Tag Archives: contract

Contract Results

The contract was ratified. Boo.

Unfortunately, it seems there was very low turnout. Only about 1000 teachers voted today, compared to the nearly 3000 who voted in November 2010, and out of a total union membership of approximately 6000.

Perhaps this was due to the sudden and rushed way this contract and the vote were sprung upon us only a week ago. Perhaps to a feeling of disenfranchisement of teachers who were not consulted in the writing of the contract which was negotiated behind closed doors. Or perhaps due to the hours of voting, 7:30am-5:30pm, at only six different sites, which is pretty much synchronous with the school day for many hardworking teachers.

Here’s what I wrote over 3 years ago at my last contract vote:

Voting today was supposed to go from 7am to 6pm. I got to my voting location this morning at 7:05 but went to the wrong side of the building/campus. At 7:15 I parked my car in the right place, got out, greeted a number of teachers from my school who were standing in line, and found out voting hadn’t yet begun; they were still setting up inside. This was outrageous, since they had had weeks to prepare and they knew that teachers had to get to their jobs and teach a full work day. No leave or early-release day had been given, and 7:30-6 are pretty much my usual working hours!

I heard similar stories of polls opening late this morning. I made it to a voting station today at about 5:00pm. I was the only voting teacher there (along with about 5-6 poll staff). Everything went smoothly for me this time. I just wish more teachers had voted: it might have made the difference in being able to re-negotiate a better contract instead of being stuck with this very flawed one.


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Resources for Tomorrow’s Contract Vote

This is a compendium of some resources concerning the new contract which is up for a vote tomorrow. I encourage Baltimore teachers to read/listen/watch through them as you weigh how you will vote. I encourage you to vote “NO”, but whatever your decision, get out and vote tomorrow Thursday February 6th at any one of these locations.




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My letter to the BTU President

Good evening Ms. English,

The main reason I write to you today is to encourage you to postpone this Thursday’s contract vote. With such short notice (only 6 days from contract announcement until vote), there has not been enough time for teachers to read, meet, discuss the contract.

In your email from earlier this evening you point out that we are working without a contract – if so, why were we not given the tentative agreement several months before the old one expired, so there was adequate time to digest it, make an informed vote, and even go back to the negotiations table if a no vote occurred, without having to threaten that we would lose our jobs or benefits that we have fought for?

One additional concern I have is with what you cite as a positive, that the new contract is very similar to the current contract. Many teachers raised concerns then that so much of the contract was still to be written, in that committees would be formed to establish AU criteria, the evaluation system was pending action by the state legislature, etc. We gave you our trust when we voted to approve that contract in November 2010, trusting that those committees would act in good faith to the promises that had been made about AUs even though the language was not nailed down in the contract, trusting that the evaluation system and its implementation would be as fair as possible within the constraints set by the state. This has not been true. Two categories of AUs are still “in development”, one was released 2/3 of the way into the contract and has been made almost impossible to apply for. While the fact that 50% of our evaluation is based on student growth is state-mandated, your statement “The evaluation tool is a result of state and federal mandates” conflates that with the details of how Baltimore City has chosen to connect that evaluation to pay, and how exactly student growth is measured (e.g. school performance index). These details of how Baltimore City can apply the student growth measure are very much in the purview of this contract, and I don’t feel comfortable voting for another contract where so much about AUs and evaluations are not adequately addressed in the contract in writing.

Nicholas Yates
Math and Engineering Teacher
Patterson High School #405


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BTU Contract 2014

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.
AUs web page

AUs web page

Zoomed in on the lower left of that page - AUs still in development

Zoomed in on the lower left of the page – AUs still in developmen







  • 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.

Further Information


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New Teacher Evaluation System

I guess this post has been two months in the making. In one of the Professional Development Days this August before school started, our administration described for us how we were to be evaluated this year. As we heard the news, murmurs of disbelief and outrage spread through the teachers in the audience, and I tweeted the following in shock:


What this is about is the new teacher evaluation system that Baltimore City Schools (BCPSS) is implementing this year. It is inspired by the Race To The Top (RTTT) legislation that Maryland signed on to, which requires states receiving RTTT money to link teacher evaluations to student test scores. This is inherently problematic for several reasons that I won’t go into here; however, the specifics of how BCPSS is choosing to apply the RTTT-mandated new teacher evaluations is what makes the process a complete joke.

