Portland teachers union: District's budget surplus is enough to meet our demands

PORTLAND, Ore. - Budget numbers show Portland Public Schools has millions of dollars more than expected, but the district and teachers' union disagree about how many teachers that money allows the district to hire.

The Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) argues it's enough for the district to bring on the requested 175 new full time employees, thus reducing class sizes, current teacher workload and allowing them to settle contract negotiations.

The union also argues too much of the nearly $20 million dollar surplus will be put into savings, bringing the district's reserves to $34 million.

"That's a lot to stash in a rainy day fund at a time when it's clearly raining, very hard, on the schools, without much of an umbrella," said Portland Association of Teachers President Gwen Sullivan.

The school district spokesperson disagrees with that interpretation of budget numbers. He said the reserves are only five percent of the overall budget, and that is necessary.

He also points to an anticipated $8 million budget deficit in the 2015-2016 school year, even with the current surplus and current proposal for 88 new teachers.

"No one should mistake a better budget picture for a perfect budget picture," said Portland Public Schools Spokesperson Robb Cowie. "The investments we make this year have to be sustainable over time."

There is no set date for the two sides to meet again, although teachers must give at least ten days of notice before beginning a strike.

Several students showed support for teachers during Tuesday night's school board meeting by describing their experiences and concerns during scheduled public comment.

Jefferson High School sophomore Sekai Edwards said the outcome not only affects her education, but it also affects her family. She and her brother are students and her dad is a teacher at Jefferson.

"I don't know if we're going to go on strike, or I don't know how this is going to get paid," Edwards said. "That's not something you want to hear when you're 15 years old doing your math homework at the dinner table."