City schools, teachers union to end linking pay to years of employment

Landmark deal could put Baltimore at forefront of education reforms

September 28, 2010|By Liz Bowie and Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore school district and its teachers union have struck a landmark agreement that would end the longtime practice of linking pay to years of employment and place the city at the forefront of a national reform effort, according to sources familiar with the pact.

The two sides have discussed a pay system that would reward skills and effectiveness and are expected to announce the details of the agreement Wednesday.

Experts in teacher compensation said Baltimore was poised to become one of only a handful of places in the country, including Washington, D.C., New Haven, Conn., and Pittsburgh, that have moved toward paying teachers for performance as a way to improve the quality of education in their schools. The Obama administration has been pressing for such changes.

The agreement is tentative and is subject to a ratification vote. But a source with knowledge of the negotiations said district and union leaders have agreed to "do away" with paying teachers based solely on their years of experience and the college and university degrees they have obtained, meaning automatic pay increases known as "steps" would be eliminated.

The source said what was remarkable about Baltimore's new pact was that the district did not force it on teachers but collaborated with the union. The union was one of only two in the state that supported the reforms proposed in Maryland's winning Race to the Top application.

A new pay structure could be easily married to the state's new laws and regulations that require 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be based on student achievement. But the state law does not go so far as to require districts to base pay on teacher reviews.

Chad Aldeman, a policy analyst at Education Sector, a nonprofit research organization, said union contracts that took into account years of experience first began appearing in the 1960s. Since then, he said, "pretty much every teacher except for a few are paid based on the years of experience."

The previous contract expired during the summer and was extended while negotiations continued. Another source said teachers would get a 2 percent pay increase in the next year.

City schools CEO Andrés Alonso and Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English declined to comment Tuesday.

Exactly how teacher pay would be structured is not clear, but Emily Cohen, a policy analyst at the National Council on Teacher Quality, said Tuesday that she had seen proposals made two months ago during negotiations between the two parties.

Under those proposals, teachers would move up a four-tiered career ladder that starts with new teachers and ends with master teachers. Teachers would be paid additional money for achieving a level of effectiveness based on the quality of their work as well as any extra duties they take on in their schools, such as mentoring other teachers. Teachers could also earn more by taking courses that were designed to help them learn specific teaching skills.

But Cohen said she didn't know if any of those specifics had survived in the final agreement.

One source said the contract was more general than specific, in part because the state has still not written a framework for how school districts can comply with new policies that link student achievement to teacher evaluations. All districts in the state will have to negotiate agreements in the coming year to take into account the new evaluation system.

If the city does not base teacher pay on degrees, then it could potentially stop reimbursing teachers for tuition at universities and colleges, thus saving millions of dollars that could be used to fund other pay increases. The state currently requires that teachers earn master's degrees in order to remain certified after a few years in the job.

Across the state, some districts have tried giving teachers additional pay on a limited basis. Baltimore City, and Washington and Prince George's counties have experimented with extra pay for teachers taking on tough assignments in the lowest-performing schools, but no district in the state has completely overhauled compensation. Last week, Washington County was awarded a five-year, $7.35 million federal grant for its work to provide incentive pay to teachers who work in high-need schools.

The leadership of the city school district and union announced Friday that they had reached an agreement, which still must be ratified by the union's membership and the school board. English said in a statement last week, "I think teachers are going to like this contract because it addresses many of the concerns they expressed in a survey we conducted last school year."

Alonso said in the statement Friday that the new deal would "put instructional effectiveness at the core of everything, which is where it should be."

The American Federation of Teachers, the national organization that represents the union, was deeply involved in the negotiations and will be part of the announcement Wednesday.

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