The new system sets out that a teacher’s evaluation will be calculated as follows:

  • 35% from classroom observations
  • 15% from meeting employee professional expectations
  • 15% from a school performance measure
  • 35% from measuring student growth

Now the first half makes sense. For the eight years I’ve been teaching, we’ve always had two observations by assistant principals and/or department heads which play a major part in our evaluation, and we’ve always had a “Professional Responsibilities” domain that factors into our evaluation as well. But let’s unpack the other two bullet points, which are the newer ones.

The “School Performance Measure“: this is where it starts to get troubling. Why should teachers’ evaluations be based on a factor largely beyond their control? The argument from BCPSS is that a teacher does contribute to the overall school learning environment and that this is an incentive for teachers at a poorly-performing school to work together and turn it around and they will all receive better marks in this category. However, if I am one teacher in a school with more than 100 teachers, realistically this is something I have little control over. And if I am teaching in a poor-performing school, my evaluation grade and thus my pay will be docked due to this fact.

Now, you might say that this is reasonable, since a teacher does have some limited influence on a school, even a large school, and 15% of the overall grade is not that high. But then here comes the worst-thought-out piece of the whole thing: the “Student Growth Measure“. Let’s list a few of the problems with it!

  • The technique of value-added modeling of student growth being used to rate teachers is flawed.
  • There are no details listed on the site about how the student growth measure will actually be calculated (the only examples talk about positive versus negative student growth).
  • Because HSA data does not come out until August, teachers of HSA subjects are actually being graded on last year’s results. Now this could work out in two ways, both of which are problematic:
    • I am graded based on the students I taught last year, and how the prediction of their scores compared to their actual scores. This is the less problematic of the two, but still leaves you wondering why this should affect this year’s evaluation since it has no relevance to the work I did this year.
    • Or, it could mean I am graded based on my current students’ HSA/MSA scores from last year, and how they compared to the value-added prediction. This makes absolutely no sense, since I did not teach those students last year and have no effect on how much they learned then.
  • For teachers of non-HSA subjects (e.g. me and at least 3/4 of the teachers in my high school), we are going to be rated based on what they are calling an “all-student measure”. Which is not related at all to the growth of the students I am teaching, but rather to the average for the entire school. Which brings us back to the issues with the school performance measure above and the fact that this is largely beyond my control.

Which is where that 50% number came from in my tweet up there.

How completely insane is that? Teaching is already odd, in that my success depends so much on other people (my students) rather than primarily on me. But for my success (or at least how it is evaluated) to depend not even on my own students but students from across the school whom I have never even met, much less had the chance to positively influence their growth???

Let’s work this out for a teacher at a typical Baltimore City Public School and how this affects her evaluation:

According to the field test results from last year (when it didn’t count yet), the average school in the district scored a 57.18 (out of 100) on their School Performance Measure. Since they did not do a field test of the value-added scores for the “all-student growth measure” for me to share how my school did or a district average, I shall take the fact that the growth measure is reported on a percentile basis to assume a score at the average school of 50 on that piece. Together, these earn the typical teacher at the typical school 26.077 points.

But what if she were not a typical teacher, even though she is at a typical school? Let’s say she is an amazing teacher who inspires her students to do amazing things in her classroom. Because she is at an average school, she still gets that same 26.077 points for the schoolwide ratings (together 50% of her score). However, even if she were to score a perfect 100 each on her classroom observations and professional responsibilities, that would only get her 50 more points, for a total of 76.077, which is below the cutoff of 80 needed for a “Highly Effective” and a pay raise. It is impossible for this great teacher to get a proficient evaluation merely because of the school she is in and the factors mostly outside her control. This is clearly unfair.

