You are probably familiar with the parable about the boiling frog. According to the story, if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will immediately hop out. However, if you put a frog in cool water and very gradually heat it up, the frog will “be stuck in the comfort of its surroundings,” and stay put until it is too hot, and too late. Although modern science has proven that this is not how frogs behave, this story serves as a brilliant metaphor for what is happening to PAT members and other Oregon educators.
PPS AND CITY OFFICIALS ARE TURNING UP THE HEAT
We’re less than three weeks into the school year, and the bargaining commitment that PPS made to avoid a strike hasn’t materialized—we have a serious workload problem.
When we negotiated our class size language, it wasn’t ideal. For example, we use thresholds instead of caps, and the thresholds themselves are too high. But the District has repeatedly promised that no one will be worse off, and many educators will be better off. Given the state’s chronic funding shortfalls, our class-size thresholds felt like a step forward and something to be proud of.
Unfortunately, the District has not lived up to its commitment. On Friday, we sent out a quick survey asking how your class size/caseload compared to last year. Around 45% of you have a worse situation than last year, with less than 20% reporting any improvements.
The city is adding to our challenges. Portland continues to grow, but lacks any meaningful planning or partnership with our schools. This has produced a space and facilities problem. For example, in many schools PPS would add another educator—but there is no classroom. Portable permits from the city are slow, and hard to come by.
And the city’s skyrocketing cost of living, coupled with our heavy workload, has made hiring educational assistants, para-educators, and custodians a never-ending task. We have shortages everywhere, including in teaching staff, and if we don’t act soon it will be worse next year.
SALEM MAKES MATTERS WORSE
For years, we’ve been losing educators to Washington State. We all know someone—a colleague, a student teacher, a family member—who chooses to live in Portland and work in Washington. Their reasons are obvious: Washington has class-size language that is significantly better than ours, and significantly more resources.
I like to joke that the difference between Oregon and Washington is that Washington law mandates the funding of public schools, and their legislature raises revenue accordingly. Oregon law also mandates the funding of public schools, and every year our legislature writes a report about why they didn’t do it.
These differences between our two states are in even sharper relief this year thanks to the wave of strikes across Southern Washington. Educators across the region have been winning double-digit raises, which will only increase the disparities between us. Last week, at a rally for striking educators, I had a conversation with two union leaders, one from Vancouver and one from Evergreen. Both lived in Portland, and choose to work across the river. They both told me quite frankly—"your class sizes are awful.” It’s true—PPS class sizes are terrible, and sadly, they are some of the best in the state. To me, there is no pride in being the best of the worst.
We know that most educators want a more manageable workload and better pay. Now Washington has both. We’ve seen educators in other states react as administrators and elected officials turn up the heat—Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
We need to hold PPS accountable to the commitments they made to us at the bargaining table—but that won’t be enough. Whoever is elected in November—and whatever education budget we’re facing—I know I won’t sit still while we’re boiled alive.
I also know a lot of educators who look good in red.