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Two Unions Gain Sharp Pay Hikes, Role in Decisions

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Teachers in two of New York State's largest cities--Rochester and New York City--have negotiated new three-year contracts that provide dramatic pay raises and greater involvement in school decisionmaking.

Under the Rochester agreement, which overhauls the entire salary schedule for teachers through the establishment of a career ladder, pay for beginning teachers will jump by 52 percent--from $18,983 last year to $28,935 in 1989-90. The average experienced teacher's salary will rise by 40 percent, from $32,651 last year to $45,774.

By the third year of the contract, "lead teachers"--a new category created by the agreement--could earn close to $70,000. The pay increases carry a price tag of roughly $30 million.

"You won't find any district of this size nationwide that has done better than this," said Jewell Gould, director of research for the American Federation of Teachers.

Said Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, an affiliate of the aft: "This agreement marks an enormous first step in the movement to professionalize teaching. For the first time, teachers will have a career path available without having to leave the classroom--encouraging a new commitment to education."

A 'Breakthrough' Boost

In New York City, the nation's largest school district, an official of the teachers' union hailed as a "major breakthrough" a new contract that will increase teacher salaries by 25 percent over the next three years. The district's starting salary will climb from $20,000 to $25,000 in the final year of the contract, while the salary for the average experienced teacher will rise from $33,000 to $39,000.

Pay for veteran teachers at the top of the salary schedule--those with 20 years' experience and 30 college credits beyond a master's degree--will increase from $40,700 to $50,000.

Roughly half of the city's 62,000 teachers will be at the top of the scale when the new contract expires, according to Sandra Feldman, president of the United Federation of Teachers, also an aft affiliate. The pact covers more than 13,000 other school employees also represented by the union.

The hefty pay increase was needed, the union had argued, to halt the flow of teachers from the urban district to surrounding, higher-paying suburbs.

"The new salary schedule is excellent and will make us competitive,'' Ms. Feldman said.

"What we are now seeing in New York City is an incredible raise, when you look at the sheer size of the system, and at where they were and where they will be," said Mr. Gould. "Here you have a city that was in a leadership position in wages and education programs before they got strangled by the fiscal crisis. Now they come back 15 years later and are competitive again."

The pact, which was announced Aug. 31 by the union and the board of education, was ratified by the union's governing bodies on Sept. 2. The union's membership is expected to approve it later this month; the school board is expected to approve the contract in October.

Funding 'Is Manageable'

In Rochester, union and school officials reached an agreement on the terms of the new contract in early August but waited to announce it until Aug. 20. The governing body of the union ratified the contract on Sept. 1, and a vote by the entire membership was scheduled for Tuesday of this week, the first day of school.

The school board delayed by more than a week a vote on the new pact, to explore whether the district could afford it. They finally approved the agreement last Thursday.

"Financing this in the second and third years continues to be an issue," said Peter McWalters, the city's superintendent of schools. "We are saying, however, that the future is manageable. ... I just need the state to keep education on the agenda and keep the [funding] increases consistent with those of the past five to eight years."

Career Ladder

Under the terms of the new settlement, all Rochester teachers will receive a flat $4,500 increase in the first year of the contract and 11 percent raises in each of the following two years. During the life of the contract, teachers will not receive the automatic step increments for their years of experience and extra education that were built into the old contract.

The new settlement replaces the former 26-step salary schedule with a career ladder that contains four professional levels teachers can progress through to earn more money and receive greater responsibility.

The four professional categories are: Intern--first-year teachers without prior experience who work under the tutelage of a fellow teacher for one year; resident--teachers who have served as interns but not yet received permanent certification or tenure; professional--all teachers with permanent certification and tenure; and lead teachers--a competitive level for teachers with 10 years of experience, at least five of which have to be in the district.

Lead teachers' work year will be extended by 10 percent, and they must agree to accept teaching assignments wherever they are needed. They will teach during a minimum of 50 percent of their work time and serve as mentors and instructional leaders for the balance.

For the added responsibility, lead teachers will earn a 15 percent to 20 percent differential on top of their regular salary.

Change in Decisionmaking

In a highly unusual move, the union agreed to a provision that will eliminate, in the second year of the contract, seniority as the determining factor in considering voluntary transfer requests by teachers. New planning committees at each school will pick who gets to transfer to their school, based on ability.

As envisioned by Mr. McWalters and Mr. Urbanski, these "school-based planning committees"--which the school board, superintendent, and union have agreed in the contract to develop together--could radically change the way schools are run in the district.

Although the actual composition and responsibilities of the planning committees will be worked out over the next few months, the superintendent and union leader said last week that they see teachers playing a key role on the committees, giving them a new voice in decisionmaking.

Mr. McWalters said the committees would be more than just an advisory group to the school principal, but he added that he was not suggesting "leadership by committee," where teachers could overrule a principal.

"We are not talking about power plays and overrulings," he said. "I don't see this whole thing having to be political. ... It is a question of probing, challenging, and checking until the group as a whole decides what the best option is."

"I have no reason to believe," he added, "that I can't get real answers from teachers who are professional and treated like professionals."

Said Mr. Urbanski: "I see this as teacher empowerment at the school level. Until now, teachers have had little opportunity to make any choices and decisions. But since they will now be empowered to make choices and decisions, they will and ought to be accountable."

In addition, the pact expands the district's controversial peer-review program; extends the number of work days for the city's 2,400 teachers from 185 to 190 days; and makes each high-school and middle-school teacher responsible for making home visits and providing counseling for a designated group of students.

Similarities in New York

The new pact in New York City also contains a number of provisions that give teachers increased say in the way schools are run.

One such provision allows teachers, working with their principals, to modify portions of the union contract or board regulations to remedy local problems and improve education.

For example, class-size restrictions might be waived so that a junior-high-school science program could have large groups for lectures and smaller ones for laboratory work.

Such changes would have to be agreed upon by the principal and 75 percent of the school's teachers.

The agreement also creates a peer-assistance program in which expert teachers will work with those judged by the principal to be performing unsatisfactorily--but only if the teacher needing help requests it.

The experts will have up to a year to help deficient teachers solve their problems or counsel them to leave the profession. After the "intervention," the principal will re-evaluate the teacher and, if the problems are not resolved, may resume disciplinary action.

In addition, the contract adds one day at the beginning of the school year for "professional activities," and increases the number of preparation periods for elementary teachers who previously only had two a week.

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