PORTLAND — The city’s teachers ratified a three-year contract Tuesday that will save the school district $910,000 in wages in the coming year and could preserve some of the 60 positions that have been targeted for elimination.

The teachers also agreed to add five teaching days to the school calendar, increasing the number of days that Portland students will be in classrooms to 180, surpassing the state-required 175 days.

Ninety-two percent of teachers union members voted to go without cost-of-living or step salary increases in 2011-12, saving the district about $800,000 in the year that starts July 1, said Kathleen Casasa, president of the union.

They also agreed to increase the minimum time between salary increases for professional development from three years to four years, which will save $110,000 in the coming year, Casasa said.

Casasa told the school board Tuesday night that she hopes the teachers’ salary concessions will help offset proposed staff cuts, but she stopped short of calling the lost wages a sacrifice.

“It’s an agreement,” Casasa said after the board meeting at Casco Bay High School. “We got some things, and we gave up some things.”

Under the ratified contract, step increases, given for longevity, would resume in 2012-13 at a cost of about $800,000 to the district. The teachers would get a 3 percent increase in salary base in 2013-14, which would be the first such increase in four years.

To spend five additional days in the classroom, teachers agreed to convert three professional days to teaching days, and to work two more days without more pay.

In return, teachers won nonbinding contract language that calls for the school board and superintendent to engage them in decisions that affect students’ learning.

Superintendent Jim Morse said the contract sets a new tone for the district, putting respect for teachers and emphasis on students’ achievement at the center of the agreement.

“This contract is transformational,” Morse said. “(It will be a) template for school systems across the country.”

The contract includes new language that more closely ties salary increases for professional development to students’ learning. The district will offer courses and workshops to address its needs related to literacy, poverty, technology, early childhood education and students learning to speak English, Morse said.

The school board has yet to vote on the contract, but it is expected to approve the agreement April 5. The teacher contract probably will influence the district’s ongoing negotiations with three other school employee bargaining groups.

Also Tuesday, the school board’s finance committee approved a $91.6 million budget proposal for the coming year that includes $1.5 million in savings from 43 retirements. The savings account for the cost of filling 19 of those positions, for about $1 million the first year, and spending $213,000 on retirement incentives.

The budget proposal reflects a $6 million reduction in state and federal funding, and calls for spending $2 million remaining from last year’s federal jobs bill allocation and a $1.2 million surplus from the 2009-10 school budget.

“We worked hard last year to come in under budget to help cope with the dramatic loss in federal aid that we knew was coming,” said Jaimey Caron, the finance committee’s chairman.

When the school board meets April 5, it will consider using some of the nearly $2.5 million saved on teachers’ salaries and staff retirements to restore positions and programs. Among those mentioned by finance committee members were adult education teachers, education technicians, a grant writer, technology upgrades and capital improvements.

As it stands, the proposed budget would increase the amount to be raised from property taxes by $1.2 million — about 1.8 percent — from $67.4 million for this year to $68.6 million for 2011-12.

That would add about 15 cents to the city’s tax rate of $17.92 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and increase the annual tax bill on a $200,000 home by $30.

The school board plans to present its budget to the City Council on April 11. A citywide vote on the school budget is scheduled for May 10.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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