Portland Public Schools has asked its teachers and other employees to take one furlough day per week through the end of the school year.
The Portland Association of Teachers shared details of the district's proposal this morning in an email with its members.
"PPS has approached the PAT, other PPS unions, and non-represented employees about the possibility of furloughing employees by 20% for the last five weeks of school this year," the email said.
"Their goal is to save general fund resources. PPS's desire to furlough workers now is because of the extraordinary increase in unemployment in Oregon, and the loss of business for so many small businesses. Oregon knows that the amount of tax dollars coming into the state will be far less than was originally forecast, and the governor has asked school districts to plan for significant reductions in funds next year. The PPS idea to have a temporary furlough for all employees is its response to this funding crisis; PPS wants to save as much as it can for staffing next year."
In her executive order shutting down schools March 12, Gov. Kate Brown required all districts to "regularly pay all employees."
That order provided protection against layoffs and is more of a guarantee than other public sector employees in education got. Portland State University, for instance, announced Friday afternoon it's laying off 106 workers because of anticipated revenue shortfalls caused by COVID-19.
For K-12 schools, the shutdown has gone on longer than officials originally hoped, and the catastrophic job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to inflict a multibillion-dollar hit to the state's revenues, which primarily come from personal income taxes. Those taxes provide the bulk of funding for K-12 education, so Portland and the state's other 196 public school districts are preparing for the fallout.
The PAT email explains that PPS is seeking to take advantage of a program called Work Share offered by the Oregon Employment Department, as well as tapping into federal relief money from the $2 trillion CARES Act.
"The PPS plan is that employees would work four days a week for the rest of the 2019/2020 school year, and have our members make no less than their regular salary," the email says. "This would be accomplished by using the Work Share program of Oregon and federal CARES Act funding. Work Share is a program that protects employee income in situations where an employer has to cut employee hours in order to avoid layoffs. By utilizing the Work Share funds, PPS will achieve a temporary furlough, members will keep their pre-furlough health benefit levels, and with the funds from the Work Share program, professional educators would make as much (or more) than they did prior to the cuts."
PAT told its members it is working with the district to find a solution that will avoid or minimize layoffs for the next school year.
But it has two conditions: First, it wants PAT membership to be allowed to vote on the proposal. And second, it wants PPS to hold teachers financially harmless if the deal falls apart, which could happen if Work Share or CARES Act money isn't available.
The district has agreed to the union holding a vote but not to the second condition.
"Until we know that our members and their family incomes are safe (as called for by the governor's Executive Order 20-20) we won't bring the plan to you for a vote," the PAT email says. "We want everyone to know that we support the PPS idea to save money in order to protect as much of next year's staffing as possible, but we won't gamble with our members' current financial security."
The union said talks with the district are continuing and it hopes to reach a resolution quickly.
A school district spokesperson wasn't immediately available for comment.