Impasse: Portland administrators say contract talks 'far apart' - KPTV - FOX 12

Strike possible: Portland teachers, administrators 'far apart' in contract talks

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Portland Public Schools press conference, Wednesday Portland Public Schools press conference, Wednesday

Portland Public Schools administrators say they have reached an impasse in contract negotiations with teachers.

The district called a press conference Wednesday morning and said they are more than $200 million apart on compensation offers with the Portland Association of Teachers.

Just one day earlier, the union posted a newsletter on its website that said both sides were moving closer together on some issues.

"We believe we are close to resolution on critical aspects of the contract including evaluation, non-discrimination, grievance and the mentor program," the newsletter states.

On Wednesday, the union issued a press release saying the school board's actions are "dangerous and reckless" and pushing toward a strike.

"The board is sending a clear message that they would rather force a strike and shut the school doors on our students than work together with the teachers," said Gwen Sullivan, president of the association.

Administrators said the two sides have only reached a tentative agreement on five articles of the contract, but still remain "far apart" on major issues.

"Prolonged bargaining becomes disruptive for our students, our schools and our communities, and it's time for us to get a contract," said Sean Murray, chief human resources officer for Portland Public Schools.

The district stated its offer would lengthen the school year by three days and the teachers' work year by two days. It would also maintain teacher workloads at existing levels through 2015-2016, "streamline hiring" to make the district more competitive for high-quality candidates, and provide pay and benefits that are "in line with revenue and competitive with other school districts."

The teachers' union website states the district's proposals would limit internal hiring, make it easier to replace veteran educators and restrict the right to representation, along with the ability to file grievances.

The union stated the district's proposal also "eliminates the only protection educators and students have against unilaterally adding more work to the day and more students to classrooms and case loads."

A district press release says the Portland Association of Teachers' offer "adds more restrictions on teaching and learning," while the union's website says the Portland Public Schools' proposal, "reduces educators' ability to teach."

Both sides now have seven days to submit a final offer, before there will be a 30-day "cooling off period." After that, the union could give a 10-day notice before potentially striking.

Portland Public Schools leaders said while they are not focused on a potential teachers' strike, they will have replacements ready if it gets that far.

Three years ago, there was an impasse in contract negotiations, but both sides were able to reach an agreement.

Superintendent Carole Smith said declaring an impasse was actually the tool that helped them reach a settlement in 2010.

"This time we have more favorable economic conditions, so we're not talking furlough days, we're not talking cuts," Smith said.

The union countered by saying the district is creating a "false crisis."

"In the end, it's the students and this community who will be harmed," Sullivan said.

The two sides have been negotiating now for seven months.

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