Teachers in Portland, Oregon, strike for a 4th day amid impasse with school district

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Schools remained closed in Portland, Oregon, on Monday as a teacher's strike entered its fourth day, prompting state lawmakers to increasingly weigh in and call on the district to negotiate in good faith.

At a news conference with a Portland teachers union leader, state legislators representing the Portland area said they were frustrated by the district's claim of a lack of funding.

The Legislature this year approved a record $10.2 billion budget for K-12 schools. But Portland Public Schools has said the money isn't enough to meet the union's demands of higher pay for educators.

“It feels a little disingenuous to have them come back and say, “Actually, we can't do it because you didn't give us enough money,'” state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner said of the district. “We did everything that schools asked us for and then some.”

In a letter to Portland Public Schools last week, Portland-area legislators including Steiner called on the district to cut “superfluous administration spending” and focus on classroom investments. They said they looked at the district's spending and found that its administrative costs — about 6% of its budget — are roughly double that of comparable districts.

In a separate news conference Monday, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said the district's central office accounts for 5% of the overall budget. He said the money “doesn't necessarily go into a bunch of high-level managers,” citing positions such as instructional coaches and coordinators.

“There doesn't seem to be agreement on how big the pie actually is,” Guerrero said. “We do have a fixed level of resources."

The union has proposed a roughly 20% salary increase over three years. The district, meanwhile, has proposed around half that.

The union’s demands also include more daily and weekly planning time for teachers to prepare lessons, particularly for those in elementary school. They also are demanding class sizes be capped at certain thresholds that are lower than what the district has proposed in some instances.

The district has said the union’s proposals would create additional spending and result in potential staffing cuts. It also cited declining enrollment as a financial concern. The district has lost nearly 3,000 students since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the 2019-20 school year, state data shows.

Portland Public Schools is the biggest district in the state with roughly 45,000 students.

The Portland Association of Teachers said educators will stay on the picket line until they believe a fair contract has been reached.

Guerrero said the district and the union were scheduled to meet again Monday.