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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

PPS teacher strike: Union says its latest proposal would cost $120 million less, due mainly to softened class size demands

By Julia Silverman The Oregonian

Negotiations in the Portland teachers strike resume on Wednesday, with both sides cautiously optimistic after teachers indicated that they are open to changing their request to cap class sizes.

The specific language of the new proposal on class size caps has yet to be released. But union leaders assert it would cost just $6.6 million, a drop of $94 million from the district’s price tag for their previous request.

District sources said they needed more time to evaluate whether they agree with the union’s savings estimate.

Hard caps on class sizes emerged as a central sticking point even as the two sides have drawn closer together on planning time for teachers and cost of living adjustments.

In an email and accompanying memo to their members last night, negotiators for the union said they had modified their proposal on class sizes by proposing a committee at each school, made up of a union representative, the affected classroom teacher, the principal, an assistant superintendent or their proxy and two parents, appointed by either the PTA or, if there is not one, then by the principal and by the building’s union representative.

The school-based class size committee would be called on to decide whether a student could be added to a class that was scheduled to be over a certain threshold.

In their note to members, union negotiators said that would bring down the cost of the class size portion of their proposal significantly, to just $6.6 million. That is enough to cover approximately 30 or 40 new teachers, depending on their experience level.

Union negotiators had not released their own figure for their previous class size proposal, but the district had pegged it at $100 million over two years, beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, and said it would have required the district to hire 352 new teachers.

That proposal would have capped class sizes at 26 in kindergarten, 28 in first grade and 29 in grades 3-5 and sixth grades at K-8 schools. Middle school teachers would have had their loads capped at 165 students and high school educators would have had a cap of 175 students.

The Oregon Education Association has tried for several years, without success, to get lawmakers to agree to make class size caps a systemwide mandatory topic of bargaining, after meeting opposition from advocacy groups that represent school boards and superintendents.

District negotiators and the school board have consistently said that they oppose hard class size caps, both because of the financial implications and because they want to retain the flexibility to keep class sizes smallest at high needs, high poverty schools.

Some studies have suggested that very small elementary classes can have a big payoff, particularly for students of color or those navigating poverty. But most research suggests that school systems are better off investing in other priorities, including improving teacher pay, teacher quality and intensive academic intervention for struggling students, than reducing class sizes by a few students.

The union’s latest offer, tendered late Tuesday, also drops its request about planning time in middle schools and defers decision-making about so-called community schools, which would be controlled by the school district and the union and would provide food and other assistance to needy families.