Portland, Oregon schools closed as teachers strike

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) - Public school teachers in Portland, Oregon, walked off their jobs for the first time ever on Wednesday after months of failed negotiations, forcing scores of schools to close and keeping thousands of students out of class.

The biggest issue is money, with the union requesting 23 percent cost-of-living increase over the next three years, according to the district, which has offered a 10.9 percent cost-of-living increase instead.

The strike involves more than 4,000 educators and affects about 45,000 students across 81 schools in one of the largest school districts in the Pacific Northwest, and the largest in Oregon.

"It's official: We are on strike to ensure the district meets our demands so that every Portland student can attend a great public school," the Portland Association of Teachers said on its website.

The Portland Public Schools District said on its website that it was seeking "a fair, sustainable settlement that honors our educators, focuses on student learning, and avoids school closures."

Neither union officials nor representatives of the district were immediately available to Reuters for comment on Wednesday.

No classroom or online instruction was available, although a decision would be made on Wednesday evening about class for Thursday, the school district said online.

A union official said on a Facebook video the association was disappointed with the offer. "Unfortunately the district’s proposal didn’t even live up to our low expectations.”

Other issues include class sizes and teacher planning time, according to the union's website.

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek, a Democrat, said on Facebook, "I encourage both sides to find a resolution that delivers a fair contract for educators, prioritizes more dollars going to the classroom, and keeps students in school."

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Josie Kao)