It’s day one of the first-ever Portland Public Schools (PPS) teacher strike.
After spending the better part of a year in stalled contract negotiations with PPS management, the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) union gave the district a 10-day notice to strike on October 20. The union and district continued bargaining until October 31, but couldn’t reach an agreement on time. Now, all of PAT’s 3,700 members— which includes teachers, school counselors, psychologists, coaches, and more— are on strike. Portland's public elementary, middle, and high schools are closed, and class is temporarily out of session for the district's nearly 50,000 students.
In the days leading up to the strike, Gov. Tina Kotek urged against a strike, saying it was "not in the best interest of students or families." Kotek also said discussions about further state funding for schools— which may be required in order to meet PAT's demands— would have to wait until the 2025 budget cycle.
PAT members began picketing outside their schools early this morning, joined by supportive students, parents, and community members.
“We’re on strike to get the resources we need to provide the education our students deserve,” Kate Chapman, a social studies teacher at Ockley Green Middle School in North Portland, told the Mercury at a picket outside the school this morning. “So far, it has felt like the community is behind us.”
Virginia Gomez, a licensed school social worker at Ockley Green, said PPS schools are in dire need of more mental health resources for students.
"Our kids have faced a lot of trauma because of COVID...it's been hard for them to come back to school," Gomez said. "They come to class with a lot of baggage."
PAT members hope the strike results in a union contract with long-term benefits for students, even if the school closures may be difficult for students and families.
Gomez, who runs an affinity group for Latinx students, said Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students are most likely to suffer from negative mental health outcomes resulting from inadequate mental health support at school. She said before the strike, she provided resources for students and families while school is out of session.
"I don’t just serve students, I serve their families," Gomez said.
It's unclear how long the strike will last. A union press release states "educators are committed to stay on strike until district leaders make real investments in Portland students and schools so they can win safe, equitable, sustainable schools year-round."
But school district leaders say they cannot meet the union's demands without cutting "hundreds of millions of dollars" in services and staff positions, which would negate the goals of the strike.
During a media briefing Wednesday morning, PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero laid blame back at the state's school funding model, saying the district needs "real investment from the state."
"Since 2020, PPS's revenue has increased 9 percent, but against 18 percent of inflation," Guerrero said. "This funding has not kept pace with the needs of our students, nor our educators. Nor does it invest in K-12 schools at the level recommended by the state's own quality education model."
The superintendent said despite inadequate state funding, the district strives to offer competitive compensation that can attract and retain talented staff.
He was quick to stave off comparisons between strikes at the school district and strikes among auto workers.
"Unlike a private organization, we don't have record profits we can tap into," Guerrero said, noting the contract educators are asking for would require $370 million of additional, new spending that the district can't afford.
The strike has attracted national attention and press coverage. Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, and United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz, have both arrived in Portland for the occasion, and will join the union at pickets and rallies today.