November 20th, 2013 10:50 am | by ALEX TOMCHAK SCOTT News | Posted In: PDX News, Schools, Politics

Portland Public Schools Declares Impasse In Contract Talks With Teachers

Union calls action "dangerous and reckless"

Portland Public Schools has declared an impasse in negotiations with the Portland Association of Teachers, its 3,600-member teachers' union. The announcement sets the timeline for a possible strike by the union.

The schools and teachers have spent six months trying to negotiate over a new contract, but both sides have characterized talks as unproductive, accusing the other side of trying to force a strike.

The proposals put forth by the two sides are so different, WW reported in today's paper, that the two cannot even decide what to negotiate.

Teachers argue that recent cuts in the schools budget have fallen predominantly on their shoulders, and say that without the leverage provided by contract negotiations, they cannot get the district to listen to their concerns.

PPS leaders say terms negotiated in the past have hamstrung its ability to make reforms.

The district's contract proposal would slightly extend the school year, give teachers a 5-percent raise and reduce some benefits, including early retirement incentives, as well as making it easier to fire teachers. The teachers' proposal includes an 8.55-percent raise.

This week's issue of WW has a full analysis of the bargaining issues.

The district issued a statement on the impasse Wednesday morning that includes the school board's version of the bargaining.

Here's an excerpt:

Portland Public Schools announced today that contract talks with the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) are at impasse.

The announcement comes with the two sides far apart on major issues after seven months of negotiations. At this time, more than $200 million separates the two sides’ compensation offers.

Since bargaining started, the school district has sought contract changes that would help all students attain high academic standards, regardless of race or class. PPS’ offer would:

Lengthen the school year by three days and the teacher work year by two days. Make competence a more important factor in teacher assignment and layoff.
Streamline hiring to make PPS more competitive for high-quality candidates.
Maintain teacher workloads at existing levels through 2015-16 while a work group studies the issue.
Provide pay and benefits that are in line with revenue and competitive with other school districts. This will enable PPS to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes.

“We hope impasse will spur both sides to address these issues and reach a settlement in a timely manner,” said Sean Murray, PPS chief human resources officer. “Contract talks that go on for months or years disrupt schools and hurt students.”

Portland Association of Teachers President Gwen Sullivan called the district's move "dangerous and reckless.

Here's the statement issued by the union today.

This morning, the Portland School Board walked away from mediation with teachers by unilaterally calling for impasse. The School Board’s dangerous action pushes Portland Public Schools one step closer to a strike. This comes at a time when the two sides had been making progress and moving closer together on critical issues in the contract.  

“The School Board’s actions are dangerous and reckless. The Board is sending a clear message that they would rather force a strike and shut the schools doors on our students than work together with teachers,” said Gwen Sullivan, President of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT). “As we enter into the holiday season, the Board’s gift to Portland students and their families is a huge lump of coal. Their actions threaten the future of our public schools.”

In the School Board’s proposal, they continue to insist upon gutting all current workload language in the contract which would remove caps on how many students teachers have in the class or in their care. It would also give the district unilateral ability to slash the time teachers need to prepare for and meet independently with their students and force teachers to teach to the test. 

“The School Board has not only walked away from Portland’s teachers. They’re abandoning our students by refusing to address the very real challenges our schools are facing,” said Bill Wilson, Grant High science teacher and PAT bargaining chair. “Portland teachers want to find solutions to our class size crisis and the growing inequity in our neighborhood schools. The district wants to push us to strike.”  

“The School Board’s high-priced and high-stakes strategy has pushed contract negotiations with Portland teachers into dangerous new territory that could do terrible damage to our schools, students and the larger community,” said Sullivan. “They are creating a false crisis and in the end it’s the students and this community who will be harmed.”  

The Portland Association of Teachers represents more than 3,000 classroom teachers, school counselors and other educators working on the frontlines with students.
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