, and PE positions, next year’s budget does not maintain current staffing levels. The Board shouldn’t be adding days until we’ve adequately staffed our schools. It’s a violation of our contract and our trust.

Reasonable Workload – In our last negotiations we made it clear that we wanted to be able to give our students the individual attention they need, and to do that the District had to address our workload. We were wary about how we could simultaneously ease student loads while also implementing a six-of-eight schedule at every Portland high school. But whatever you think about our progress over the last three years, it’s clear that next year’s budget completely ignores our contract and the District’s obligation to reducing our workload. The School Board did not have to offer a six-of-eight schedule. But if they want it, then they have a duty to honor our agreement. 

Respect State Law – Not only is the District struggling to follow our contract, they’re ignoring state law. Under Oregon law, for example, substitutes are entitled to the same sick leave as regular classroom teachers. Yet the District wants to ignore legal requirements because it’s inconvenient or doesn’t suit their purpose.

Stick to Our Agreement on Snow Days – This is the issue that pains me the most. We spent so many days, so many hours negotiating with the District over what we were going to do about making up snow days.  And before the ink was even dry, our agreement was being violated. Across the District, principals were mandating that teachers do report cards despite what we’d agreed. The District can’t blame prior leadership or previous lapses in accountability. This is on their watch.

I don’t know how the District plans to settle this contract after walking out of negotiations, but I know how we can.

In the short term, we need to turn up the heat in Salem. In the next two weeks the legislature will decide whether to raise the revenue necessary to restore programs and lower class size or continue the decades of disinvestment in our students. Legislators across the state need to hear loud and clear just how devastating these cuts are to our students, and why corporations should start paying their fair share.

We also need to push our School Board to get involved in the bargain, to find out what our proposals are, and see what the District’s team has actually put on the table.

But as we learned during our last bargain, our real strength comes from all of you. When we stand up for the schools our students deserve, we can win.

And if the District won’t listen, we’ll have to make them.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen
PAT President