The second round of a mid-winter storm is headed for northwest Oregon and is forecasted to leave as much as six ice-covered inches of snow on the ground. However, it is the teachers in many Oregon school districts currently on strike, or planning to strike, which may keep kids at home long after the snow storm has passed.
Portland Public school district teachers agreed on Wednesday night to strike and set a walkout date of February 20. Negotiations between teachers and the district have been going on since April, and although progress has been made, issues about pay, retirement incentives, seniority and work load remain unresolved.
A report on the 2012-2013 school year indicates Oregon schools had one of the highest average student-teacher ratios in the nation with 22 students per teacher; this means Oregon ranks third only behind California and Utah. The national average is 16 students per teacher. This often translates into large class room sizes, which has shown to have a negative effect on how children are able to learn. These factors contribute to making work load one of the key points over which negotiators would need to find agreement to prevent a walk out later this month.
Teachers walked out Thursday in the southern Oregon Medford school district, keeping kids at hone even without snow, after strike negotiations came to a standstill last Sunday, which may have bolstered Portland teachers confidence in their negotiation chances. The strike in the Medford school district, the largest in southern Oregon and the eight largest in the state, leaves 13,000 students at home and affects up to 600 teachers in the area.
Over 48,000 students would be affected by a Portland teacher strike. If the strike goes forward it will be the first strike in the history of the Oregon’s largest school district.
Portland school district officials plan to keep schools open using substitutes if differences cannot be settled before the walk out date. The district has worked for the last few weeks to find enough substitutes willing to cross picket lines. Contracts forbid the substitutes following teachers into a strike as a group, but as individuals, they can refuse to work. If all teachers were to walk out as planned, and all 800 substitutes the district has in reserve elected to cross picket lines, the district would still not be able to keep the schools open at normal levels. The full staffing level of 2,900 it now maintains would need to be supplemented. Assistance from other Oregon schools districts by “borrowing” staff worked in the state before but that is no guarantee it would work this time. The current strike in Medford indicates sentiment which would make recruiting of strike breakers from districts outside of Portland unlikely.
Officials say that snow will not prevent the scheduled strike mediation session this Sunday from going ahead as planned and, if successful, it will keep Oregon teachers and kids from being stuck at home even after the storm.
By Brian Ryer