February 06, 2014 | By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore teachers voted Thursday to ratify a three-year contract that will give them annual raises of 1 percent and opportunities for promotion, but leaves uncertainty about evaluations and a career ladder that was introduced three years ago.
Union officials said that more than 1,000 votes were cast, with the majority in favor of the contract. They said specific vote counts would only be released to members of the union.
Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said the pact "demonstrates Baltimore teachers' willingness to create incentives for boosting teacher and student performance."
"It's significant that teachers are getting a raise and keeping benefits that are precious to them," she said in a statement. "With this contract our teachers will continue to inspire ways to improve teaching and learning."
The agreement, announced last week, calls for teachers to receive a stipend equal to 1 percent of their annual salary immediately, and a raise of 1 percent each year through 2016.
The contract allows teachers to keep their health insurance. Union officials said they managed to keep other benefits that were at risk, such as sick-leave conversion, off the chopping block.
The pact is similar to the 2010 contract, but with changes to a communications clause. Some teachers voiced concerns this week about the changes, which they said appeared to give the union the exclusive right to disseminate information via email or through teachers' mailboxes.
Union officials said the clause was changed to ensure that the union maintained its right to communicate with its members. They said it was not intended to exclude others from doing so.
The pact maintains a pay structure that allows teachers to make more money at a faster pace as they climb a career ladder that pays for performance.
Teachers climb the four-tiered ladder — movement up the scale carries large pay increases — by earning "achievement units" through getting grades of "proficient" or "satisfactory" on evaluations and through other activities, such as professional development and taking courses.
Some teachers said they wanted more from the contract, such as clarity on how they will be evaluated and when the process of earning achievement units will work as promised.
Teachers had been told they would receive credits for activities such as staffing extracurricular activities but the district refused to accept them.
The state requires teacher evaluations to be tied to student performance. English said the union is trying to make sure that the parts of the evaluation that can be determined by the district are fair and equitable to teachers.
She also said that although the process of earning achievement units still faces challenges, teachers have been able to make more money and control their professional growth by earning them. She said the union would continue to work with the district to work out remaining kinks in the process.
Some teachers believed that one week was not enough time to scrutinize and debate the contract properly. Union leaders said the vote had to be taken Thursday because the union's contract expires Friday.