“Portland Summer Fridays” plan draws praise from teachers, criticism nationally

Portland Public School (PPS) staff have been furloughed on Fridays, from now until the end of July. This partial furlough means that PPS staff will not be paid and prohibited from working on Fridays, but will still work the other four days of the school week. The partial furlough will last until the end of July. PPS’ meal service will also stop on Fridays, but on Thursdays, enough food will be provided to cover meals through Sunday.

According to the PPS website, the furlough “is intended to curb costs immediately and will allow the district to reduce negative budgetary impacts on staffing and instructional days for the 2020-21 school year.”

The intention of this partial furlough is to save not only jobs, but money for the district as well. PPS estimates that the plan will save at least $10 million in potential offsets to budget cuts in 2020-21.

Affected PPS employees will receive money from the federal government Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act through the Oregon Workshare Program. 

Though staff are working fewer days, it will not mean a loss of income for staff members– rather, a gain for many.

“The result of a partial furlough plus access to CARES Act funds ($600/person/week) will mean no net loss of income and have no impact on benefits; in fact, most eligible employees will see an increase in compensation during eligible weeks,” according to the PPS website. 

Lincoln business teacher Ron Waugh appreciates the school district’s efforts to improve the situation. 

“It seems like a win-win situation,” he says. 

Some, including The Wall Street Journal, criticized the plan as taking advantage of the pandemic, allowing staff members to profit off of the CARES Act. A WSJ op-ed claims that “the biggest losers are Portland’s students who are already struggling with school closures and a rocky transition to distance learning.”

Henry Hooper, another Lincoln business teacher, disputes that claim.

“The idea that teachers are gaming the system sounds preposterous,” argues Hooper. “We are saving next year’s budget the equivalent of 100-plus school staff members. Try teaching in an environment with the class sizes needed to accommodate that headcount.”

We are saving next year’s budget the equivalent of 100-plus school staff members.”

— Henry Hooper

Although teachers are not allowed to work on Fridays, it doesn’t mean that staff will cut back their usual workload. 

“I don’t know any teacher or staff member who only works the minimum number of required hours,” says Waugh. 

Senior and ASB Co-president Anya Anand feels this plan is not the best for PPS staff and students alike.

“It feels like the interests of people higher up are being placed before current students and teachers who are trying to work their hardest and to the best of their ability during this time,” says Anand. 

Anand understands why the plan is necessary but doesn’t see it as the best course of action. 

“Although I think that the idea behind this plan to save money for next year is a nice thought, I feel as though it compromises the quality of education in our current state,” says Anand. “Using unemployment and federal payout to pay salaries seems like an abuse of the system in my opinion.”

She believes that the district’s priorities were not correct. 

“Education, rather than saving money, should be prioritized,” says Anand.

Hooper also feels the plan is flawed, but for different reasons. 

“I would have focused on the complexity of remote learning more intently,” he says. “The teachers have had to scramble to get their lesson plans, calendars, cohort members, Synergy grades and own homes in order.”

However, Hooper also recognized how much work Lincoln’s staff is putting into online learning.

“My fellow teachers and administrators are heroes,” he says.