Category: Labor Relations

Teacher contract negotiations stalled well into second year

Teachers in Portland Public Schools are in their second year without a contract. District negotiators seem to have “backed themselves into a corner,” according to Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) negotiators, and are unwilling to entertain creative bargaining suggestions, like adding a third year to the contract under consideration.

The contract currently being negotiated is for the two-year period ending in June 2010. In normal circumstances, negotiations for the next contract, covering July 2010 through June 2012, would begin early next year.

It is no secret that virtually all teachers work many hours and days beyond the requirements of their contract. They are insulted by the district’s insistence on taking a furlough equal to a 2.63 percent pay cut, especially after they worked for ten days for free to stave off a threatened 24-day cut to the school year in 2003. No other bargaining unit at PPS sacrificed like that.

The district’s call for “shared sacrifice” is seen as disingenuous by teachers. They are being asked to take on more responsibility for less pay, even as administrators at BESC are given five-figure raises for — that’s right — “increased responsibilities.”

The top pay for a PPS teacher with a PhD and twelve year’s experience is around $70,000. The part-time (80 percent) Director of Planning and Performance at BESC, who has an MBA and no prior K-12 education experience, makes $90,000.

The state has been called in to mediate, but so far there is still no progress.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


In the news: Carole Smith’s challenges

Jennifer Anderson writes in the Portland Tribune about issues facing Portland Public Schools superintendent Carole Smith, including stalled teacher contract talks and the stalled — some would say failed — experiment in k8 schools.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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In the news: teachers take on “Race to the Top” nation-wide; PPS staff recommend hip hop charter

Teachers and their unions are gearing up to take on the Obama administration’s pro-charter, pro-merit pay “Race to the Top” initiative. Paul Abowd writes in Labor Notes reports that teachers from New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles met recently in LA “to bring a vision of education reform that puts educators, not ‘education management organizations,’ in the driver’s seat.”

Kim Melton reports on that PPS staff are recommending the school board approve a charter high school with a focus on hip hop, modeled on the High School for Recording Arts in Minneapolis.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


Just drops in the bucket

Amidst unstable funding for education and a lingering recession, Portland Public School teachers like me are stuck in the middle of contentious contract negotiations, one year overdue. Much information that is available to the public is filtered through Portland administrators, namely Carole Smith, who seems very much out of touch with the day-to-day workings of most teachers.

As news stories broke about $500,000 spent on Blackberries for “higher ups”, and $80,000 spent on hotel meetings for the same, one starts to wonder how much more is being spent on “non-classroom” items. One such story saw Matt Shelby, district spokesperson, say something to the effect that these items were very minor compared to the overall budget. And this got me wondering, “If these items were just “drops in the bucket” so to speak, how many drops in the bucket do there need to be, before the bucket gets filled, and people get mad?”

Drops in the bucket. There are 80+ schools in the Portland district. If each of these schools received $1,000, then that $80,000 spent on hotels takes on greater significance. I have had to scrounge for materials each and every year I have taught. $1,000 to buy the novel sets I desperately need to teach 7th grade. Wow, what a luxury. How many drops is that $80,000 now?

Not to mention $500,000. As I think about the computer lab our school was promised, but then denied, because we didn’t have the room, I wonder. Would half a million buy a lab? Or how about an addition to our cramped, “only suitable for elementary students but made to serve middle school students as well” library? A place to house our nurse and counselor and special ed. teachers, who currently have to share small quarters? This would not go far to fix all of our K-8s that are sorely lacking in facilities and resources. But, what if even one school got the treatment it deserved? How many drops in the bucket is that worth?

As we see the district move forward with its grand high school redesign, one cannot help but wonder what happened to the K-8 redesign. Did we miss it? And can we really trust a district that feels as if several hundred thousand dollars are just drops in the bucket?

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.


Video of PAT rally and Rebecca Levison’s remarks to the board

Approximately 400 people gathered before the school board meeting last night to demand a new contract that doesn’t balance the budget on the backs of teachers.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


Rally for teachers before school board meeting

From Jobs with Justice:

Please join us in standing with Portland’s Teachers:

Monday, Oct. 12, 6:15 p.m. Rally to Support Teachers*! At Blanchard Educational Service Center (PPS), 501 N. Dixon. Support the Portland Association of Teachers’ Bargaining Team and its efforts to achieve a contract settlement with the Portland Public Schools!? Please join us after the rally to attend the school board meeting.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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In the news: district seeks mediation for stalled contract talks

In a press release yesterday, Portland Public Schools announced it would seek state mediation in their stalled contract negotiations with the teacher’s union.

