A dispute over class size committees has emerged as the final obstacle to ending the Portland teachers’ strike that has kept students out of school since Nov. 1.
The Portland Teachers Association rejected a proposed Portland Public Schools settlement Monday night, citing concerns about the district’s changes to its proposal regarding class size committees, a spokesperson said. district, Will Howell, to The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Teachers remained on strike Tuesday. Members of the Portland Association of Teachers and their supporters stopped traffic on the Burnside Bridge Tuesday morning, stopping in the middle of the bridge for about 15 minutes before continuing across it.
While the conflict over class size committees continued to stall negotiations, union and district officials appear to have agreed on several other important points, including cost-of-living increases and wage surpluses for teachers whose class size or workload exceeds certain thresholds.
However, a union representative said the Portland Teachers Association only agreed to the pay items as part of what its negotiators considered a final agreement with the district that included their proposal for committees on class size. The union is not interested in reopening those negotiations, the representative said.
Since the strike began on November 1, students have missed 11 days of classes. The district on Monday proposed canceling the first week of winter break to restore five days of instruction as well as converting Presidents’ Day and two scheduled teacher workdays to school days. The union has not yet negotiated the return-to-school plan with the district, but is committed to finding ways for students to make up lost instructional time, a spokesperson said.
The union proposed forming class size committees that would negotiate how to resolve class sizes or student loads that exceed agreed-upon limits if the principal, the affected teacher(s), and a union representative do not cannot agree on a solution. The elementary class size thresholds that trigger these discussions range from 24 in kindergarten to 28 in fifth grade. For secondary schools, they come into play when a middle or high school teacher is assigned more than 150 students or 160 students, respectively.
The committees, which would include the principal and another administrator, the teacher concerned or another educator chosen by the union and another union representative, could recommend rebalancing classes, paying the overworked teacher 3% more for each additional student, to have a reading specialist. spend more time working with children in higher threshold classes or hiring a teaching assistant, among others.
Under the union’s proposal, class size committees could include two parents if school administrators and the teachers union agree to add them.
If the committees fail to resolve a conflict over class sizes, the union and district could agree to ask an Oregon state mediator to intervene.
Under the district’s proposal, committees would automatically include two parents, one chosen by the principal and the other by the union. Committees would not be allowed to discuss and make recommendations on class size issues in specific classes, but would instead be limited to collaborating on potential solutions regarding class size and workload in their school in general .
If a committee cannot agree on a solution, the district’s proposal states, the union could escalate the issue to the superintendent, who would meet with the union president to hear the union’s concerns. There would be no opportunity for mediation or other recourse to union grievance procedures.
Under the two sides’ proposals, committees would not be allowed to discuss information about a child’s learning or behavioral needs or other details of their personally identifiable educational record. All relevant educators would be allowed to attend committee meetings and offer suggestions.
Under current proposals, the increase in teachers’ living costs would amount to 13.8% over three years. Teachers would receive a 6.25% raise in the first year, 4% in the second year and 3% in the final year of the contract. That’s up from the 10.9 percent cost-of-living increase proposed by the district last week, but down from the 18 percent requested by union negotiators.
The current proposals also maintain a 3% increase in the base salary that teachers receive for each student in their class or workload that exceeds agreed thresholds. The union proposed last week to increase this excess compensation to 5% for the first student above the threshold and 10% for each additional student at the primary school, as well as similar increases for five students added at the intermediate and secondary. However, the union agreed Sunday evening to the district’s plan to keep the salary surplus at 3 percent.
A car and house belonging to two board members were vandalized overnight, apparently in reference to the contract dispute. Board President Gary Holland’s car was spray-painted with the word “shame,” the district said. A home owned by board member Julia Brim-Edwards was also affected by graffiti. It is not known who was behind this vandalism.
— Jamie Goldberg; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-221-8228; @jamiebgoldberg
— Sami Edge covers higher education for The Oregonian. You can reach her at email@example.com or (503) 260-3430.
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