President's Message: Solidarity in the Time of COVID-19

Our lives and the lives of our students have taken a gut-wrenching U-turn in the past two months. 

And as I write one of my final messages before my tenure as PAT President is complete, we’ve been devastated all over again by what’s happened to school funding as a result of the COVID crisis. I started my career in PPS in 2003. Every year we faced layoffs, and I was a temporary teacher for several years. In 2005 I got involved with PAT, and quickly jumped into the work of our Legislative Committee, dedicating myself to improving school funding. I’ve been a part of every school funding campaign ever since. 

When I ran for President four years ago, I believed that Measure 97 would pass, and bring billions into our schools. I campaigned on the commitment that I would bring educators’ voices into the decision-making process--that we would shape how those dollars were spent. Things didn’t quite turn out the way I planned. 

A LONG ROUTE TO BETTER REVENUE

Within days of taking office as PAT President, our longtime superintendent resigned over fallout from lead in the PPS drinking water. Within months, it was clear that Measure 97 would not pass, and then Trump was elected. Together, we’ve sustained our public schools through all of these crises. 

While it’s been an honor to serve as PAT President the past four years, I’ve always loved teaching, and am really looking forward to returning to the classroom next year at Roosevelt. I’ll admit, part of my excitement stemmed from passage of the Student Success Act, and knowing our state’s budget forecast was solid. Just two months ago I believed that we would all have a chance to enjoy the fruits of our collective action, that we would be working with PPS to fund many, many more teaching positions, and that we would be in a better place to support our students, especially those most in need.  

Our collective efforts to highlight the needs of public schools and those of our students have not been in vain, but next year PPS will be in a very different place than we all hoped. On May 20th the state’s next revenue forecast will be released. We don’t know the magnitude of the coming recession, but some estimates project a 60 million dollar shortfall for the District. We don’t yet know what this shortfall will mean for staffing at PPS. Furloughs and looming budget cuts are not the teacher appreciation message anyone ever intended to send, but once again we must shift our advocacy to meet current realities. 

Of course, the state legislature could redistribute its current budget to address the projected shortfall, or draw on the Education Stability Fund. As educators, we need to send a strong message that lawmakers must shield our students and our schools from COVID-19’s economic fallout. As soon as more opportunities to support our schools become available closer to home, we will let you know.

FEDERAL ACTION NEEDED

Meanwhile, urgent action is needed at the federal level. Our national union, the National Education Association (NEA), is calling on Congress to allocate an additional $175 billion to stabilize education funding. The $30.7 billion authorized thus far is not nearly enough. It’s clear that the economic impact of COVID-19 could rival the Great Depression. State and local governments will need massive federal assistance to preserve public education and other essential services. A decade ago, during the Great Recession, state and local governments scrapped essential student services and laid off tens of thousands of educators. We can’t let that happen again. Email your members of Congress and tell them to keep students learning and educators working. 

We have already begun the process of protecting next year’s budget, by agreeing to modify our contract and accept furlough days. The PPS school board approved this plan Tuesday night. Together with our other labor partners, we are saving PPS $10 million, while holding PPS staff financially harmless, thanks to the federal Work Share program. This is a very unusual situation, to be partially furloughed without any financial penalty. But it’s not a loophole, this is exactly what these federal dollars are intended for--to avoid future layoffs and stimulate our local economy. 

OTHER WAYS TO LEND A HAND

I know some of you are eager to help others in need. We will be announcing a few ways to help our families and students soon. In the meantime, please remember the OEA Foundation. The foundation provides grants of $100, but is running out of money for the rest of this school year. If you can, please consider a donation.

You should have received an email from PPS on Tuesday outlining the next steps for our partial furlough. If you would like, there is an information session to learn more about the Work Share program. It is not necessary for you to attend. If you can't attend live, we will also be sending out a recording. It is being hosted by one of our labor partners, LABOR'S COMMUNITY SERVICE AGENCY, INC., a United Way of the Columbia-Willamette Community Partner. This is happening today, Thursday, May 7th from 3:30-4:40 pm. To join: 

Click here or call in at #1(346) 248-7799 or 1(669) 900-6833, Webinar ID# 892-5340-3568  As a reminder, beginning this Friday, there are no work expectations.

