The three-year contract was 'overwhelmingly' ratified by Portland Association of Teachers members and now heads to a school board vote Thursday.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland Public Schools announces three-year contract with teachers. Portland Public Schools released details Monday evening of the contract that has made its teachers surprisingly happy. This follows a two-year negotiation that nearly failed at several points.

The district will give teachers future and retroactive raises, add two working days, give more paid planning time and maintain current benefits.

Teachers will receive a retroactive raise of 3 percent for the 2016-17 school year, 2.75 percent for the current school year and 2.25 percent for next school year. District officials say the back pay has already been added to the budget.

Teachers also won the right to negotiate on caseload limits, which is unique in the state. Current law exempts class sizes from union negotiations, though there is a bill working its way through the legislature to change that (see sidebar).

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, in an interview with the Tribune, did not directly respond to a question of how he found the extra room in the budget for these features, but said that the process seemed to heal relationships.

"I'm really pleased that we were able, through a lot of good conversation and bargaining, to arrive at some important agreements," Guerrero said. "I'm very pleased about where we ended up, and less about the (contract) itself than the refreshing change in tone and a different kind of relationship in Portland. …As we know we have a few challenges right now, and we're never going to resolve those without working together."

PAT President Suzanne Cohen agreed that the process was refreshing, particularly that the new superintendent was willing to discuss language that she feels will put an end to the most outrageous class sizes.

"The fact that he was willing to have that conversation with us — that we've been trying to have for so long — is huge," Cohen said. "We were preparing for a strike, and enter Guadalupe who was willing to have this conversation with us."

Cohen said the teachers were willing to accept lower wages for the opportunity for more individualized instruction.

"They're not the highest in the region, and that's certainly a trade-off that our educators wanted in order to have meaningful class sizes," she said.

The contract calls for "overload" pay if the case loads are too high. For example, high school teachers with more than 160 total students will get 3 percent more money for every five students over the threshold. Similar triggers are in place for all of the grade levels, specialists, counselors and school psychologists.

The new language replaces a process by which teachers could complain about their workloads.

The Portland Association of Teachers ratified the contract "overwhelmingly," according to its president, who declined to release the official tally. The contract now goes to the school board for a vote Feb. 8.

The three-year contract is nearly two years overdue, so ordinarily the bargaining process would start up again next fall. But union and district leaders say they will explore the option of simply extending the contract another year when they meet in October.

More features of the PAT contract:

- 192-day work year, which adds one day of instructional time and one of professional development

- Retroactive 3 percent raise for the 2016-17 school year, 2.75 percent for 2017-18 and 2.25 percent for 2018-19

- More teacher planning time, including for Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and 15 minutes at the end of every school day

- "First in the state" thresholds for caseload limits, triggering "overload" pay

- New language around inclement weather days, including that it may count conferences and professional development time towards instructional time requirements

- Maintain School Climate Teams and adds new language around behavioral supports, including Crisis Response Teams.

- Requirements around rehiring of retirees

- Exclusive rights for union members, such as automatic payroll dues payments

Read the full 150-page contract.

Legislature may use Portland example to push for class size discussion statewide

House Bill 4113, filed before the Feb. 5 start of this year's legislative session, would make class size a mandatory subject of bargaining.

The idea has been tried before, but union members are feeling more confident about its passage this time around.

"We believe this is an incredibly important conversation that should happen across the state," said a statement from the Oregon Education Association attributed to its president John Larson.

The bill's chief sponsors are Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) and Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard). Portland Democratic Senator Michael Dembrow signed on to the bill and agreed to carry it in the senate.

In school districts, "employment relations" is currently defined under Oregon law as excluding class size and other employment conditions, such as the academic calendar, dress code and professional standards. It is largely limited to discussions of wages and hours.

The bill would simply delete the words "class size" from the exclusions section and add the sentence: "'Employment relations' includes class size."

UPDATE (2/6/18): This version added an accidentally omitted sidebar on House Bill 4113.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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