10/14/2009

New Haven Teachers Rally Behind Landmark Contract

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By a landslide vote of 842-39, teachers in New Haven, Conn., ratified a new contract that builds wages, benefits and the groundwork for a breakout model of urban school reform—one that keeps the teacher's voice in all key decisions.

The New Haven Federation of Teachers announced the results of the decisive Oct. 13 vote for the new four-year pact, which is being hailed in the local media as "a first-in-the-nation agreement between a city and a teachers union to work together to change the way public schools work." Pending approval by the city's Board of Aldermen, the deal takes effect in July 2010 and includes average salary increases amounting to 12 percent over four years, increased medical contributions by the employer, and reform initiatives aimed at closing the gap in student achievement.

"We have no problem being held accountable, but it has to be top-to-bottom accountability," stressed local president David Cicarella, who said the NHFT negotiating team took an aggressive position on evaluation, turnaround schools and other thorny issues in order to shape the agenda and drive the final product toward solutions that are good for kids and fair for teachers. He credits the negotiators' ability to win gains on all key fronts—wages, benefits and school reform—for the overwhelming teacher vote.

The contract sets out a new teacher evaluation system, one that will include student progress as a component. Only part of that component will be student test results, both parties agree, and the new contract establishes a labor-management committee to determine what constitutes "student progress" and how much weight it should be given in evaluations. The new contract also establishes high-quality intervention through a peer assistance and review program staffed by full-time, union-selected educators, and reaffirms tenure and the principle of fair dismissal for educators.

To provide the flexibility that supports innovation, the contract also establishes a process for compensated changes to school working conditions, such as extended school hours, if 75 percent of building staff approve the change. And it authorizes conversion of up to three underperforming schools into union-represented charter schools, with a guarantee of no layoffs and full transfer rights for staff who wish to work in other buildings.

"Sometimes you have to fight to collaborate," and the New Haven contract illustrates that concept, AFT president Randi Weingarten told the union's executive council in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 14. She commended the local for giving teachers "a voice in a process that is geared to help students succeed."

October 14, 2009