The district is offering a retroactive 2% cost of living raise for the past school year, but would force teachers to take five furlough days in the coming school year, the equivalent of a 2.5% pay cut.

Rebecca Levison, president of Portland Association of Teachers, questions the spending priories of the district.

“They want to give nothing in (2009-10) and yet they pay for BlackBerries for administrators, outside consultants, off-site administrative meetings and new deputy superintendents,” sad Levison in an article in today’s Oregonian. “And teachers have more responsibilities and more put on their plate every year.”

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


K-8s from a teacher’s perspective

Everyone’s a critic, it’s true. It is easy to point fingers, but try to fix something? This takes more effort than most people can muster.

I have been a witness, for the last four years, to Portland Public Schools’ fiasco known as K-8 schools. I have tried to shed light on the problems created by this policy and had hoped to, as they say, be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The district has a history of not accepting blame when it is due, continuing with programs proven not to work, and trying to spin it all in a positive light. As PPS entrenches itself deeper into this hole it has dug itself, I cannot help but throw in my two cents, both as a K-8 teacher in PPS, and as a parent to two children in a K-8 school.

Perhaps the most obvious problem with K-8s is that the facilities housing them are woefully inadequate. My school this year, as of June 12, is losing its staff room to a classroom and the nurse will be in the hall. We were promised a brand new computer lab, but alas will have to settle for a mobile cart of computers to be wheeled from classroom to classroom. There is no science lab, our library is extremely small, and the counselor has to share a room with several other programs. Already, there is a portable on the playground. It is true that some schools have enough space, but many do not.

Indeed, some schools have scaled back their K-8 plans due to space constrictions. However, this policy is not applied consistently. Several times, in other K-8s I have taught, facilities people have gone on walk-throughs to plan for the upcoming years. Never have I seen staff asked for input. Indeed, I have seen several staff members give input, only to have it ignored. This resulted in configurations that then had to be changed once the school year started.

Even if facilities for K-8s were sufficient, the content taught and the approach to this content is not at all up to the standards of most middle schools. Many middle schools in K-8s are taught using a self-contained model. This means that one teacher teaches almost all subject matter. The problem with this is that the higher the grade level, the more complex the subjects become, and most teachers, no matter how gifted they are, cannot adequately teach every subject.

Most middle school teachers teach one or two subjects. They are experts in those subjects. As a parent, I want my children to learn from experts. Additionally, electives are taught, usually, by those same teachers. So, on top of teaching 4-5 academic subjects, middle school teachers in K-8s are required to teach an additional elective. Hence, lots of knitting, badminton, and study halls are offered. No music, no home economics or languages, as these would require actually hiring additional teachers.

Lastly, in addition to lacking satisfactory facilities and academic support, K-8s have no one steering the boat, so to speak. Most administrators are trained in elementary protocols and procedures, not middle school models. I have called several people in the district who were supposed to be “in charge” or helping those in charge, and have gotten nowhere.

The last phone call I made, on June 12, was to a facilities person. She got irritated with me asking “Why do we not have adequate room for our programs?” She then started asking me what my solutions were. I offered two or three, and she said each one had already been considered and thrown out. But it left me wondering. If you really wanted my opinion, as a teacher in a K-8, why didn’t you ask me four years ago?

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.


In the news: Other line items PPS could cut

In today’s Willamette Week, Beth Slovic details the “Gravy Trainers,” “Sweet Talkers,” “Real Estate Moguls” and others who seem to be escaping the budget knife, even as the district pushes a budget that would force furlough days on represented employees (without first consulting their unions). Rumor has it that 40 educational aid positions have been cut district-wide.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


In the news: teachers “working to the rule”

Portland Public Schools teachers are currently “working to the rule” to protest stalled contract negotiations, reports the Portland Business Journal.

Portland Public Schools spokesman Matt Shelby could not confirm which schools are actually affected by the work slowdown, but he did say that for the past several weeks teachers as several schools have begun “working to the rule.”

Teacher Erin Quinton had a letter to the editor published in the Oregonian Friday, describing her experience with the slowdown.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


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