Many PAT members have also expressed concern for their students during this time. By agreeing to make up our 3 student days at the end of the year, students will be able to receive PPS meals for another week. Our students only miss two instructional days, and we all get a little more room to balance the additional stressors caused by teaching and learning at home.

As I wrap up my final months serving as your President, I want to thank each of you. It’s been an honor and a privilege to hold this position. I’m proud of the way we united to move Oregon education forward. Our bold collective action last May will enhance our students’ learning conditions next year and in the years to come. Meanwhile, we’ve been able to preserve jobs for 66 of our colleagues next year. Educators around the country are demonstrating similar commitment and creativity, looking for ways to protect students and classroom learning.

In Solidarity,

 

Suzanne Cohen

PAT President

Furlough/Work Share MOA

Recently PAT members voted to approve the Work Share Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and begin a plan for short term furlough days. Everyone understands the terms of the MOA, but some may not understand either Oregon Work Share or the CARES Act.

Because Oregon’s tax revenue stream is primarily supplied by personal income tax, every state-funded program faces cuts in next year’s budget. PPS is no exception. All of us recognize that cuts in PAT staffing means not only hardship for our members (loss of jobs and increased workload for those who remain employed), but also hardships for the students we serve each day because of larger class sizes and reduced programs. Luckily for PPS, PAT, and the students in Portland, there is the possibility to access funds through the CARES Act and Oregon Work Share.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became effective March 27th, 2020. It is a package that contains 2 trillion dollars of federal relief and economic stimulus “for American workers, families, and small businesses,” with the stated purpose of preserving jobs. One of the specific ways that the CARES Act is designed to work is by giving payments to states which have programs that qualify for the funding, and Oregon is one of those states.

Work Share Oregon is an example of a State of Oregon program that is able to access some of the federal CARES Act money. Work Share allows employers to leverage unemployment insurance (UI) to subsidize a portion of lost wages for employers whose work time is reduced due to market downturns or other business stressors such as the economic crisis of COVID-19. In other words, it is designed to help Oregon workers who are furloughed rather than laid off.

PPS and PAT, as well as all of the other PPS union-represented employees in DCU, ATU, SEIU, and PFSP, have agreed to address the looming budget cuts by setting aside money for next year by furloughing employees one day a week for the rest of this year.

The MOA that was approved by the PAT members and the PPS School Board is the agreement that will allow those furloughs to happen. As all of you know, by design, no one will be financially harmed as we proceed. The mechanism that allows this to happen is that PPS employees will take part in the Oregon Work Share program.

Keep in mind that our MOA specifically states that if an employee is deemed ineligible for Work Share, or if the entire Work Share/CARES Act program is stopped, PPS will return those individuals or the entire group to the pre-furlough schedule, and restore any lost days.

There are still details that we must work out, such as a workload agreement with PPS now that we will be on a four-day week. However, the PAT memberships’ recognition that we needed to protect our students and each other will help make next year a little less difficult.

Ed Foster on Retirement and Investment Questions

May 5, 2020

How would you like some good news? I thought so!

First, at present, the coronavirus situation has had no impact on PERS/OPSRP retiree pensions. Could this change? Possibly, but only after a Legislative session. Working from the classroom or working from off-site, you are still working toward your PERS/OPSRP retirement benefit.

But wait! There's more good news! If you have not received your 2019 PERS/OPSRP statement, allow me to offer a spoiler: it was a pretty good year for earnings. PERS Tier 1 regular accounts were again credited with 7.2%, with the Tier 1 variable accounts being credited 28.8%. PERS Tier 2 was credited with 13.27%. The IAP accounts (both PERS and OPSRP) had a variety of credits, depending on which fund the member was in (largely determined by age), but the average was 12.53%. 

