PORTLAND – The Parkrose school board voted Tuesday to impose its latest contract offer on teachers, sparking an emotional reaction.
Only one teacher attended the meeting, because she was part of the negotiation team. All the other teachers were in class. Yet several dozen people attended the meeting in support of teachers and the discussion got heated with some shouting.
At one point, school board chair Ed Grassel had to use his gavel to try and get control of the proceedings.
"Hey! If hear any more, I will ask you to leave this meeting - in public, it is not a public meeting!" Grassel exclaimed.
The teachers union voted last week to allow a strike and Tuesday they moved forward with setting the actual date: April 25. The union contends that the last district proposal further cuts their pay. It would also add furlough days over the next five months, which would cut each teacher's salary by an additional $600-$900 per month.
With the threat of a strike looming, Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray said the district was working on developing a plan for keeping the schools open if and when the teachers refuse to go to work. That plan would include replacing any teachers who strike and offering only varsity sports.
Despite the tension, both sides still hope they can reach a compromise.
"We are hopeful that we can continue to talk before a strike happens, but unfortunately I don't know a for-sure answer to that," Jennifer Handsaker with the Parkrose Faculty Association said Tuesday.
"We made some limited progress in some areas. We still have some significant work that needs to be done in order to close the gap," Jerry Landreth of the union told KGW Monday evening.
Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray said in a letter to staff and the community that the district has bargained in good faith, including mediation.
Teacher compensation constitutes 68 percent of the budget and the district cannot move forward without the union coming to terms, Gray said.
Another mediation session was scheduled for Thursday.
Parkrose isn't the only district on the edge of a possible strike.
Students in nine Portland-area high schools joined together to write a letter to teachers, pleading with them to accept furlough days in order to save jobs and keep schools open.
“We recognize the sacrifice this takes on your part, but we believe there is simply no other option,” the letter stated.
Each furlough could save $1.4 million in the district budget. The Portland Association of Teachers said the furlough option is not off the bargaining table, but they want to know how teachers will be paid in years to come.
“In the end, hopefully we save a lot of those teaching positions and that way we can maintain classes sizes,” said Lincoln High School Junior, Alexia Garcia.