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Two-year teachers union agreement prioritizes workforce diversity and support for BIPOC educators.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, tours Jason Lee Elementary School in March, just before schools reopened for in-person learning. A newly approved contract with the Portland Association of Teachers aims to increase diversity within the ranks of Portland Public Schools teaching staff, while offering extra compensation and support for teachers who lead affinity clubs and teach students in more than one language.

The Portland Public Schools Board unanimously approved a two-year agreement with the teachers' union Tuesday, June 29. The contract, which spans the current and next academic year, was hailed as a step forward for attracting and supporting educators of color.

"It is a joy to come before you today with something to celebrate after a year full of trauma, stress and unprecedented challenges," said Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Association of Teachers. "PAT members voted overwhelmingly in favor of ratification last week. This agreement represents an important step forward toward our shared goals of supporting our professional educators, building a workforce that reflects the racial and linguistic diversity of our students and families, and creating a culture of mutual trust and collaboration in our school district."

According to state education data, 43% of PPS students are students of color, but only 21% of teachers are.

The latest contract includes provisions for:

• Peer support groups for new educators of color

• Extra compensation for teachers leading affinity groups

• Stipends for educators who are bilingual and serve students in their home language

• Commitment to grow PPS workforce with more educators of color

• Professional development on anti-racism, implicit bias and culturally responsive practices for all educators

Thiel and school board members said they hope the new changes will also translate into systemic shifts and better outcomes for Portland's students.

The contract vote comes on the heels of the 2020-21 school year, which saw most Portland educators teaching from home. Tuesday's vote also marked the first in-person meeting for the school board since March 2020. The meeting remained closed to the public, who tuned in and gave comments virtually.

Thiel said teachers union staff have been operating for the past year with no employment contract in place. The new contract shores up everything from a 3% annual cost-of-living adjustment and pay grade step increases for some of the district's teachers.

"This is a successor agreement to our contract that expired June 2020," Thiel said. "We had been working under an expired contract. This has been a wild year in many ways. This contract negotiation is one we intended to enter into more than a year and half ago, but when the pandemic hit, we had to switch our gears to figure out how all this stuff works in the pandemic conditions."

Thiel said the teachers union and school district had to prioritize memorandums of understanding regarding hybrid teaching, remote teaching and in-person instruction.

Now, she and her colleagues look forward to the return of a "normal" classroom experience in the fall.

"Educators absolutely want to be live and face-to-face with our students," Thiel said. "We are very much looking forward to a return to in-person conditions, with the expectation that community spread remains low."

Portland Public Schools Board Director Julia Brim-Edwards said she was glad the district "had the economic means (to settle) the contract in a fair way, economically."

Director Amy Kohnstamm conveyed cautious optimism, but called for "bold, innovative ideas" about how to serve the district's historically underserved and most vulnerable students.

"We need to see system shifts," Kohnstamm said. "I think sometimes we're all gonna have to be open to more than incremental change."

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