On February 23, Portland Public Schools (PPS) and the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) reached a tentative agreement that extends their contract by one year. The contract, which describes the rights and working conditions of educators, remains largely the same with some slight differences in language describing the working conditions of media specialists as well as some date changes from the previous contract. The most significant change, however, was a three percent cost of living raise for teachers that will go into effect next school year.
Although many are happy to see a cost of living raise going into effect, the lack of educational funding coming out of Salem continues to be a point of contention within the district. In a public statement, PPS chairwoman Rita Moore said she hopes that the cost of living raise will provide stability for our schools “at a time of continued inadequate funding for public education in Oregon.”
Similarly, PAT president Suzanne Cohen believes that the three percent raise will do some good in the school community, but is disappointed that it couldn’t be larger, especially in the wake of double-digit increases to annual salaries for public school teachers in Washington. “The mission of the PAT is to advocate for educators’ voices,” says Cohen. “That can be difficult with such meager funding.” In addition, Cohen claims that in order to successfully advocate for teachers, the PAT needs more funding. “Recently, we ran a campaign to help increase funding that would allow us to continue to negotiate deals that help benefit Portland educators… Without funding, there can be no negotiations.”
In addition to the concerns about the lack of funding for Oregon education, Carol Hawkins, the district’s Senior Director of Labor and Employee Relations, has also announced some tentative contract measures that could prove to be beneficial. These measures include the establishment of “minimum standards” for teacher conduct and correcting problems related to the preservation of personnel files. These issues were brought to light in an investigation launched last year after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct were filed against educator Mitch Whitehurst. Investigations into Whitehurst’s conduct found that district officials repeatedly protected Whitehurst and dismissed the numerous claims of sexual misconduct filed by students. This case triggered an avalanche of criticism of PPS for its lack of protocols in the handling and prevention of sexual misconduct over the past 30 years.
The contract extension is still undergoing the first of a two-part ratification process and is expected to be voted on by the PAT on Monday, March 18 before heading off to PPS officials. Considering the short-term nature of this extension, another round of negotiations in the near future is likely.