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Rochester Teachers, School Officials Reach Tentative Contract Agreement

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The Rochester (N.Y.) Teachers Association and the city school district reached a tentative agreement last week on a new three-year contract, after several months of lengthy negotiations assisted by outside experts and a state mediator.

The negotiations began in October, after the city's 2,500 teachers rejected a previous contract proposal that sought to hold teachers accountable by tying their salaries to job evaluations. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1990.)

The new contract continues the previous agreement's emphasis on accountability, but broadens the concept to include schoolwide and communitywide accountability.

Since October, the financial outlook for the city and state has significantly worsened. The new contract would provide teachers with smaller raises than under the previous agreement, which was criticized by community leaders as excessively generous, and with fewer "enabling" conditions, such as teachers' aides and smaller class sizes.

Teachers would receive longevity increases of $3,183 plus 2.2 percent raises this year, retroactive to the beginning of the school year. In the second year, they would receive just longevity payments, while in the third year they would receive raises of $3,800.

The total contract is expected to cost $33 million. Last fall's contract would have cost $43.5 million, according to Superintendent of Schools Peter McWalters.

Adam Urbanski, the president of the teachers' association, predicted that Rochester teachers would approve the contract. The union had scheduled a vote for Jan. 16.

The board of education does not plan to vote on the contract until the teachers have done so, according to Catherine Spoto, the board president. Last fall, the board was criticized for swiftly approving a contract before teachers and the community had had time to evaluate it.

Ms. Spoto said the board would look closely at whether the new contract continues the district's nationally watched push toward school reform, whether it adequately addresses the need for accountability, and whether it is affordable.

"I think this is going to be a very difficult decision for each board member to make," Ms. Spoto said.

In contrast to the previous con tract, which proposed an entirely new evaluation procedure for teach ers, the new contract would use the district's current teacher-evaluation system. However, teachers would be rated on a new set of explicit criteria based in part on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' vision of excellent teaching.

Although the current system has been criticized for rarely rating teachers as unsatisfactory, Mr. UrH banski said he believed more credi ble results would be achieved with better standards.

Mr. McWalters said such a detailed description of what a teacher's job is-- including working a "professional day" to extend help to students in need and participating on school com mittees--has never before been in cluded in a teacher contract.

"I feel very good about it," the su perintendent said. But he noted that board members will be under "tre mendous pressure" from the comL munity because of the economic climate.

Teachers also would have the op tion of designing their own evalua tion procedure, which would have to be approved by a joint district-union panel.

Mr. Urbanski said the new con tract addresses teachers' previous complaints about ambiguity. Items that are outside the scope of the con tract, but are important for account ability, are expected to be enacted as board policy.

The evaluation procedure attempts to distinguish between "teachers who are doing their job and teachers who aren't," he added. Teachers who were judged favorably would receive raises, while those who were not would be referred for intervention. The joint panel would determine how much of a raise, if any, such teachers would receive.

The accountability system enviH sioned for schools and the Rochester community draws heavily on recom mendations made last summer by a joint district-union task force. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1990.)

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