The News: Baltimore (City) Teachers Union (BTU) has reached a tentative agreement with the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) on a new contract. This news was announced last Thursday 1/30/14, with information sessions scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and a vote scheduled for this Thursday, 2/6/14.
Our old “revolutionary” new three-year contract had run out last June, but an extension was signed so that contract negotiations could continue into this school year. According to the BTU reps sent out to our school yesterday, however, that extension expired on January 31, so we are now completely without a contract and are considered “at-will” employees.
Here is why I plan to vote “NO” this Thursday on the new contract:
- Rushing to a vote. By releasing the new contract and rushing to a vote only a week after it is announced, it seems like they are trying to rush us into voting on this contract without having adequate time to read and discuss its implications.
- Bribery. Just like last time, a stipend is offered as soon as we approve/ratify this contract. While I appreciate and can use the extra money, this stipend seems an underhanded way to convince us to vote for something we might otherwise find distasteful.
- Closed negotiations. Teachers had no information on, nor direct input to, the negotiation session.
- Scare tactics. When I raised a question in shock at yesterday’s meeting, that we were working without a contract, the BTU reps responded in a way that seemed meant to scare and intimidate us into voting for the contract, by highlighting that we are now (as of 2/1) at-will employees without a contract, and could be fired at any time for any reason. When another teacher asked what would happen if we voted down this contract, they came back to this. If this is true, why on earth did they not do their job and bring this to a vote long before our old contract ran out? Scare tactics like this make me less inclined to vote for the contract.
Substance: What’s in the Contract
- COLA. We get a 1% raise each of the next three years. As a teacher pointed out yesterday, our average 1.5% raise each of the last three years has been less than the cost of living increases each year, as calculated by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is likely to continue to be the case, therefore we are accepting a de-facto pay cut.
- Mailbox blockade. “Individuals and organizations other than the Union shall not be permitted to use the school system’s interdepartmental mail and email facilities, or the right of distribution of materials to teachers’ mailboxes.” As worded, this seems to imply that I, as an individual other than the union, cannot send another teacher an email or place something in another teacher’s mailbox. Even though this level of silliness is not likely to be enforced, this does seem chilling to the democratic process. For example, a petition to change union elections to be held electronically or at more sites, that was passed around a few years ago, could be blocked from being distributed to teachers.
Substance: What’s Not in the Contract
My biggest concerns with the old new contract passed in 2010 are actually not with language in the contract itself, but with how it’s been implemented. I find it extremely probable that the new new contract will be implemented in the same way, since it contains no language addressing these concerns.
- Achievement Units (AUs).
- Coursework – this seems to have gone well.
- Contributions to Student Learning – After being promised we would finally get paid for all the extra work we do like running a student club, the details of how this was rolled out were completely counter to what we were sold on. The criteria for this type of AU was not released until two years into the term of our three-year contract. I put in for some of these AUs last school year, and was summarily denied because I had missed a deadline (after BCPSS was two years late on their deadline). I know of one teacher who did succeed in getting this type of AU – he only got 1 AU, after putting in hundreds of hours of work, and said that the amount of time spent on documenting and proving student learning was absurd. Note that 12 AUs are required to before any increase in salary.
- Contributions to Colleagues, and Contributions to School and District – Three and a half years into a three year contract that promised we would have access to this type of AU, these two types are still “In Development”. See link here and screenshots below. To me, this is ridiculous. The last contract promised things it never delivered on, which is a strong reason not to trust the new contract.
- Evaluation Structure. We are being held accountable in our professional evaluations for factors beyond our control. This year 50% of our evaluation is based on whole-school numbers. (More details in my post here.) Next year and going forward, it will be 15% (the School Performance Index). Any amount, to me, is unacceptable, because this creates a disincentive for great teachers to teach at poor-performing schools. This is exactly the opposite of what should be done.
- Evaluation Implementation. This is not anywhere in writing in the contract, but is clearly a consequence. Since there is not an unlimited amount of money, the fact that some teachers are racking up AUs and seeing large increases in salary, while a few are becoming model or lead teachers with the accompanying huge jump, the school system has to find a way to pay other teachers less. How that has played out, it seems to me in talking with other teachers, is a lowering of evaluation scores. Teachers who for many years had been evaluated as proficient were now being told they were only satisfactory, and thus received fewer AUs, which are tied to pay. This year, with the introduction of a fourth category, “developing”, in between satisfactory (renamed “effective”) and unsatisfactory (“ineffective”), with even fewer AUs, there seems to be pressure from North Ave to rate everyone even lower and thus decrease the number of teachers who advance a step on the pay scale.
- BTU Website
- BTU-published highlights of the new contract (pdf, 2 pages)
- All section changes from the previous contract, including
deletionsand insertions (pdf, 18 pages)
- The 2010 contract, in its entirety (pdf, 70 pages)