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PDX Public School Teachers Ready To Strike, Condemn Parents To Their Children
C'mon, Portland School District, just give the teachers what they want. It's not a lot.
Portland, Oregon, teachers voted last week to go on strike, effective November 1, unless an agreement is reached with the school district. As a PDX parent, I can confirm this is absolutely awful news. It’s admittedly a bit of a vacation when you don’t have to get your kids ready for school in the morning, but then it’s suddenly 9 a.m. and they’re home all day. You’ve got to keep them constantly occupied like Sandra Bullock keeping her bus moving at the appropriate speed.
However, this potential disaster isn’t the teachers’ fault. It’s the school district’s, for not meeting their entirely reasonable demands, which include smaller class sizes, salaries that keep up with rising inflation, and more resources overall. The teachers’ contract expires in June, and the union has negotiated with the district in good faith for months now.
The Portland school district is the largest in the state with 45,000 students. If the strike occurs, Portland schools will close and there’ll be no online instruction. I’ll have to spend most of my day losing to my son at chess. It gets humiliating after a while.
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Shannon Kittrick, who teaches at Roosevelt High School, released this email statement from the union: “Students need stability and experienced educators in our schools, but the high cost of living is pushing teachers to leave the district. I don’t know how I’m going to survive on a teacher salary in Portland and I’m at the top of the pay scale.”
Starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no classroom experience is $50,020. A master’s degree will bump that up to $57,080, and it’s $67,141 if you have a doctorate. The maximum salary tops out at around $90,000, but this is with a doctorate and decades of experience. (More than one in 10 educators — 11 percent — carry student loan debt of $105,000 or more.)
Adjusted for cost of living, however, Oregon teacher salaries are among the lowest in the nation. Portland housing is expensive (lowering slightly in the city but rising in the suburbs). It seems obvious that we should invest in retaining quality educators and providing them with the resources necessary to succeed.
PPS said in a statement last week, “We want to reach a fair, sustainable settlement, and we will stay at the bargaining table as long as it takes to get there. We ask our educators to stay at the table with us, not close schools.”
There were two previous public education strikes this year. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, was shut down when Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union walked out in March. That union represents 30,000 teachers’ aides, special education assistants, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and other support staff. Their demands included better wages and increased staffing. This impacted about a half million students, some of whom joined the picket lines in solidarity.
In May, the union representing Oakland teachers, counselors, librarians and other workers went on strike for more than a week. They also wanted higher salaries but also resources for students who are homeless and reparations for Black students. (The latter was a stretch.)
The San Francisco teachers’ union and school district officials fortunately reached a tentative agreement Friday that averted a potential strike. The deal guarantees a minimum district salary of $30 per hour and gives substitute teachers a 15 percent raise over two years. This is San Francisco, though, so the teachers aren’t exactly breaking the bank. They probably still have to share a bed with three other people like Charlie Bucket’s grandparents.
During the Los Angeles strike, roughly 150 of the district’s more than 1,000 schools remained open with adult supervision but no instruction (so like my high school Spanish class). This was vital for students who had nowhere else to go.
Portland-area daycare centers are preparing to absorb the additional volume, as parents have already started calling to make backup arrangements if a strike occurs.
Tara Bishop, who co-owns the Barnes-Miller Child Development Center, said, “It’s a big disadvantage for parents that work, have jobs and have to go in the office. It will be very difficult. I’ve had about four families [call in] so far. They just want to know if we’re going to have extended care for children that need care during that time period.”
Full-time daycare isn’t an economical option for many working parents. Princess Jones, whose son goes to Woodlawn Elementary School in Northeast Portland, told the Oregonian, “He’ll go to work with me.”
“Remember last time, you fired me as your teacher?” she asked him, referring to when school buildings were closed during COVID.
“You’re hired again!” her son said.
Portland Public Schools will provide free grab-and-go meals for kids of all ages during the strike. Despite the rightwing rhetoric about teachers’ unions, it’s important to remember that teachers care about their students, and they don’t want schools closed. However, the current situation is not sustainable. Let’s hope the Portland School District can reach a fair agreement with our valuable educators.
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