Oregon Cities

Gov. Kotek suggests ‘adults in the room’ in Portland should settle contract without strike

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The Portland Public Schools district office in Portland, Ore., Oct. 20, 2023.

The Portland Public Schools district office in Portland, Ore., Oct. 20, 2023.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek fielded questions about the looming Portland Public Schools teacher strike at a press conference in downtown Portland on Monday. Her appearance followed a task force meeting focused on downtown Portland.

Kotek said all school districts in Oregon are facing challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic. She said her message to PPS officials and teachers is to stay at the bargaining table and craft a deal before a strike starts.

“I respect the collective bargaining situation that they are in at Portland Public Schools and I expect the adults in the room to come together and figure it out for kids and their families,” Kotek said.

Without an agreement soon, members of the Portland Association of Teachers plans to go on strike starting Wednesday, closing more than 80 schools across much of the city.

Despite mediation sessions, there remains a significant financial gap between the district and union proposals. School administrators say the teachers’ proposals cost more than $200 million above what the district has proposed. Teachers are pushing for compensation increases to keep up with the rising cost of living, stricter limits on class sizes, as well as a number of other changes, from mental health support for students to safer, cleaner classrooms.

District administrators have said they agree with the improvements that teachers would like to see, but there isn’t sufficient funding. Teachers say there is money available, it just has to be redirected. Kotek affirmed the financial difficulty facing the state’s largest school district.

“I think it would be irresponsible for the Portland Public Schools to commit to an agreement that will create a gigantic cliff at the end of the biennium,” Kotek said. “I do expect them to put more money on the table and prioritize classroom resources first over administration. But I don’t believe there’s $200 million sitting there.”

Teachers have reason to believe the public is on their side. According to recent polling commissioned by the Oregon Education Association, people generally support teacher strikes, though the level of support varies depending on key issues facing schools.

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