Vote set on pact for city teachers

Deal would increase salaries 5 percent this year and next

Cost put at $34 million

October 31, 2001|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Baltimore schoolteachers will vote today on a proposed contract intended to help attract and retain talented people by increasing salaries 5 percent this year and next, and providing additional pay for teachers in 10 of the city's lowest-performing schools.

The contract, tentatively ratified by the school board, would cost the system about $17 million more a year for the next two years, school officials said.

"I think the contract is indeed a very progressive contract," said Sharon Y. Blake, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, which has 7,000 teachers as members.

The contract also pays teachers for 20 hours of professional development that was unpaid last year, gives parents who adopt children four weeks of paid leave and increases from two to three the number of 45-minute planning periods elementary school teachers are guaranteed each week.

Chief Operating Officer Mark Smolarz and Blake said negotiations this year have been less contentious and more cooperative than in the past.

"We believe the whole negotiation was one of thoughtful exchange of ideas and thinking," Blake said. "We looked at how to improve teaching and learning. We didn't think of it as `Did you give up something?' "

That new attitude toward negotiations has taken hold in some school districts across the nation as school systems and teachers come under increasing pressure to produce better test scores or face competition from charter schools and private companies running public schools.

In one example of cooperation, the contract would give incentives to teachers to go through a rigorous process needed to achieve national board certification. Once certified, they would receive an additional $4,000 a year for up to 10 years.

School officials believe the additional costs will result in better-qualified teachers.

School officials are also offering more money to attract better-qualified teachers to the CEO's District, a group of 10 of the lowest-performing schools that Carmen V. Russo, chief executive officer of the system, has targeted for special assistance this year.

Teachers at those schools would receive an 11 percent increase in pay this year, in addition to the 5 percent raise all teachers would get. Teachers who leave a school in the special district would lose the pay boost.

Under the new contract, a beginning teacher who is state-certified would make $34,569 and an uncertified teacher would earn $31,772. The pay for beginning certified teachers also reflects the school board's decision this summer to push their pay to what four-year teachers had been making.

Improving teacher salaries is needed to recruit and retain qualified teachers, said Sam Stringfield, a school board member. "We had to get into a competitive range with the surrounding jurisdictions," he said.

The beginning salary for a Baltimore County school teacher, certified or uncertified, is $32,550.

Although the pay increase is considered good, said Peter D. French, a middle school teacher at Midtown Academy, many work-related issues were unresolved.

"We feel the union leadership is more willing to make concessions to Russo and the board than to fight for its membership," said French, a frequent critic of the union.

Teachers are very concerned about an evaluation system that requires them to compile a portfolio of student work during the year, French said. The process is time-consuming and does not improve teaching, he said.

"The money is important, but people have to understand that teachers are incredibly concerned about their working conditions," French said.

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