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In Oregon, public school teachers are on strike in Portland

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Schools in Portland, Ore., are closed for a second day today as a teacher strike continues.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The strike is the first for Portland Public Schools, which serves around 45,000 students. The Portland Association of Teachers have been negotiating with the district since their last contract expired in June. Here's Renard Adams from the Portland Public Schools bargaining team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RENARD ADAMS: We have already offered a cost-of-living increase that is more than our increase in revenue. We know the union's bargaining team believes that it's insufficient, but we cannot responsibly accept their proposed 23% increase.

MARTIN: Lisa Balick, a reporter with KOIN-TV in Portland, Ore., is with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning, Lisa.

LISA BALICK: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: Lisa, just tell us a little bit more, if you would, about the conditions that led to this strike - or at least the conditions that the teachers say led to this strike.

BALICK: There's really just some key issues - obviously, higher pay. They want smaller class sizes and more planning time. You know, we talk about the pay. The district is offering currently a 4.5% the first year, 3% each of the next two years. Teachers want almost double that.

MARTIN: And what are you hearing from teachers?

BALICK: They are strong in support of a strike action. There were hundreds that turned out for a rally yesterday. They believe the district really can find the money - it's about $200 million - by making cuts and further depleting the reserve fund. Now, the president, in fact, of the National Education Association was here in Portland yesterday for rallies. It's really a sign we may be seeing more of these strikes around the country.

MARTIN: You know, in other parts of the country, we've also heard that it's not just the pay, but it's also the working conditions, like the conditions that the buildings are in, for example, or things like that - lack of heat, lack of AC. Is that part of this as well?

BALICK: Definitely. These are some of the issues they are discussing at the table, for sure.

MARTIN: Now, school closures - look - are very disruptive to students and their families. Do you have a sense of - I know this is early days. Do you have any sense of, you know, how the broader community feels about this?

BALICK: Yes. I have been talking to a lot of parents as they were getting ready for this because the teachers had given their 10-day notice, and there was a sense this was going to happen even before that. Families really want more for the teachers. And having the kids home during the pandemic, I think they're painfully aware of how much work it is to help kids with their academics, behavior issues, mental health issues - very grateful that the teachers take on that responsibility of caring for many, many students in their day.

MARTIN: And say a bit more, if you would, about what officials from the Portland Public Schools are saying.

BALICK: They were saying at their news conferences yesterday that to meet the teacher demands, they would have to make massive cuts - laying off teachers, shortening the school year, possibly. Even the governor, who is a labor supporter, says the teacher demands would send the district off a financial cliff. The district is blaming the state for not giving them enough money for education. But what happened in Oregon back in 1990 is that voters passed a measure to limit the property taxes, which essentially pushed the biggest burden - paying for schools - to the state through income taxes.

MARTIN: So what's next? Do we have a sense of when the two sides might return to the bargaining table?

BALICK: I talked with both sides, and they both tell me that Friday they will both be at the bargaining table. But essentially what this means is no school for a second day today or on Friday, which was a scheduled day off.

MARTIN: That is Lisa Balick of KOIN-TV in Portland. Lisa, thanks so much for joining us.

BALICK: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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