Petaluma City Schools and its teachers have reached a tentative contract agreement after months of sometimes-contentious negotiations that required the involvement of a mediator.

The deal means that the current year will have 180 classroom days — up from 177 last year — as well as two teacher work days, two staff development days and one "flex unscheduled work day."

The elimination of eight unpaid furlough days represents an approximately 4.5 percent increase to teachers' current pay and will cost the district about $1 million, according to Superintendent Steve Bolman.

The move requires the district, which is running a deficit of nearly $2.8 million this year, to dip into its reserve fund that is currently above the required 3 percent level.

Projected income for the nearly 7,800-student district is expected to be $64.5 million this year, while spending is projected at $67.2 million.

"We proposed, and we agreed, to dip into the reserve to fund the salary increase, and part of that was because the (teachers) worked with us to build the reserve," Bolman said.

"I think it's a very good deal for everyone," he said. "Getting their days back is great."

But there is some lingering conflict over the definition of the new "flex unscheduled work day."

Bolman described the day as one that must be worked but does not need to be reported to the district.

"I expect that our teachers will have worked at least 185 days by the end of the fiscal year," he said.

But Terry Elverum, spokesman for the Petaluma Federation of Teachers, said the eighth day of the deal is a paid day off.

"It means they are paid for eight but only work seven," he said.

"They have essentially been given a flex day or personal day," he said.

The deal was passed 289-60 in an unofficial tally when the two-day voting period ended Wednesday, Elverum said.

Elverum described the deal as a return to pre-recession pay, not an increase in pay.

"It's not a raise; it's a reinstatement of '07 levels," Elverum said of the deal.

Teachers in the district have endured furlough days — and the associated loss of pay — for years. In both 2010-11 and last year, the number of work days fell to 177, but in other years, teachers worked between 180 and 182 days.

This deal constitutes the first return to 185 days since 2007.

There is no cost-of-living boost to pay rates in the deal, but most teachers receive annual pay boosts based on tenure, credentials and postgraduate work.

The deal also locks in a longer kindergarten day, but gives all kindergarten teachers $100 each for classroom supplies.

Under the new deal, the district will pay for the cost of increased health care premiums for the most popular plan at a cost of $125,000 annually to the district.

The school board is expected to adopt the deal Nov. 12. The two sides are set to return to the bargaining table early next year to discuss 2014-15.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at She can be reached at 526-8671, or on Twitter @benefield.