Now what if the school is below average on the all-student growth and school performance measures? I’m going to pull a few numbers out of thin air to make this point, but bear with me. Let’s say the school all-student growth measure is 40 (not too far below the median of 50 percentile), and let’s say the school performance index is 40 too. This is quite a bit below the district average of 57.18, so this is indeed a poorly-performing school (at least as measured by HSA tests). Let’s say a teacher scores an 80 out of 100 on his professional responsibilities (for example, he meets all the professional expectations and scores a solid “effective” on every professional skill listed here). And he scores a solid “effective” (3 out of 4, or 75 out of 100) on the classroom observations. Well, 40*.35 + 40*.15 + 80*.15 + 75*.35 = 58.25. This is below the level needed to qualify as an “effective” teacher (60). This teacher would be labeled “developing”, even though he was rated “effective” on all measures within his control, just because he taught at one of the worst schools in the city.

50% of my evaluation being largely beyond my control is a complete travesty of what it means to be “my” “evaluation”. That should be enough right there to stop this evaluation system in its tracks.

Additionally, as these two examples work out, I think it is clear that BCPSS has set up a perverse incentive for teachers. Ideally, there should be incentives to bring the best teachers to the most under-performing schools, so those teachers can improve the lives and the academic achievement of the students who need the most help. Instead, this new evaluation system does the opposite. It incentivizes good and great teachers, whose evaluations and pay are being held back by an under-performing school, to move away from that school. This is morally wrong.

So, seriously, North Ave, what on earth were you thinking with this? You are setting both your teachers and your students up for failure.


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The Revolutionary Contract, A Year Plus Later

You may remember the “groundbreaking” contract voted on (twice) and passed (once) by Baltimore’s teachers more than a year ago. In short, it promised: 1) raises, and 2) ways to demonstrate excellence within the teaching system and be rewarded for it; in exchange for: 3) giving up automatic yearly raises, and 4) agreeing to be held accountable for student learning (i.e. test scores) by an as-yet-undetermined metric. [For more detail/context, click the above link.]

Lack of Clarity on AUs

One of the key changes with the new contract is: in place of having teachers automatically get a pay bump by going up a “step” each year we teach in the system, we now control our own raises by documenting our professional activities as “Achievement Units” (AUs). The idea of AUs, we were told when the district and union were selling the contract, is that we can take college courses, attend professional development trainings, run after-school clubs, collaborate with other teachers, start a tutoring program, etc., in exchange for these AUs. Basically, anything that seriously extends our own learning or that of our students, anything where we go above and beyond the normal duties of a teacher, could earn us AUs. 12 AUs would earn us an increase in salary to the next level. Of course there would need to be some checks/safeguards, so that frivolous things don’t slip by. But all those safeguards, and in fact, all details about AUs, were to be developed after the contract was ratified.

I must say that, between my own experience and what I’ve heard from other teachers, the skeptics who said that North Avenue [our district HQ] shouldn’t be trusted to manage all the AU paperwork seem to have been right.

Here it is, more than a year later, and there are still no guidelines for AUs, save for college credits and principal evaluations. See, for example, this web page, which mentions that the criteria for AUs “for contributions to the school and district” are still in development. All the things they promised about AUs are still as far away as they ever were.

Arbitrary and Short Deadlines

North Ave set a deadline of June 30th, 2011, to submit all credits earned in years past (that hadn’t already been compensated, say by earning a master’s degree which meant higher pay). Each credit would convert to one AU. But that date was the cutoff. Any coursework/credits not submitted by June 30th would be invalid for use as AUs. While I was able to take advantage by submitting some credits, I agree with my colleagues who have complained that this date is quite arbitrary. Coursework, which you went to the trouble of undertaking to expand your own knowledge and skill set, should be worth AUs whenever it gets submitted. This is being fought for by our union, and is currently in arbitration between our union and our school district.

More recently, we were told on January 11th, 2012, that all coursework and credits from 7/1/11-12/31/11 must be uploaded to the electronic system by January 20th to receive AU credits. A nine day turnaround!

So, I immediately contacted the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for a copy of my transcript (I took a course through them at the Baltimore Museum of Industry this fall, on Safety Programs in Occupational and Classroom Settings). Note that UMES’s website says that they require a three week turnaround time for transcripts. With the deadline approaching, I submitted the AU upload anyway without a transcript (with a note explaining I would get them the transcript soon). Due to lack of transcript, the request was summarily rejected.

