GRESHAM, Ore. - Teachers in the Gresham-Barlow school district went on strike Wednesday morning after all-night negotiations did not yield a new agreement on a labor contract. All classes in the district were canceled.
Negotiations continued overnight Tuesday between the teachers union and the school district but Wednesday morning, no announcements of an agreement were reported and teachers went on strike at 6 a.m. However, a district spokesperson reached by text message after the strike deadline passed said "negotiations are continuing."
The teachers union sent a "settlement package" to the district at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to Tom Urbanowicz, Bargaining Chairman for the Gresham-Barlow Education Association.
There are reportedly eight issues that remain as sticking points. "This is the first package that I would call a 'settlement,' where we've addressed every single issue that is remaining on the table," Urbanowicz said.
The district will have to decide whether to accept the package. If they do not, it will be back to the bargaining table for both parties.
Wednesday morning, after the strike deadline passed, teachers were going over a counter-offer presented by the district.
On Tuesday, Jim Schlachter, superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District, said both sides had promising conversations and believes both sides are serious about trying to resolve the situation.
He said fatigue would not send them home overnight. On Tuesday, some of the students at Gresham High School walked out of their classes to show support for their educators.
Even supporters of the teachers, who were still outside the church at 11 p.m., didn't appear to be ready to go home, either.
On Tuesday, a large group of students headed out of Gresham High School at 2 p.m. with orange "Support Gresham Teachers" signs in hand and marched to a nearby church where contract negotiations are under way.
While the talks were going on Tuesday and students continued to rally around the church, the school district made an announcement that schools in Gresham would be closed on Wednesday.
"We have a strike scheduled for 6 o'clock in the morning and we just heard that they canceled school for tomorrow," Thomas Urbanowicz, bargaining chair for the Gresham-Barlow Education Association, said after the announcement was made. "It's kind of disappointing. We're working, trying to reach a settlement. The fact that they just canceled school for tomorrow is ... we're wondering if that's a message. We're working hard. We're trying to create a settlement that is fair and balanced and will work for both sides."
Jim Schlachter, Superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District, said the main problem they are facing is a lack of state funding.
"We wouldn't be here if the state fed us at a level that would support our schools," he said, adding that although the teachers union has set a 6 a.m. Wednesday deadline to strike, he hopes it won't come to that.
"I would be happy if they said we'll postpone the strike and continue negotiations," Schlachter said.
Two state mediators are now part of the process but throughout the day on Tuesday there were big differences between what teachers say they need to do their jobs and what the school district says it can afford.
"We have not seen the kind of movement that would allow us at the end of the coming year not to have huge layoffs," said Schlachter.
The district says its last proposal is what it can afford to pay with the budget realities it is facing, especially for the coming year, and that they need more flexibility in deciding how to choose who gets laid off first.
Teachers say that goes against long-standing layoff procedures. They also believe the district's plans to cut high school class preparation time and increase class sizes will hurt students' education and make it harder for teachers to supervise classrooms.
As far as whether schools will be open on Thursday, Schlachter said at this point it's a day by day decision. And while getting some time off from school may sound good to students, they are concerned.
"I think it's going to affect us in our studies and our grades," said Rodrigo Morote, a sophomore at Gresham High School who was also worried about missing track.
"It's very frustrating to me because it's about our future," said Teri Hoffman, a parent who supports the teachers. "And we've been saying this for years and years, even when I was a child myself. The kids are our future - they are entirely our future."
A parent and community hotline has been set up to give folks the latest information about any closures or cancellations. The phone number is 503-258-4725. Messages are in English, Spanish and Russian.
Automated recorded messages will also get sent to the parent's phone number that is on file at a child's school. And updates will also get posted on the school and district websites.
KATU News reporter Meghan Kalkstein contributed to this report.
Video: Birds-eye view (courtesy Jared Lichtenberg):