Contract round up: Portland (OR) and Fresno

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In this month’s edition of Catching up on Contracts, we look at two districts, Portland Public Schools in Oregon and the Fresno Unified School District in California. Both districts faced a highly contentious negotiation process.  After almost a year of negotiations, the two districts ratified their contracts, Portland in February 2014 and Fresno in June 2014.

Portland Public Schools (OR), July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016

Portland averted a teachers’ strike by just two days when the district reached a “conceptual agreement” at the end of a 23-hour marathon bargaining session, which became the basis of the latest contract.  The city’s first budget surplus in over a decade undoubtedly eased the way to a settlement. The surplus, which freed up funds to meet many of the union’s demands, came about largely due to increased revenues from property taxes, reduced expenses and added dollars approved by the state legislature. Below, we cover some of the more significant changes in the latest contract.


The latest contract gives a 2.3 percent annual salary increase in each of the three school years from 2013 to 2015. The district paid teachers retroactively for the 2013-2014 school year. 

School year

Two calendars are included in the latest contract: a standard school year calendar and a new extended calendar which adds two days to the instructional year. For 2014-2015, the district operated under the extended calendar and will continue to do so provided that no future decreases in funding lead to a reduction in staffing levels. In that event, the district must revert to the standard calendar before it cuts any teaching positions. The extended calendar adds two days to the instructional year for a total of 178 days (including three snow days).

Professional development

The contract adds up to three professional development days for teachers in priority or focus schools. Oregon has a new school accountability system that identifies Title I schools as priority, focus or model schools that either need additional support or are recognized for being highly successful. Priority and focus schools represent the bottom 5 and 15 percent, respectively, of Title I schools in the state. 

Teacher workload

A major bone of contention during the negotiations was teacher workload. The addition of 150 new teachers in the 2014-2015 school year represents a victory for the union. The contract also establishes a committee of teachers and administrators who will work jointly to identify and solve workload concerns. Individual teachers have the right to appeal to this committee when they require workload relief. 


The district has an early retirement program that pays a stipend of $425 each month as well as health insurance to teachers who elect early retirement. The payments continue for 60 months or until the teacher reaches the age of sixty-two, whichever comes first. The plan will remain in effect only for teachers who had 15 years of experience in the district by September 2014.  In a letter last year to Portland Public School families, Superintendent Carole Smith said, “This will allow PPS to keep more experienced teachers longer and re-direct money over time to investments in students.” This program will sunset on June 30, 2016.

Layoffs and Assignments

Under the latest contract, the district has added “competence” as a criterion for determining teacher assignments, including transfers, and for determining the order of layoffs. The district defines competence as “the ability to teach a subject or grade level based on recent teaching experience related to the subject or grade level within the last five years, or educational attainments, or both, but not based solely on being licensed to teach.”


The union agreed to allow first and second-year non-tenured teachers who are unassigned to apply for an open position during the internal transfer process. Previously, this privilege went only to third-year non-tenured teachers and tenured teachers.

Fresno Unified School District, July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016

Though teachers in Fresno did not actually vote to strike as did their neighbors to the north, the threat was there. The major sticking points were shared decision-making, working conditions and employer contributions to health benefits. Before identifying the most significant changes in the latest contract, a brief explanation of California’s Locally Controlled Funding Formula (LCFF) might bring some clarity to recent developments, specifically in the district’s benefits and turnaround school policies.

The LCFF provides more cash to districts with high percentages of at-risk students and gives districts flexibility in determining how they will use the funds to close the achievement gap. Prior to the LCFF, student needs were generally not a factor in the funding formula. EdSource described the intent of LCFF as “shift[ing] the focus from funding dozens of state-mandated programs to funding based on local district control and student needs, with substantial extra dollars allotted to low-income children, foster youth and English learners.”

With that, on to the latest contract…


Effective July 1, 2014, the district’s annual contribution to the health fund rose from $13,649 to $14,674, an increase of $1,025 per employee. The contract stipulates that this contribution will not decrease in any future year, even if the base grant provided by LCFF declines, and guarantees an annual increase to the district’s contribution based on any state increases to the LCFF base grant.

Turnaround schools

The latest contract includes a new article called “Designated Schools,” otherwise known as turnaround schools. The 2011 Memorandum of Understanding on Persistently Low Achieving Schools and the regulations of the LCFF form the basis for the article. LCFF provides the funding necessary for the district to increase the number of schools eligible for turnaround status. In 2011, the district identified only three schools as persistently low achieving; in 2014-2015, 10 schools had this designation. ­­­­Under the latest contract, by 2016-2017, there will be 30 Designated Schools, an addition of 10 schools each year. The contract continues the increased instructional time established under the 2011 MOU, with 30 minutes added to the instructional day and an additional 10 days in the school year. If funding by the LCFF ends for any reason, this new article will terminate.  

Class size

Effective 2014-2015, the class size limit in grades K-3 is 24 students, up from 20 under the previous contract.


The latest contract brings several changes in salary:

  • There was a 2.7 percent increase in salary paid retroactively for the 2013-2014 school year.
  • Effective July 1, 2014, teacher salary increased by 3.5 percent. Both sides agreed to meet after the 2014-2015 school year to work out the 2015-2016 salary schedule.
  • A new professional learning classification, or lane, was added to the salary schedule (Class V). Class V provides an additional 3 percent salary increase compared to Class IV for teachers who complete nine units of professional learning by July 1, 2015. To remain at this level, teachers must complete nine units of professional learning every three years.
  • All extra pay schedules for teachers who take on extracurricular responsibilities doubled, with the exception of elementary sport pay schedules which tripled, retroactive to July 1, 2013.


There are also significant changes in teacher evaluation, including changes in the remediation process:

  • Teachers must set “goals and objectives for the progress of students towards established standards of expected student achievement.”
  • Teachers are now guaranteed the right to request an additional classroom observation by a mutually-selected new evaluator. This evaluator provides feedback and support to the teacher; it is not clear if the evaluator rates the teacher and/or if the rating figures into the teacher’s final evaluation.
  • The current contract eliminates Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), a long-standing program required by California which offered support and peer assistance to struggling tenured teachers in remediation. As part of the new flexibility afforded to districts by the LCFF, Fresno has chosen to take a different approach to the remediation process. A mentor is still available, upon request, to struggling teachers following the mid-year formative evaluation but peer assistance is no longer a component of the formal remediation process in the year following an unsatisfactory evaluation. Instead the process looks much as it does in most districts outside of California. The teacher and administrator, not a peer advisor/mentor, develop a “Teacher Development Plan” which includes “goals for improving professional practices and student learning, together with objective criteria to measure progress towards stated goals.”
  • The district is now using four instead of three performance ratings in evaluations: Demonstrates Expertise, Meets Standards, Growth Expected and Not Meeting Standards. The previous contract required: Meets Standards – Proficient, Meets Standards – Minimally and Does Not Meet Standards.

Shared decision making/collaborative planning time

Throughout negotiations, Fresno teachers demanded greater shared decision making and achieved a new article in the contract called Shared Decision Procedures. It establishes “accountable communities” at all schools, not just in turnaround schools as was the case under the previous contract.

Accountable communities give teachers collaboration time “to improve and support student learning.” The administration at each school, in collaboration with the teachers, sets the topics for each session. A lead teacher facilitates the sessions. It is not clear how much time schools must allocate to this planning time; the contract states only that a “reasonable” amount of time during the eight-hour work day is allotted to collaborative planning time.