I also submitted work I had done through an engineering career externship, TEAACH, for which I had earned two Maryland State Department of Education credits. This was also rejected, with the explanation being that they do not accept MSDE credits, only university credits. [side rant/ When did this change? They accepted MSDE credits last summer — I submitted some! And how can BCPSS, which falls under MSDE, refuse to accept MSDE credits — is Baltimore no longer a part of Maryland? /end rant]

Raises & Pathways

In addition to AUs, the contract highlighted movement among professional career “pathways” as a way to advance your career (and salary). The pathways are designated: Standard, Professional, Model, and Lead.

I know several teachers who were supposed to be automatically transferred onto the model pathway, based on the contract, but were not. The transition criteria were: 10+ years teaching in BCPSS, Masters+30 credits, and 2 out of past 3 years’ evaluations at the Proficient level. And yet, these teachers who have all of these things, were placed in the Professional pathway, instead of Model. [In present/future, teachers must apply to become a Model Teacher and submit a portfolio of evidence to a panel of reviewers.]

Additionally, as a selling point for the contract, teachers were guaranteed the following: 1) a $1500 signing bonus, 2) a cost of living adjustment to our salaries last year while remaining on the same “step”, and 3) at least a $1750 raise from the transition between our old “step” pay level to our new “interval”. As far as I know, everyone did receive the first two. But many teachers found out this August that their transition interval was less than $1750 above their old step, and they were not paid the difference — the district had ignored the very clear wording in the contract.

After four months, with a grievance filed and the union going to arbitration against the school district, this issue was resolved and teachers got what the contract had promised. But this reluctance to abide by its own contract, together with North Ave playing fast and loose with teachers’ deadlines while letting their own deadlines slide by (e.g. the deadline for when they should have posted AU criteria), makes me pessimistic about lofty claims made about the contract a year ago. Like how it will improve the craft of teaching, and be a model for new teachers’ contracts across the nation. It also makes me think the contract might not survive, when it comes up for a renewal vote in a year and a half.


P.S. Sorry it’s been so long without a post. We’ve got lots of fun things coming up in February, including National Engineers’ Week, so I shall endeavour to keep y’all up-to-date here with this forum.

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Big Week for Baltimore City Education News

This week has been packed full of Baltimore education stories headlining local and national news!

  • Four Baltimore schools have been designated for a turnaround including the school where I teach. (my post, Baltimore Sun article, document repository)
  • The “landmark” new Baltimore teachers’ contract passed a vote by the teachers’ union membership Wednesday. A modified version of merit pay, here we come! (my post, Sun article)
  • A recent Sun article highlighted the correlation between recent Baltimore trends: fewer school dropouts and fewer juvenile crimes/arrests.

Between those big news events/stories, the school choice fair, and our STEM Competition, it’s been a busy week! Here’s hoping next week is a bit more relaxing.


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“Revolutionary” Teachers’ Contract Passes

First off, a side note for those interested in the recommendations for turnaround at my school: more information, including school test data, has been posted online within their recommendations report, at Baltimore City Public Schools’ website, on their “Expanding Great Options 2011-12” page.

Now, sorry to annoy “a  parent” more by continuing the contract discussion, but … on to the contract!

A Brief History

Last time it came up for a vote, on October 14th, the tentative agreement (TA) on a new teachers’ contract failed. It had been negotiated by teams from the Baltimore Teachers’ Union (BTU) and representatives of the school district, which is headed by schools CEO Dr. Andres Alonso and is known by the location of its headquarters as “North Ave”. The vote was 1540 against, to 1107 for.

Why everyone’s been talking about it

The contract has been on many people’s minds and tongues across the country, ever since it was announced that the TA had been reached on September 24th and details began to come out that week. The contract has been endorsed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, national American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Baltimore Sun, and of course both CEO Dr. Alonso and BTU President Marietta English.

