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On Third Try, School Board and Teachers Agree on Two-Year Contract in Rochester

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The Rochester Teachers Association and the city school board have ratified a two-year contract that continues and expands many of the New York district's renowned reform efforts.

Rochester teachers voted 2,370 to 92 on April 19 to approve the contract; the board's 7-to-0 vote in favor of the pact came last week.

The two-year contract, which was approved after two previous agreements had failed to gain the support of both the union and the board, will give teachers average raises of 7.25 percent both years, according to Adam Urbanski, president of the r.t.a. It raises the median salary to $50,000.

The difficulty in reaching a pact to succeed the previous contract, which expired June 30, centered on how, and whether, to create a system that would hold teachers accountable for their performance.

Such a performance-based system led to the first contract's defeat by teachers in September.

Mr. Urbanski and several board members noted, however, that the new contract does provide for withholding salary increases for teachers who are rated as unsatisfactory.

It also calls for the creation of a union-school district task force to recommend a new evaluation system for teachers by May of next year. The task force will discuss paying teachers different amounts, based on their performance, as well as how to include the views of parents and community members in teachers' evaluations. It also will explore using student-performance indicators to rate teachers.

Michael Fernandez, a board member who had pressed for some type of pay for performance, called the new contract "a step" as opposed to "the giant leap" the district had attempted to take with the first contract.

"We've established a process by which we can take a giant leap," Mr. Fernandez said. "Now the only ques8tion is, will we?"

Catherine Spoto, president of the board, said relationships between parents and teachers have suffered over the months teachers worked without a contract. "There were some rifts created that it will take some time to mend," she said.

The contract builds on existing school-reform policies by making "home-base guidance," in which teachers are responsible for groups of students, a requirement. It also boosts the number of lead teachers--those teachers who take on extra duties for salary bonuses--to 250.

Mr. Urbanski said the most significant change is in the provision requiring individual schools to negotiate multiyear school-improvement plans with the school district. The plans are to include specific goals and a list of resources needed to meet them.

Such an arrangement, Mr. Urbanski noted, expands the traditional notion of collective bargaining to individual schools and brings parents, who sit on the school councils, into the process.

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