Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers have reached a tentative agreement on a new union contract for the 2011-13 school years without first exchanging proposals publicly.

The swift resolution to the district's 2011 labor talks is unlike the previous round of contract negotiations in 2009 and 2010, when negotiations stretched to 20 months and erupted several times in angry protests by teachers in front of the Portland School Board.

The timing means Portland Public Schools now has a relatively happy staff of more than 3,000 teachers who can devote their free time to the district's two proposed tax hikes on the May ballot rather than protracted contract talks.

Not everyone will be happy with the news, however.

Last week a coalition of education activists wrote to Superintendent Carole Smith and several school board members demanding to know whether the district planned an early settlement with the teacher's union. The activists expressed concern that speedy negotiations wouldn't result in substantive changes to the overall improvement of teacher and principal effectiveness. "We see the district, the union and the school board talking about equity and community partnerships and espousing commitment to prioritizing student learning and children of color," the activists Charles McGee, Caroline Fenn and Doug Wells wrote in a Feb. 22 email. "However, these values do not match the actions we have seen thus far, particularly in terms of substantive engagement with committed community partners around this conversation." 

The district's first public bargaining session took place less than one month ago on Feb. 15.

Neither the school district nor the union will reveal details of the agreement until it goes to the Portland School Board for a vote, which is expected within the month.