PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 25 (UPI) -- More than 3,000 teachers in Portland, Ore., were scheduled to take a strike vote Tuesday evening as the state's largest school district and the teachers' union were unable to break a deadlock over a plan that would give Portland one of the nation's shortest school years.
Approval of the vote would clear the way for the city's first teacher walkout on March 10 unless there's an agreement on issues that include reducing health benefits and dropping 24 days from the school-year calendar in a cost-cutting move.
"There is still time to avert the strike ... and have a full school year for Portland students," the Portland Association of Teachers, or PAT, said in its latest update on the slow-moving negotiations. "We hope the community will urge the school board to seize on this opportunity to bring this matter to a close."
Portland Public Schools officials say the cuts are necessary in light of dwindling state revenues and last month's defeat of a ballot measure that would have temporarily increased Oregon's income tax.
"I believe there is going to be a strike if there's not a settlement Tuesday," City Commissioner Randy Leonard predicted late Monday. "If there is a strike, they are going to be throwing hand grenades at each other, and people like me are going to be running away from this district as fast as we can."
The commission has encouraged a deal that would avert a walkout in the district of some 53,000 students. On Monday, it proposed increasing the business tax by 1 percent to "buy back" 10 of the 24 school days that otherwise will be scrubbed. But the offer was contingent on a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract.
Commissioner Derry Jackson walked out of Monday night's negotiations, telling The Oregonian that he believed it was the district that needed to soften its stance and appeared to be "hell-bent" on forcing a strike.
The PAT has offered to have its members teach for 10 days without pay if the city comes up with funding for the other 14 days, which would give the district a full school year.
The district hasn't yet signed on to the plan and officials have said they would cancel classes in the event of a strike rather than try to keep school in session with non-union personnel.
"We are not negotiating with City Hall and we're not negotiating with the county," union President Ann Nice told The Oregonian. "We're negotiating with the district, and that's it."
(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)