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Parents rally to prevent PPS teachers strike

As the clock ticks down to the final week of impasse, Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers made more progress this week.

In a bargaining session that stretched past midnight on Tuesday, teams from both sides reached tentative agreement on four more contract issues, related to association rights; student discipline and safety and professional compensation (not including the salary schedule); and extended responsibility. Terms of the tentative agreements were not announced.

In the six mediation sessions held this month, PPS and PAT leaders have reached a total of 11 tentative agreements. They're continuing to discuss teacher workload, hiring and assignment, definition of competence and other core issues.

On Wednesday morning, a group called Parents Stand With Portland Teachers held a rally at PPS headquarters to send a message to the school board and Superintendent Carole Smith. According to the group, their message is: “Listen to parents,” “Don’t force a strike,” “Drop your ‘final offer,’ ” and “Negotiate on everything.”

Specifically, they called on the school board and PPS leaders to "focus on cooperation with the teachers and their union, and to drop their so-called management rights agenda, which risks forcing a strike in PPS schools.”

"It seems like the school district's been on a pretty relentless course to force a strike," says Chris Lowe, a parent of a freshman at Cleveland High School who helped to organize the rally.

"I support teachers partly because their contract protects aspects of classrooms that I want for my kids. If those parts of the contract are just taken off the table, my kid becomes vulnerable to the administration's actions" when it comes to decisions around the budget, curriculum and other practices, Lowe says.

Lowe says the informal alliance of parents has been organizing on social media. Some have labor solidarity connections, some are school reform watchdogs who've been outspoken against high-stakes testing, and some are parents who've felt voiceless in past PPS decisions, like closing the Jefferson Young Women's Academy and consolidating schools in the Jefferson cluster.

"Some of us have been paying attention for a while," he says. Lowe wants to make it clear that they're not a voice for the PAT. "We talk to the union but they don't control what we say," he says. "There are constituencies concerned that are not at the negotiating table."

Beyond the tentative agreements, PPS officials say the two sides have had “serious and substantive” discussions on other issues, including workload, teacher hiring and assignment and health insurance.

The 30-day cooling off period ends on Dec. 27. The school board may then implement conditions of its final offer and teachers may choose to strike. Superintendent Smith said in a statement that in the past week, “we have had real conversations with the PAT bargaining team on a range of important issues. The teams have worked hard, listened to each other’s’ interests and concerns, and explored concepts to address them. We hope to continue to make progress next week.”

Contract talks began in April and the contract with the district's 2,800 teachers expired in June. A state mediator joined the talks in October. The school district declared impasse Nov. 20, and final offers were published Nov. 27.