Of course, 2020 is a giant question mark right now. However, there is even good news here!: because PERS crediting does not happen until Spring of the following year (and therefore allowing for the potential of a market recovery to help the averages), Oregon State Treasurer, Tobias Read, has said "For current state employees, changes happening in the stock market right now and over the next nine months won't affect your IAP account until the spring of 2021."

If this is all very confusing I completely understand. Typically this time of year I conduct a workshop at the PAT office where I would try to explain this and answer questions such as: Should I still contribute to my 403b? What is a 403b? Can I retire now? Should I? etc.

For obvious reasons, conducting a seminar simply isn't an option at present. However, I am still more than happy to help and answer any retirement/investment questions you might have. Please feel free to contact me at ed.foster@fosterassoc.com, or through PAT.

Be well!

Ed Foster
Registered Representative
Cetera Advisors
Foster & Associates, Inc.

PAT PAC Endorsements

May Primary Election: Please VOTE

The Covid-19 crisis has brought existing inequities in our society into stark focus.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that our policy makers are committed to uplifting the most vulnerable in our community, and reframing our economic policies around the values of equity and sustainability. 

This May Primary, we have the opportunity to elect the leaders we need to build the future we envision: this future includes a fully-funded public education system, strong protections for workers, universal health care, racial justice, environmental sustainability, and stable housing for all.

PAT PAC's endorsed candidates share this vision. Please VOTE this primary election, and share PAT PAC's endorsements with your friends and family who vote in Portland. Ballots are due by May 19.

Please save the image below and text or post it.

You can read more about each of our endorsed candidates, plus the OEA PAC endorsed candidates for statewide and Federal races, on our website.

Building Rep Election Process

Our building elections are how we ensure that Reps at each site are trusted, respected leaders. Normally each spring, we ask Building Reps to hold a Rep Election at their site so that members can democratically elect their representatives. 

Typically, this is done live with a paper ballot, so that votes are both secure and confidential. Without live staff meetings, we are working on developing a system to allow Reps to run a secure and confidential vote at each site, but we haven’t yet worked out the kinks. Please stay tuned for more information about Rep Elections. 

In the meantime, we are asking elected reps to remain in their position, and talk to people about running to be a Rep.

  • Notify all the members at your site that Rep Elections will be coming up, and that all members are eligible to run.
  • Think about who is trusted and respected in your building. Talk to them about running!
  • Think about representation. Does your Rep team ballot include a balance of experiences that mirrors the members at your site? Consider grade level, subject, gender, race, and age.
  • You get to elect 1 Rep for every 9 members, so aim to get at least that many people to run.

To run to be a Rep for your site, let your current Head Rep know you are interested. For more information, including the Building Rep Job description, go to www.pdxteachers.org/pat_elections. For additional questions, contact our Vice-President elect, Gwen Sullivan (gwenner3@gmail.com).

 

PAT PAC Board Election Results

In April, PAT PAC contributors elected new members to serve as Directors on the PAT PAC Board. Erika Scheider and Mary Watkins will each serve a three year term beginning on July 1st. Jacob Jonas Closs and Joanne Shepherd will each begin a one year term on July 1st. 

In addition to the newly elected Directors, next year’s PAT PAC Board will include these members whose terms continue: Elizabeth Thiel, Madeleine Allen, Rebecca Levison, Tina Lamanna, Gwen Sullivan, and Greg Burrill. 

To run to be elected as an at-large director of the PAT PAC, one must be a contributor to the PAC; a member of PAT or PMAE-Retired; and a member of the PAT Legislative Committee.

To learn more about the PAT PAC, go to www.pdxteachers.org/pat_pac

Contract Exceptions

Every year, the PAT Advocacy Committee receives requests from building reps about how to seek an exception to a contractual provision.  This type of exception is usually an exception that is limited to that building and limited to those teachers in the building – it is not an exception that is applied PPS-wide. We call this limited modification to a provision of the contract, a Contract Exception.

Most contract exceptions involve requests to make changes in the teacher work year (article 6), in the workday (article 7), or in workload (article 8).  Simply, a contract exception must be initiated by an educator at a building, and not by a building administrator. The PAT Advocacy Committee creates the exceptions application process – not PPS. 

