No Portland teachers strike: Tentative agreement signed

PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers have signed a tentative agreement to avoid a strike, according to the school district in a statement late Tuesday night.

The tentative agreement on a new teachers contract came after a 23-hour bargaining session that lasted until early Tuesday morning.

"The strike is definitely off," Gwen Sullivan, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, told KATU News after getting about three hours of sleep. "We definitely feel it's a fair contract."

Now that the tentative agreement has been signed, the strike is formally canceled. The teachers still need to ratify it and if they do, the Portland School Board will also vote on the pact. Details of the tentative agreement are not expected to be released until teachers vote on it. The school board held an executive session Tuesday morning to review what was then a "conceptual agreement." It told its bargaining staff to put the agreement in writing and move forward.

"Both parties worked very, very hard to find a middle ground to clarify issues between the parties, to find the best contract language to support students and support teachers," said school board member Pam Knowles.

PPS spokeswoman Christine Miles said both sides were "very focused on an outcome that's best for our students."

"We're building the foundation for both sides for a good future and a good education for our students, so I think we should all be very proud that both sides stayed at the table," Miles said. "They could have walked away at any time but they didn't."

Earlier in the day, Superintendent Carole Smith said she looked forward to finalizing the tentative agreement later Tuesday.

"After 10 months of difficult negotiations and hard work by both sides, I am very pleased that PPS and PAT have reached a conceptual agreement," said Smith.

The teachers union announced the agreement Tuesday morning on its Facebook page:

"Your bargaining team has reached a conceptual agreement with the district!" the post read. "Given that the teams have been bargaining for 23 straight hours, we will come back together later today to iron out the details and put it in writing in the form of a Tentative Agreement. When we have a signed Tentative Agreement, the strike will be suspended pending ratification by PAT membership and the Board."

The school district also announced school will begin at the regular time Wednesday, but will release two-and-a-half hours early.

An agreement to suspend the strike would avoid the first teacher walkout in Oregon's largest school district. Portland Public Schools has 48,000 students and 2,900 teachers.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said Tuesday's agreement was great news.

"Today's tentative agreement is an example of the union and the district putting the students first. My staff and I were in near-constant communication with both sides over the past several weeks, and throughout it all, I believed cooler heads would prevail," Hales said in a statement to KATU on Tuesday morning.

"This is great news, and I remain as hopeful as ever that this will lead to a lasting agreement and a contract."

The district planned to cancel classes through Monday for replacement staff training. Some schools were set to reopen Tuesday with substitute teachers.

Marathon bargaining session

The agreement came after the two sides worked through the night Monday hoping to avoid the first-ever teacher strike in Oregon's largest school district.

The two sides negotiated at an undisclosed location from 9 a.m. Monday to around 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The PAT submitted its latest proposal to the district just after 11 p.m. Monday, Miles told KATU.

Both sides were "focused on trying to hammer out some kind of agreement," Miles said.

Both PPS and the PAT were posting updates on the negotiations on their Facebook pages.

The two sides had been negotiating a new contract for months. The main sticking points included class sizes, teacher workload, health benefits and number of school days.

KATU's Valerie Hurst and Dan Cassuto contributed to this story.