Rochester Board Unanimously Rejects Teachers' Pact

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The Rochester, N.Y., school board last week threw the future of educational reform in the city into doubt by voting 7 to 0 against a tentative contract agreement between the Rochester Teachers Association and the school district.

In casting their votes, board members cited the two issues that have hung over negotiations in Rochester since the previous contract expired last June: the agreement's cost and the question of whether it would hold teachers sufficiently accountable for student performance.

"There are certain people in the community and today in the union who would try to characterize this as an anti-teacher vote, or a vote to kill reform," said Michael Fernandez, a board member. "I don't think it's any of those things."

Rochester's search for an acceptable definition of accountability--and for an evaluation system that would measure teachers' performance against such standards--has been a difficult one.

In September, teachers rejected a proposed contract that would have tied their raises directly to their job performance through a new evaluation system. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1990.)

Another contract agreement, announced this month and approved by 97 percent of the city's teachers, introduced a new set of explicit profession8al standards that all teachers would have been expected to meet in order to receive satisfactory ratings. (See Education Week, Jan. 16, 1991.)

But because teachers would have had the option of being evaluated under the district's current system, which has not found many teachers to be unsatisfactory, some board members viewed the contract as a move away from professional accountability.

The tentative agreement also did not tie salary increases as directly to job performance, although a district panel would have had some discretion in deciding whether teachers who were rated unsatisfactory should receive raises.

Such a scheme, Mr. Fernandezel10lsaid, provided no incentives for teachers to do a better job.

"To change the job description to one that simply says, 'Do a lot more than you're doing today'--I don't think that is the way to spur great improvements."

Rochester taxpayers also have been increasingly vocal about their desire to see teachers judged according to the achievements of the city's students--particularly if teachers are to continue to receive substantial raises.

Board members were wary of approving a contract calling for average raises of 27 percent over three years at a time when New York State's economy is withering and the city is facing revenue shortfalls.

Adam Urbanski, president of the teachers' union, said teachers were ''justifiably outraged" about being "sold out by their board of education."

While lauding what he termed teachers' professionalism throughout the lengthy contract talks, Mr. Urbanski said he was disappointed in "virtually all others in this community who, while giving lip service to reform, have chickened out when they could have spoken up."

The union's policymaking Representative Assembly was scheduled to meet late last week to recommend a course of action. One option that Mr. Urbanski has mentioned would be for teachers to refuse to participate in time-consuming activities not required by their contracts.

Union officials said the district now will follow state guidelines for labor disputes to arrive at a settlement.

Vol. 10, Issue 19

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