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Bargaining Over Teacher Workload Reduction Concludes

Over the past month the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) and Portland Public Schools (PPS) have been in scheduling negotiations over ways to create more teacher planning time. On Jan. 3, after about a month, the PAT decided to withdraw from negotiations, expressing in their Bargaining Briefs that, “after 5 sessions of bargaining, it became abundantly clear that the District wasn’t willing to offer any significant workload relief for educators, or any meaningful improvements in student safety or student academic/emotional support.” 

The return to in-person school has taken a toll on many educators and students alike, and both PPS and the PAT have shown interest in addressing that throughout the year. On Nov. 24 the PAT announced that they’d be starting negotiations with PPS, “to bargain for immediate and much needed workload relief that centers student safety and social-emotional needs, and that directs the District resources where they are needed the most, into the classroom and for wrap-around supports.” 

The initial proposal (at the high school level) from the PAT was that all eight-period days should become asynchronous instruction days. In a school like Franklin that doesn’t have eight-period days, the same would happen to a chosen day of the week. Three hours of those days would be devoted to professional educator “office hours/virtual FLEX time.” The rest of the day would be “educator-directed.” At the end of the first semester, which officially ends on Jan. 27, they wanted to add one additional planning day, and at the end of the third quarter there would be another added planning day. On the first day following winter break, they had wanted to add “a full-day professional development day dedicated to school climate work.”

While some remained fairly neutral, many teachers were in support of this plan, one of those teachers being Franklin math teacher Shauna Ewing. After a year of online school, teachers are having to completely recalibrate their curricula. “We are having to recreate everything to meet students where they are this year, both academically and socially,” asserted Ewing. The possibility for planning time provided by the PAT proposal is one major selling point, as time is one of her main concerns: “We need time, we weren’t given the time at the beginning of the year, and we still don’t have the time.” This lack of time, combined with the weight of being expected to adapt the curriculum to the amount of learning that happened during the full year of online school last year, have been a large burden. Teacher and student burnout during the 2021-22 school year has been widespread. 

“The fatigue is overwhelming,” said Franklin French teacher Dana Miller. She thinks that it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific driving factor behind that fatigue and indicated that she was glad that negotiations were happening, but she wasn’t sure as to what the right answer was. The problem of planning time was reiterated by Miller, who said that she is “constantly revising [her] curriculum, understanding that students aren’t at the level that they would’ve been without the [COVID-19] pandemic.” 

In terms of teacher workload, Miller did have one viewpoint entirely different from PPS and PAT, one that focused on the reevaluation of the schedule as a whole. She said that she’s struggled with the Franklin schedule for a long time and suggested that returning to the “old schedule” could be beneficial. The old schedule was a seven class schedule with consistency, no A or B days, and shorter class periods. As a teacher, she said, it’s also easier to manage teaching five classes instead of six. The question of larger schedule changes could be one for the future as many students expressed, in a student survey, a desire for more tutorial time and a later school start time.  

Teachers like Ewing weren’t the only ones in support of the PAT plan, as some students also felt that it was a solution that they could benefit from. “I think having Wednesday off in the middle of the week would help with the weird [alternating A and B day] schedule on Fridays and give us a day in the middle to catch up on work and still take care of ourselves,” commented Maya Phenix (11). Another student, Iza Pearson (11), said that she thought the PAT plan was moving in the right direction as “having more work time to catch up and take a breath from classes will be very important moving forward.” 

In response PPS offered a counter proposal of three social-emotional learning (SEL) days (one each in January, February, and March) with some time during those days allotted for teacher professional development. They communicated concern about the curtailment of in-person instructional time that the PAT proposal would create, writing in a statement on Nov. 30, 2021, “While we share the urgency to address issues impacting our educator’s [sic] experience this school year, we do not believe that dramatically reducing in-person learning for students is in the best interest of our students, their families and our community.” 

After more failed negotiations following the initial proposals, the PAT expressed in their Bargaining Briefs that they are not going to continue their efforts and will instead turn their focus to negotiating a successor agreement to their contract with PPS and the implementation of COVID-19 safety agreements. They intend to fast-track their vetting on any policies made by PPS that reduce teacher workload or benefit students and teachers. 

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