The Philadelphia School District and its largest union appear, for the first time in more than four years, to be closing in on a new contract.
Negotiators from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers were at the table Monday, as they were over the weekend, according to officials from both sides.
PFT officials signaled to their 10,000-plus members that a contract could be imminent.
The union set a general membership meeting for contract ratification, date to be determined. Members would have access to the terms of the contract prior to the meeting and would vote via secret ballots, which would be counted by the American Arbitration Association.
"Our goal is to have a contract before the end of the school year," said George Jackson, PFT spokesman.
"I do feel like we're close," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said. "But I felt that a year ago."
Hite said the district was "very serious about getting an agreement."
In a statement, the superintendent added that the sides have made "tremendous progress."
"This has been a successful school year in large part because of the work of dedicated teachers and school staff throughout the district," Hite said in the statement. "I am optimistic we will reach an agreement soon."
The last PFT contract expired on Aug. 31, 2013. The salaries of teachers, counselors, nurses, psychologists, secretaries, librarians, and other school workers have been frozen for five years.
Union members, some of whom have missed out on tens of thousands of dollars since the contract expired, remained on high alert Monday, many said.
The last time officials discussed details of the negotiations, the PFT roundly rejected a deal worth more than $100 million. Last November, the district offered a four-year package that included "step" increases — pay bumps based on years of experience — and incentive bonuses for educators in hard-to-staff schools.
But that pact would have included no retroactive pay or cost-of-living increases. PFT president Jerry Jordan said at the time that the deal was a nonstarter.
"This offer has no recognition of the years that people have sacrificed," Jordan said then.
Hite has insisted that the district cannot spend money it does not have. Although the school system is in relatively good financial health, a massive deficit is projected in the next few years.
City and state officials responsible for funding the district, which cannot raise its own revenue, have told district leaders that no major cash infusions will be available to fund a PFT contract.
A city reassessment of commercial properties will yield an additional $65 million annually for the district, and leaders have said they will spend some of the windfall on the teachers' contract. They also will spend part of the city money to end virtually all split classes citywide, to bring in more aid for English-language learners, and to hire teachers to end "leveling" — the process of adjusting the teaching force based on actual enrollment, in which some schools lose educators two months into the school year.
The current school year ends for students next Tuesday, and for teachers June 21.