By Teresa Carson
PORTLAND, Ore. Feb 18 Teachers and management
in Oregon's largest school district reached an agreement in
principle on Tuesday on a new contract, averting a strike
planned for this week that threatened to disrupt classes for
28,000 students in Portland.
The accord, which followed a 24-hour-long bargaining session
overseen by a state mediator, capped 10 months of contentious
on-and-off negotiations over staffing levels, wages and other
Rank-and-file instructors in the 2,800-member Portland
Teachers Association voted on Feb. 5 to authorize union leaders
to call a strike in the event that contract talks collapsed.
The following day, the Portland Teachers Association put the
district on formal notice that it intended to begin a walkout
Feb. 20 unless the parties clinched a settlement by then.
Early on Tuesday, the two sides announced they had reached a
"conceptual" deal and would meet again later in the day to
negotiate details of their tentative agreement.
The accord is still subject to approval by the Portland
school board and ratification by union members. The planned
strike has been suspended pending the outcome of those votes. In
the meantime, the district's 78 schools will remain open.
The union and the school district have been at odds over
class size, teacher workloads, salary and insurance coverage,
but the issue of staffing levels emerged as the chief stumbling
block in recent weeks, according to union officials.
The breakthrough came after new state education revenue
projections were released last week showing the Portland
district stood to gain $4.6 million in additional funds, a
windfall that may have helped the two sides close a deal.
Neither party is releasing details of the agreement in
principle until after the teachers vote on whether to ratify the
District officials said the ratification vote could come as
soon as in two or three days.
School Superintendent Carole Smith said in a statement that
she was "very pleased" that the two sides were able to reach an