Another Viewpoint: Portland teachers go unpaid due to district’s staffing ‘crisis’

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We hear lots of talk these days about the importance of supporting our teachers. One would assume that, at the minimum, that means paying teachers the money that they have earned and the benefits to which they are entitled. But because of problems in Portland Public Schools’ Central Office, some of the district’s teachers are getting neither.

I am one of at least 50 hourly teachers who have been affected. I was told by administrators that the district’s payroll and benefits office is “in crisis” due to understaffing.

Problems with our paychecks began in October. We received two paychecks several days late. In some cases, we were underpaid. There also are ongoing problems crediting employees with the correct amount of Earned Paid Leave. We’ve been warned that it could take several more weeks before these issues are resolved.

Not paying employees the money that they have earned is both illegal and just plain wrong. It is affecting the lowest-paid teachers in the district, primarily ESL teachers at Portland Adult Education.

The problems go beyond pay. I noticed in October that the district was not giving me all of my accrued Earned Paid Leave. I notified Adult Ed’s accountant, who referred me to the benefits person at central office. I have received no response from her in nearly a month.

I am not holding my breath. Last January, I wrote to her about a different issue: the district withdrew money from three of my paychecks last fall and deposited it in a retirement account that I never wanted or even knew existed. I learned about the account at the end of 2021, when the company managing the money sent me a statement.

Month after month, I have sent emails to the benefits administrator, trying to resolve that issue and gain access to my money. Nearly a year has passed without answers to my questions. That is beyond unacceptable.

I know the district is having difficulty finding employees. But this problem should never have reached the point where the school system is not paying its workers in a timely fashion and not responding to their benefit questions.

The district has put itself in legal jeopardy. It is certainly not enhancing its image with prospective employees. Nor is it inspiring confidence in taxpayers like me who are footing the bill.

I love my job teaching English to immigrant adults. I am helping to improve their lives, and to train workers for our city’s businesses. I do not want an additional part-time job of chasing after the pay and benefits that I have earned.

Shoshana Hoose of Portland has worked as an ESL teacher at Portland Adult Education since 2014. She previously worked for 16 years as the communications coordinator for the Portland Public Schools.

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