November 10th, 2009 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

Teachers Overpower School Board Meeting

Several hundred Portland Public Schools teachers gathered outside Monday night's school board meeting to protest contract talks that have dragged on since before June 2008, when the teachers' contract expired.

Their chanting outside delayed the meeting's start time — then threatened to overpower the opening minutes. As school board chairwoman Trudy Sargent pounded the gavel to start the meeting around 7:15 pm, hundreds of teachers who had poured into the room shouted her down. "We are P-A-T" -- the Portland Association of Teachers union -- they cheered.

Union president Rebecca Levison was then given a few minutes to address the board. She said teachers didn't feel respected by the district, which is asking teachers to take five furlough days and a retroactive cost-of-living increase only in the first year of the two-year contract. (All PPS employees are being asked to take five furlough days to help cover a statewide budget shortfall, but other labor groups already got their COLA.) Levison also mentioned WW's story from two weeks ago about the surplus sale that got rid of school supplies. She cited the story as an example of PPS not looking out for teachers.

The two speakers who followed Levison were the human equivalents of one-two punches. Curtis Wilson, a second grade teacher at Sitton K-8 School, used to be a PPS custodian until he and all of his coworkers were outsourced in a move later found to be illegal. After he was let go in 2002, he returned to school to become a teacher. This year, he said, he "began to doubt the choice."

David Child, a science teacher at Woodlawn K-8 School, followed Wilson. Child, formerly a teacher at Ockley Green K-8 School, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008 with the 396th Combat Support Hospital of the U.S. Army Reserves. When he returned to PPS to get his old job back in March 2008, Child says he was told he had been "unassigned," meaning he would no longer report to Ockley Green. This prompted the crowd to boo the school board, whose members sat silently as Child accused the district of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

PPS School Board

"Enough already!" a teacher in the crowd shouted.

After Child's talk, the teachers walked out of the meeting yelling at the school board to settle their contract. Talks continue today.

As if nothing had happened, Superintendent Carole Smith (who had faced jeers of "Where are you Carole?") gave a short update on the last two weeks. She talked about the Council of The Great City Schools conference and the musical and dance performances by PPS students at the conference. She then thanked the students.

That's when another interruption took place. One teacher who remained in the crowd broke with protocol and asked Smith a question aloud: "Why didn't you mention the teachers?" she asked.

Sargent, acting as the meeting's chairwoman, pounded her gavel again, saying it wasn't appropriate for the teacher to interrupt. "You can send an email," Sargent saying, trying to overpower the teacher.

It didn't work. Displaying an appropriate degree of political savvy, Smith took the teacher's point and amended her comments to include a "shout out" to teachers. Photo below of David Child at Woodlawn.

David Child
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