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. 


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.


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. 


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