After a lengthy and historic strike, Portland Public Schools (PPS) administration and its teachers' union reached a tentative contract agreement. Though the agreement has yet to be ratified by members of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) union or the PPS school board— both will need to sign off on the terms of the contract before it's finalized— students are set to return to school on a two-hour delay Monday, November 27, after nearly a month away.

The tentative agreement, which the district and union's bargaining teams agreed to the weekend after Thanksgiving, offers educators a pay raise, beefed up mental health support for students, a new protocol for addressing class size concerns, and more. PPS and the union also agreed on 11 make-up days to balance instructional time lost during the strike. Notably, winter break is set to be a week shorter than previously planned, and the school year is set to be three days longer. 

PAT leadership appeared enthusiastic about the terms of the tentative agreement. In a November 26 press release, union President Angela Bonilla calls the contract a "watershed moment for Portland students, families, and educators.”

“Educators have secured improvements on all our key issues. These changes will make a huge difference on priorities like mental health supports for students, educator workload relief, and safe and welcoming school environments," Bonilla said. "Educators walked picket lines alongside families, students, and allies— and because of that, our schools are getting the added investment they need.” 

The tentative agreement would set educators up to receive a 13.8 percent cumulative cost of living increase over the next three years: 6.25 percent in the first year, 4.5 percent in the second year, and three percent in the third year. Before the strike, the union's proposed cost of living increase was 23 percent over three years, while the district offered 10.9 percent. 

The agreement also outlines a guaranteed 410 minutes of protected planning time for educators across grade levels and sets up $20 million in capital funds to address educator concerns about extreme temperatures and maintenance issues in classrooms. 

One of the final articles of contention between PPS and the union was about whether or not parents should be involved in "class size committees." The committees would take effect at schools with classes containing more students than what teachers and the district believe is ideal.  Contract discussions between PAT and the district hit a roadblock last week when PPS board members took a strong stance against parental involvement on class size committees, while the union and some parents remained firmly in favor of it. 

According to PAT, however, the tentative agreement paves the way for "shared decision-making committees [about class sizes and caseloads] involving educators and parents." 

To union leaders in Portland and beyond, the tentative agreement between PPS and PAT paves the way for education labor wins across the state and country. National Education Association President Becky Pringle— who joined PPS teachers on the first day of the strike— said Portland teachers have "set a powerful example to districts across the nation." Oregon Education Association President Reed Scott-Schwalbach called the tentative agreement a "transformative deal that will improve the lives of students in Portland and have far-reaching positive effects for our students across the rest of the state.”

So far, statements from district leaders have been more muted. A November 26 email to parents from PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and the school board expresses relief about students returning to school and thanks families and the community for their "patience and perseverance through these protracted negotiations."  

"We also want to express our deep appreciation for our educators, who are the backbone of our district, and who enrich the lives of our students," the PPS statement said. 

But according to Loren Chasse, a PPS 5th grade teacher, union members are wary of the district's words of support. 

"I believe that as 'the backbone,' we will continue to demand accountability from our managers," Chasse told the Mercury

Tomorrow's school day will begin two hours late. The PPS school board will vote on whether or not to approve the contract at their meeting on Tuesday, November 28. Assuming they vote "aye," union members will decide on ratification afterward.