May 6, 2013

Portland seeks deal to save school jobs

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Portland school budget

Should the Portland teachers union make some contract concessions in order to avoid staff cuts?



View Results

For now, reopening the contract doesn't seem to be an option for the union.

"We're not interested in opening the contract up," Casasa said. "They (the district) have to live up to their agreement in the contract."

Casasa said the raises in next year's budget were a trade-off for other concessions. Teachers agreed to add four days to their calendars, which means they actually had a pay decrease in the first year of their contract, she said.

Step, or longevity, increases were also frozen last year but resumed this year, averaging about $1,300 per teacher, according to information provided by Casasa.

Meanwhile, about 125 teachers have received, or will receive, salary increases for professional development over the last three years, costing the district about $388,000.

Teachers have been vocal in their opposition to the staff cuts included in the budget. More than a dozen testified during the school board's public hearing, and dozens attended the City Council's workshop on the budget last week.

Casasa said the union has presented the district with its own ideas to save money, including moving the adult education program to one of the high schools, rather than spending $180,000 to rent space. Suggestions also include reversing proposed increases in professional and technical services, special ed contracted services, staff travel and the school's contingency fund. All told, the union says the district could save at least $500,000 by revisiting those lines.

School Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk was not available to comment on the union proposals, but he has previously expressed his preference for teacher concessions, since labor accounts for 80 percent of the overall budget.

"We are asking our employee unions to also make an investment in next year's budget, so that we don't have to make additional cuts that would be truly devastating to our students, staff, parents and community," Caulk said in a March news release.


At least one school board member doesn't support asking teachers to give ground on their raises.

Holly Seeliger, who was elected in November, said asking teachers to come to the table in the middle of their contract will not address the bigger problems.

"I just don't see how we can continue fighting over scraps," Seeliger said. "That's not going to fix our massive budget deficit we have. I'm more interested in the larger issues."

In an April 30 blog post, Seeliger put it this way: "The problem is a global austerity agenda that we the people need to work to end. I have spoken with the teacher's union and encouraged them to stand up and join me in events that will call media and local attention to the austerity problem."

Seeliger said in an interview that she has received more than 100 emails from parents saying the city should raise taxes rather than cut education. She is encouraging people to take that message to the council on a personal level.

Anton said he agrees with Seeliger that education needs to be a higher priority both at the state and national levels, but the only tool the city has to generate revenue is property taxes.

While parents may be willing to pay more, Anton said in an interview, other people in the city, especially seniors on fixed incomes, cannot.

"Within the construct I have to work, I cannot support an increase in property taxes to a level she would like to see," Anton said.

Anton noted that contracts with municipal unions are more conservative. Eight city unions are receiving a 1.5 percent pay raise, while police patrolmen are receiving a 1.8 percent raise, according to information provided by the city's human resources department.

(Continued on page 3)

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Today's poll: Portland school budget

Should the Portland teachers union make some contract concessions in order to avoid staff cuts?



View Results