Some City Council Candidates Bristle at the Line of Questioning in Endorsement Interviews by the Teachers’ Union

The president of the union, Angela Bonilla, tells WW the questions were appropriate. Top school district officials didn’t respond to our inquiries.

INTERVIEW: PAT President Angela Bonilla speaks to KGW-TV during the teachers' strike. (Brian Burk)

Candidates for City Council went into a Portland Association of Teachers endorsement interview on the afternoon of May 30 prepared to talk about education.

Instead, one of the first short-answer questions the union’s political action committee posed was whether the candidates supported police using violent tactics against nonviolent protesters. The panelists cited local pro-Palestine demonstrations as an example.

“They weren’t really meat-and-potatoes questions,” said Olivia Clark, a candidate at one of the two May 30 interviews who did not receive an endorsement from the union.

The candidates’ descriptions of the interview process show a public employee union that issues its coveted political endorsements using criteria that extend well beyond a candidate’s support for school funding and collective bargaining. WW first reported Monday on that candidates received written questions prior to the interviews asking whether the Portland City Council had sufficiently supported Gazans in the Israel-Hamas War.

Candidates who participated in the interviews told WW few of the questions were about education. Another candidate, a police officer, said he declined to fill out PAT’s initial questionnaire altogether because he felt the interview was going to be “very radical.”

The president of the union, Angela Bonilla, tells WW the questions were appropriate. “We invited PAT PAC contributors to ask the questions that are important to them as educators and Portlanders. Questions around police violence and societal class dynamics do not depart from education.”

Bonilla told WW that all candidates received the initial endorsement questionnaire. She says the union chose six or seven candidates from each voting district to interview who responded to the written questionnaire and received more than a certain number of small campaign contributions to qualify for the city’s Small Donor Elections program. (The union didn’t endorse any candidates in District 1 because so few schools in Portland Public Schools are in that district, which covers Portland east of Interstate 205.)

The six-question questionnaire, which was obtained by WW, included queries about the City Council’s role regarding public schools, wealth disparities in Portland, and the lack of resources for educators, specifically in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officer Eli Arnold of the Portland Police Bureau’s Central Bike Squad, a District 4 candidate, told WW he declined to respond to the questionnaire altogether. “I just felt like there was a bit of a tone there,” he said.

Eric Zimmerman, who is also running in District 4, which covers areas west of the Willamette River, says he didn’t get an invite. Zimmerman is chief of staff for Julia Brim-Edwards, who sits on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and the Portland Public Schools Board.

“Every group has their own reasons, I don’t know PAT’s reasons for not inviting me and that’s OK,” he said in a statement to WW. “I’m a product of public school. My mom was in that union her entire career as a Portland Public Schools teacher.”

But the union last fall bitterly warred with the School Board, including Zimmerman’s boss, during a two-week teacher strike that kept kids out of classrooms for 15 days. The two parties exchanged escalating allegations of dishonesty until they finally agreed on a contract in November.

After PAT sent out its official questionnaire and selected the candidates it would interview, the union also sent a list of 15 member-submitted questions on May 29 for candidates to consider the night before the interviews took place.

Questions on that list included whether candidates thought Portland’s elected officials had done enough to respond to the “ongoing genocide” in Palestine, whether they would commit to keeping cops out of schools, and whether they supported fully funding Portland Street Response, which sends unarmed units rather than police to respond to mental health crises.

Three candidates who participated in the same interview told WW they were surprised at the questions the teachers asked. One question asked candidates to share their perspectives on the dynamics between the ruling class and the working class, participants told WW. Another asked whether they supported police violence in response to nonviolent protests of the war in Gaza.

Jesse Cornett, a District 3 candidate who was endorsed by PAT, said the questions “all in some way tied back to education,” and he gave the example of a question regarding homelessness.

Sarah Silkie, who is running in District 4 and received a PAT endorsement, said most of the questions were education-related except for the one about Portland police and Gaza. She told WW the interview was pretty intense, given that selected candidates for a district were all interviewed together.

“We’re always thrilled to have teachers behind us,” said Jonathan Pulvers, campaign manager for District 4 candidate Chad Lykins, who was endorsed by PAT. Pulvers had no comment on how closely the questions related to education.

WW reached out to new PPS Superintendent Dr. Kimberlee Armstrong and each School Board member for comment on the union’s questions. The only one to respond by press deadline was School Board member Michelle DePass, who’s also running for City Council. She declined to comment.

Below is the list of the 15 questions, verbatim, that candidates received May 29, the night before the group interviews.


Do you believe transit in the city of Portland should be free?

Do you commit to fully finding and expanding Portland Street Response?

Yes/No Will you commit to using your voice on the city council to demand Salem fully fund Portland schools?

What actions or mechanisms will you use to stop the patterns of worker abuse, silencing, and retaliation so that we can achieve safe schools?

Will you work hard as a school board member [sic] to create policies that lead to similar course offerings for middle schools?

Will you keep [Portland Police Bureau] and [school resource officers] out of our public district?

Do you believe Portland elected officials have done their due diligence in responding to the ongoing genocide in Palestine?

How will you work with PPS to keep homeless or housing insecure families in their neighborhoods to maintain school continuity and stability?

What would you do as a city councilor to address the way we think about and witness bullying behavior—in schools, in the community, in workplaces, and beyond?

What do you think of the recent PPS school board decision to allow [Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] programs to be established?

If elected, how will you advocate for and support school library programs?

How can City Council work with PPS and other districts to support our schools?

Will you strengthen and fully fund Portland Parks and Recs and expand the classes, preschools, and services offered?

Do you support all school students getting free bus passes for the duration of their time in PPS?

If elected will you use the arts tax to increase arts funding for K-12 students?

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