What’s all the fuss about? The contract is basically a tempered form of merit pay. There are some monetary incentives thrown in (a $1500 signing bonus, guaranteed small raises over the next three years), and a new way for individual schools to vote to override certain contract aspects (e.g. offering a required extended school day for students, above and beyond the normal contracted hours), but the heart of the contract is the change in how teachers get raises. Note the word raises: there is no way for your salary to ever decrease, so I guess if you’re a bad teacher you’ll just get unsatisfactory ratings and potential firing (after intervention). And a mediocre teacher might quit after a few years of frustration at how slow s/he is moving up the salary scale.

Until now, teachers’ pay in Baltimore (as it is in surrounding counties) has been tied to years of service/experience. Now, instead, you must earn twelve “achievement units”, or AUs, in order to advance and get a pay rise. That 12 AUs can come straight from getting a proficient evaluation (which, in a few years, will become tied to student achievement data — i.e. test scores). Or it can come from a satisfactory job evaluation (9 AUs) plus 3 AUs earned somewhere else. Guaranteed AUs would come from taking additional courses (1 AU per credit). Other AUs would come from certain professional development experiences, attending conferences, advising student clubs, or other uncompensated work done to improve the school and/or boost student achievement (details to be determined).

Besides this basic form of merit pay (showing improvement in student data and/or professional development required for increased salary, instead of automatic), a great teacher as defined by BCPSS could see huge raises by applying to become a model or lead teacher. Only one lead teacher is allowed per school, but s/he could earn almost $100,000. A school could have (and should have, hopefully) many model teachers, who would receive starting salaries of $85,000 (still higher than any current teacher gets, even after decades of service). To become a model teacher, in general you would have to apply to a committee made up of half North Ave appointees and half BTU appointees, showing evidence of what you have done to increase student achievement and improve your school.

So, anyway, merit pay with a few twists and a number of sensible alternatives & precautions.

What’s Changed

Short answer: not much, just more time and more persuasion.

After the contract failed at the last vote, there was a quick skirmish of activity where the BTU got feedback from members, discussed with Dr. Alonso, and revised the Tentative Agreement. I received a telephone call a few days after the vote with a long survey about the TA and related issues in education; I guess this probably came from the union though do not know for sure. Within two weeks of its initial rejection, the new TA was published.

The new contract had a few actual changes.

  • A new system to “ensure reliability and validity of evaluations” and protect against principal abuse of their new evaluative power over our salaries
  • Addressing teacher concerns about the peer review board that would determine AUs and model teacher status, to make sure the board has representatives and subcommittees knowledgeable in various subject areas, grade levels, and also for clinicians / non-teaching professionals like guidance counselors, social workers, etc.
  • More examples of AUs other than just from your evaluation or college credits (though details still left for later)
  • Some things that were already in the contract were emphasized or highlighted in a way to make it more reassuring to teachers wary of change or of potential negative repercussions

The tentative contract also had a new look (much more professional-quality) with an attractive design and changes highlighted in red.

But the main difference was just more time and more conversations to digest the information, ask questions, get reassurances, and figure out how the contract will affect us. Public meetings were held that were announced more than 24 hours in advance (in the lead-up to the first vote, we were getting e-mails that a union rep would be available at such-and-such location tomorrow to answer questions!). Union reps visited schools; the BTU leadership made itself more accessible; copies of the contract were placed in every mailbox.


Voting today was supposed to go from 7am to 6pm. I got to my voting location this morning at 7:05 but went to the wrong side of the building/campus. At 7:15 I parked my car in the right place, got out, greeted a number of teachers from my school who were standing in line, and found out voting hadn’t yet begun; they were still setting up inside. This was outrageous, since they had had weeks to prepare and they knew that teachers had to get to their jobs and teach a full work day. No leave or early-release day had been given, and 7:30-6 are pretty much my usual working hours!

Luckily, voting did begin at about 7:20, twenty minutes late. Although there was a bit of a line to get through at that point, the voting moved quickly (in part due to electronic voting) and I was on my way to school at 7:40.

This evening, the results were announced (pdf), and the contract has passed, 1902 for, to 1045 against.  I’m certainly looking forward to this year’s pay rise / signing bonus, and will be curious to see how it plays out in this brave new world of achievement units and model teachers.


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