After weeks of impasse, Portland Public Schools and its teachers union exchanged substantially updated proposals Thursday, seven days after the start of a teachers’ strike that kept 44,000 children out of school. ‘school.

The two sides are still relatively far apart, but Thursday’s proposals included notable progress on some major points of contention, including rising costs of living and planning delays.

The proposals could further evolve over the coming days. The chief financial officer of the Oregon Department of Administrative Services spent the week meeting behind closed doors with both sides, and a final analysis from her agency could establish with certainty how much money the district could muster to meet the union’s demands .

One area where the two sides still seem relatively far apart is class size, a major priority for the Portland Teachers Association, which stands firm on its proposal to cap class sizes at 23 in kindergarten. , 25 in the first year and 26 in the second year. through fifth and sixth grade in K-8 schools.

A big question mark remains whether the two sides will agree on cost-of-living adjustments, which reflect inflation. Teachers adjusted their request on Thursday. Previously, they were seeking increases of 8.5%, 7% and 6%; their latest offer targets 8.5% for the first year, then at least 5.5% and 5%, depending on West Coast inflation.

The district did not change its previous offer of annual cost-of-living increases of 4.5%, 3% and 3%, which are in addition to a 3.4% annual increase for those at their first 12 years of teaching. But it offered a one-time, unspecified bonus to those with at least a dozen years of experience. Half of the union members are on this march.

The current salary range caps at $97,333 for teachers with that much experience and advanced education beyond a master’s degree. A little more than 30 percent of union members earn that much, district officials said. First-year teachers receive $50,020 or, if they have a master’s degree, $57,080.

Previous offers from the district included an additional $3,000 in funding for first-year teachers and special education teachers.

Rather than strictly limiting class sizes, the district has long provided “extra pay” allowances to teachers assigned to classes that exceed thresholds ranging from 24 in kindergarten to 32 in fifth grade. On Thursday, the union proposed ending salary surpluses and using the money to hire about 20 additional teachers.

District negotiators have long been reluctant to negotiate over class sizes and are not legally required to do so at the request of the union, with the exception of schools that receive federal Title I funding because they serve a concentration of low-income families. District leaders said reducing class sizes at every school would undermine their ability to keep enrollment numbers particularly low in schools where children most need extra help.

But on Thursday, the district offered a modest carrot for the 2024-2025 school year, called a “symbolic improvement” in the union’s nightly message to educators. The proposal would reduce the maximum class size by one student at all grades in Title I elementary schools and first through fifth grades in all other schools. Under this proposal, for example, fourth and fifth grade classes would have a maximum of 32 students instead of 33.

The district also proposed forming a joint union-management committee to evaluate how best to further reduce class sizes in high-needs schools, with recommendations expected by November 2024, likely for implementation in 2025 -2026.

After Thursday’s exchange, the two sides appeared closer on scheduling time, which is a central tenet of the union’s demands, with teachers saying they desperately need more time to figure out how best to respond to the complex emotional and academic needs of students. They requested 440 minutes per week for each teacher.

In response, the district proposed eliminating 20 staff meetings per year, meaning those meetings would now be monthly instead of weekly. They say this would help free up enough time for primary and secondary school teachers to have 410 minutes of planning per week, but did not propose moving secondary teachers beyond the status quo, either one period in each day of four periods. aside for planning.

Under both proposals, the school year would now be 176 days long, up from the current 177, but instructional days would be 15 minutes longer, which a district analysis found would actually translate to more time spent in school for students. Both parties propose to set aside four non-teaching days for grading.

The two sides resumed negotiations on Friday and are expected to continue through the weekend.

—Julia Silverman, @jrlsilverman, [email protected]

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