PAT president: ‘The strike is off’

PAT President Gwen Sullivan (left) and PPS board member Pat Knowles react to the agreement averting a teachers strike in Portland, Feb. 18, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
PAT President Gwen Sullivan (left) and PPS board member Pat Knowles react to the agreement averting a teachers strike in Portland, Feb. 18, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) –After 10 months of negotiations, and just two days before 2,900 teachers were scheduled to go on strike, a tentative agreement has reportedly been reached between the Portland Association of Teachers and the Portland Public Schools District.

The PAT reported on its Facebook page at about 8 a.m. Tuesday that following a 23-hour marathon bargaining session, a “conceptual agreement with the district” had been reached.

When PAT president Gwen Sullivan was asked by KOIN 6 News if the strike was off, she said, “Yes, absolutely it is off.”

Earlier in the day, the PAT wrote, “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. More details to come!”

Jon Isaacs, a senior policy advisor for PPS, confirmed the deal in an email to KOIN. “It will be put into an official written Tentative Agreement later today after both teams get some sleep,” he wrote.

At a 9:30 a.m. press briefing, PPS spokesperson Christine Miles said negotiators “will have to formally write it up, then go back and officially sign it.” She said she expects that to happen this afternoon.

“We’re just relieved,” Miles said.

Once the Tentative Agreement signed by officials on both sides, it will need to be ratified by both the teachers and the School Board. If both groups approve it, then the strike will be called off.

The details of the deal will not be released until it is ratified by PAT teachers and the School Barod.

“After 10 months of difficult negotiations and hard work by both sides I am very pleased that PPS & PAT have reached a conceptual agreement. I look forward to finalizing the tentative agreement later today,” PPS Superintendent Carole Smith said in the release.

Meanwhile, school on Wednesday will begin at the regular time, but students will be released 2 ½ hours early.

The two sides had been in a marathon negotiation session since 9 a.m. Monday at an undisclosed location. The nonstop talks continued overnight into Tuesday. In a brief statement posted onto its Facebook page at 3 a.m Tuesday, PAT wrote, “Your bargaining team is still at it.”

Officials said it was down to crunch time for the bargaining teams to avoid a teacher’s strike, which was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Thursday if no deal was reached. Christine Miles, a district spokesperson, confirmed that both sides had been at the bargaining table all night, and said it was a “good sign” as they tried to hammer out a proposal for a contract settlement.

PPS and PAT have been negotiating over a new contract since March of 2013. Since declaring an impasse on Nov. 20, they have spent hundreds of hours in mediation over issues including class size, salary increases and early retirement incentives. After little progress, on Feb. 5, the district’s teachers overwhelmingly voted to authorize the strike, which would be the first ever in PPS history. The strike left the district scrambling to find enough substitute teachers to fill classrooms, and parents to find child care alternatives if school days were canceled.

During Monday’s bargaining session, an official with PAT confirmed progress was made, but declined to release specifics. PAT posted on its Facebook page that it has to analyze the district’s proposal “line by line.”

Both officials with PPS and PAT have confirmed that, if necessary, they would be willing to meet up until the last minute. If a proposed settlement is reached between the bargaining teams, the school board and union members would have to vote on the offer. If both sides approve that proposed offer before 8 a.m. Thursday, the strike will be avoided. If either side rejects the proposal, the strike could take effect.

On Monday, the district announced that because of the looming strike, community groups and activities that meet at or on PPS facilities would have to be rescheduled because the district has revoked permits. Buckman Pool at Buckman Elementary in Southeast Portland was closed as of 6 a.m. Tuesday.

A district spokesperson said a decision would be made later Tuesday whether permits for later in the week would be revoked as well.

— Brent Weisberg

Follow on Twitter: @BrentKOIN

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