Professional contracts restored in Austin

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The Austin (Texas) Independent School District board voted on Feb. 24 to restore three-year contracts for teachers and professional staff members. The 5-4 board vote closed a dismal chapter stretching back to 2011, when financial hardship prompted the district to offer only one-year deals to educators—a move that threatened Austin's ability to attract and retain outstanding educators in an environment that effectively commoditized teaching and turned the profession into little more than at-will employment.

Facing $60 million in state cuts three years ago, AISD eliminated 1,100 school positions and tried to limit its financial liabilities by moving from three-year teacher contracts to one-year deals for teachers. All parties agreed, however, that this was not the way to land and keep top-notch educators who truly wanted to build careers in Austin's public schools, and all stakeholders concurred that the district should return to three-year agreements for teachers as soon as possible.

That moment is now, teachers and community members told the board in rallies and hearings leading up to Monday's vote. Shaping the final decision were the overwhelming voices of parents, educators and other stakeholders, who said it was time to return to truly professional contracts in Austin, which has stood apart from surrounding districts by shunning one-year deals and the low morale and high turnover they typically foment.

"What this is about is reinstating respect and dignity in the classroom by reinstating a three-year contract for teachers," said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin. The one-year deals were an unwelcome aberration in Austin public schools—a district that has offered multiyear contracts since 1967—and reclaiming the tradition of professional contracts was central to Austin's efforts to reclaim the promise of public education, he added.

"When we treat our teachers fairly, we have a better education outcome for our students, and we have a better outcome for our community," Austin City Council member Mike Martinez, whose son is a student in an Austin public school, told the school board moments before the vote. [Mike Rose, Education Austin, KXAN]

February 27, 2014