February 27th, 2010 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

Portland Teachers and School Board Strike New Deal

Portland School Board
After almost two years of negotiations that twice erupted in protests from teachers, the Portland Association of Teachers union and the Portland School Board have voted to approve a new three-year contract for teachers. The union, which represents more than 3,000 Portland teachers and guidance counselors, ratified the agreement by secret ballot Friday night; the School Board voted "yes" to the agreement just moments ago on Saturday morning.

The new deal is retroactive because teachers have been working without a contract since June 2008. It includes cost-of-living increases of 2 percent in years one and three plus the opportunity for teachers to move up the salary "steps," based on their experience. Year two of the contract, the current 2009-2010 school year, includes no cost-of-living increase.

The sticking points that prevented a resolution until now include the same points of contention from November, when WW last wrote about the protracted talks. Disagreements over wages, instructional time and health insurance proved the most difficult barriers.

The new deal also clears the way for more changes. Both parties have agreed to form a joint committee to study how principals should evaluate teachers, a process that hasn't been updated in years -- if not decades. They also agreed to study teachers' workload to find new ways to maximize class time for students. The two parties also took interim steps in this last regard. As a result of the new agreement, teachers can volunteer to lead classes beyond the 7.5-hour day and will receive an hourly wage for that additional work. Teachers also agreed to extend the amount of time they are on duty at school by 15 minutes a day.

Prior contract negotiations that looked at health-insurance costs appear to have produced positive results. Compared with last year, health insurance for teachers rose only 84 cents per plan. Under the new deal, the union and the district have agreed to another complicated cost-saving measure that the two parties say will help keep health insurance costs down again.

"Portland teachers are relieved to have a contract after working 19 months without one," says Rebecca Levison, teachers union president.

It's been a long and bumpy road. A state mediator oversaw negotiations from August 2009 until two weeks ago, when the two sides reached a tentative agreement. On Feb. 4, the district declared an impasse, which could have forced teachers to strike. Today's news ends that worry.

Photo of the Portland School Board on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010.
 
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