An innovative new contract would enable Baltimore teachers who are effective and ambitious to move quickly through the ranks and earn up to $100,000 a year, as well as give teachers more input on working conditions in their schools.
The new contract, being hailed as the most progressive in the nation, would in part link teachers' pay to their students' performance. The structure does away with the old model of "step" increases, or paying teachers based solely on their years of experience and the degrees they have obtained.
The agreement also dictates that by its third year, all schools will employ "school-based options" — a plan under which 80 percent of teachers in a school could help set working conditions not outlined in the general contract, such as a longer work day or more planning time.
The contract negotiations went smoothly, and union and school officials avoided the acrimony that surfaced during recent talks in the Washington school system.
"It was essential that teachers be at the center of transforming schools," Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, told a room full of teachers at a meeting Wednesday night at City Neighbors Charter School.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents Baltimore educators, said at the meeting that "this is the most professional contract I have seen."
City schools CEO Andres Alonso said the contract represented a "huge, monumental shift" in the district, as many of the stipulations are unprecedented in their focus on teacher effectiveness.
Alonso told teachers that if they are producing results in the classroom, they "shouldn't be waiting years to reap the rewards for the work that they do."
He pointed to a new sense of cooperation between union and city officials as they brace for state and national reforms that tie teacher evaluations to student performance. In recent months, Maryland has adopted policies that would require that 50 percent of a teacher's review be linked to student achievement.
"The union has embraced the idea that they have a stake," Alonso said. "The next level has to be about every kid being in a classroom with a great teacher."
The pay-structure overhauls are among the most radical in the nation. The city would give its 6,000 teachers an automatic 2 percent pay increase in the first year of the contract, which would raise the starting salary for a teacher in the district to $46,774 — a more than $5,000 increase and the highest starting salary in the state.
In addition, teachers would get a one-time $1,500 stipend for signing the contract, paid for with money from the federal jobs bill passed recently by Congress.
In the second and third years, teachers could receive up to a 1 percent increase and a 1.5 percent raise, respectively. However, the second- and third-year increases would be based on student performance, teacher evaluations and any courses they have taken to improve instruction.
"Right now, teacher compensation has nothing to do with whether they are effective," Alonso said.
The contract sets up four steps on a ladder for teachers to attain: standard, professional, model and leader. In three years, a teacher who becomes a lead teacher — and there will be only one per building — could earn a maximum of $100,800, or about as much as a principal.
The first tier would be for new teachers; once a teacher is tenured, she or he would move to the professional level. Teachers would move up in each of the tiers based on student achievement, evaluations and taking classes that improve their performance. Teachers would become model teachers when they prove to a panel of their peers and administrators that they have become mentors and leaders in their schools.
Lead teachers would be chosen by the principal, or the principal in collaboration with teachers and parents, from among the model teachers.
Pay could go up quickly for effective teachers. By the end of the contract in 2012, a standard teacher could earn up to $53,400, a professional teacher as much as $84,011, a model teacher up to $92,700 and a lead teacher as much as $100,800.
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the contract provides enormous incentives for good teachers to stay in the system and that she hopes other districts will adopt similar contracts.
"This is a statewide and in many ways national initiative," she said. "We are not having legitimate reforms if how we pay teachers and how we reward effectiveness isn't part of the scenario."
Emily Cohen, a policy analyst at the National Council on Teacher Quality, said no other district has gone as far as the city does with the new contract to eliminate the automatic increases in pay that have come every year for teachers.