Portland teachers confront board

November 16, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore.--Because of an underground garage beneath their feet, the ground literally shook outside the Portland Public School (PPS) building when around 1,200 mainly teachers and their supporters chanted, yelled, stamped and screamed that teachers need a contract now.

The teachers, members of the 4,000-strong Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), were there to confront the PPS board that has dealt in bad faith with them, counselors and other educational staff, who have now been without a contract for 500 days.

In response to the board's claims that PAT was an "outside body," the union's placards at the meeting had the different schools that teachers came from. This rally showed that the members were 100 percent behind their union. The crowd streamed into the building chanting "Contract now!"

PPS Board Chair Trudy Sargent couldn't start the meeting on time because of the noise outside, and was shouted down by teachers inside who let the board know that the PAT were unified and angry.

After the meeting had started 15 minutes late, PAT President Rebecca Levison addressed the board and blasted them for the disrespect they showed to teachers. Levison pointed out that a full-time teacher with 12 years experience was earning $20,000 less than a part-time director at the school board office.

Levison then introduced two teachers. Curtis Wilson III, a second-grade teacher at Sitton school, knows how mean PPS can be. He was part of the entire staff of PPS janitors who were illegally fired in 2002 by the board, which then outsourced the work. Curtis went on to become a teacher, and now once again finds himself confronting cuts.

Next, David Childs, who teaches at Woodlawn School, told the board how he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008 with the 396th Combat Support Hospital of the U.S. Army Reserves. When he returned, he was told he was unassigned and wouldn't be returning to his old school. He was even encouraged to resign!

David glared at the silent board, accusing the district of violating the law. There were jeers and boos directed at the writhing board.

This demonstration clearly showed the feelings of teachers. "I've worked for Portland for over 30 years, and I've never been more disgusted with the district," said Trudy Rees, a teacher at Harvey Scott Elementary School.

The next day, the PAT bargaining team met with the state mediator, where they heard that PPS would eliminate the proposed five furlough days after "finding" $11 million. PAT put forward a settlement proposal for the board to consider at the next mediation session on November 17.

And the board now knows that Portland teachers will not be disrespected.

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