All exceptions expire at the end of the school year in which they were granted. Meaning, if your building was granted a contract exception in this academic year, it will terminate at the end of this school year in June.   

If a building wants to initiate a building exception, we have the exception application on the PAT website, along with a checklist to help you gather all the documents you’ll need in addition to submitting a completed form to the PAT Advocacy Committee. 

What is a contract exception? 

It’s a limited modification of a provision in your union contract.  

Who can initiate a contract exception? 

Only members of the union at your building. A building administrator cannot initiate this process. 

What is the procedure? 

The PAT Building Head Rep (1) educates their colleagues on the potential impact of this exception; (2) prepares a secret ballot and (3) conducts the election. Finally, the Head Rep will complete the PAT contract exception form found on the PAT website and submit to the PAT Advocacy Committee and await approval/denial. 

What are the deadlines? 

While the original deadline for 2020-21 contract exceptions was May 1, 2020, given our changed context we will be accepting contract exceptions on a rolling basis prior to the start of school next year. Exceptions are only valid for the school year for which it was approved. Click here for the Contract Exception application.

SpEd Update

Special Education: Challenges & Changes

Since PPS shifted to a distance learning model after closing schools on March 13th, many difficulties have arisen for educators, students, and families across Portland. Perhaps some of the greatest challenges have come to our tireless Special Education teachers and service providers. Special Education staff have been overwhelmed with a constantly shifting barrage of work tasks from both the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the Special Education department in PPS. Much of the work has been redundant tracking and documenting of student information. Directives from district leaders have either lacked clear guidance for establishing priorities or conflicted with directives from supervisors at the Special Education department and their schools. 

PAT leadership hosted a large meeting with SpEd PAT reps to discuss these problems and develop a plan of action. We wanted to pressure the District to address these issues so educators could focus their limited time and resources on connecting with kids, making sure they are safe, and delivering education and services for each individual student as best they can during this crisis. 

A smaller group of approximately 10 PAT reps from SpEd, joined by PAT leadership and staff, met with the District two weeks ago to present our concerns and some essential ideas for change. We are happy to report that we have won some significant changes to work expectations and procedures for SpEd educators. These changes include the following: 

  • Redundant tracking systems will be phased out, now to be left to the discretion of the educator
  • All building meetings will be optional and at the discretion of the educator, based on how attendance would affect their weekly workload
  • SpEd program administrators will commit to working with the educator on priorities, especially if the member notifies them that they anticipate going beyond their weekly 25 or 20 hours of work
  • The District has agreed to streamline communications to staff and building administrators by sending one communication each week, the “Special Education Newsflash” 

PAT is still seeking to get agreement from the District on compensation for members that end up working beyond their daily and weekly expected hours to participate in IEP or Distance Learning Plan meetings (a document required by ODE when the IEP team determines that an IEP cannot be met and needs to be amended). 

Lastly, we were happy to hear the Director of SpEd, Mary Mertz, tell us verbally that the department trusts that all SpEd educators and service providers are doing the best they can with the difficulties of adapting to distance learning. As such, Mertz says, the department will not use anything related to educators’ delivery of services and instruction as data in future evaluations. PAT remains committed to getting this understanding as part of a larger agreement that covers all of our members during this period.

Building and Classroom Moves, Article 19

Article 19 provides compensation for packing and unpacking if your move is due to a district reconfiguration or change. Within your building, you are entitled to payment if your administrator directs you to move classrooms after the school year has begun or for the second year in a row.

If your move is the result of typical Spring un-assignments because of a reduction in positions in your building, or the result of your voluntary decision to apply for a transfer, payment is not required.  

In the case of an extraordinary move like packing up a library, band room, theater, or laboratory,  if you agree to pack up this kind of room, prior to commencing the work, speak with your administrator about the estimated number of additional hours needed to pack up this type of room. Try to come to an agreement on the number of hours it will take to pack up this room.  If you are unable to come to an agreement, then please call PAT so we can help resolve this dispute. 

Our Moving FAQ