Pittsburgh board, teachers OK pact

Five-year contract introduces concept of performance pay incentives

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A new collective bargaining agreement approved by Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers and the school board Monday includes a two-tier salary scale that introduces the concept of performance pay for teachers.

The framework of the contract is built around the incorporation of the Empowering Effective Teachers Plan, which the district and teachers union rolled out last year.

The plan, which is part of the $40 million grant awarded to the district by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to change how teachers are hired, nurtured, evaluated and paid.

Those changes are anchored in this contract, which also marks the first time that the city school system has ever agreed to a five-year contract with its teachers union.

The contract, which provides about $33.3 million in total pay increases for city teachers from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2015, was ratified by a vote of 1,169 to 537 at the South Side offices of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

The school board, meeting in special session at district headquarters in Oakland, voted 8-0 to approve the agreement.

Board member Mark Brentley Sr. abstained. Before doing so, however, he said he wasn't convinced that the district can afford to implement the merit-pay model and the other initiatives in the contract.

But in describing the contract and its key provisions as "a promising and innovative plan," board member Dara Ware Allen aired the prevailing sentiment of the board, district administrators and teachers union officials.

"Now we have five years to focus on [implementing] the changes that we must make so that our students can benefit from the Pittsburgh Promise," said Sharene Shealey, who represented the school board at the negotiating table.

The Pittsburgh Promise is a scholarship program that offers $20,000 in college tuition aid to all graduates of the city schools who meet certain requirements.

Saying that the negotiation and settlement of the contract was "a fairly unusual process," Superintendent Mark Roosevelt noted that the contract marks a turning point not only in district policies and practices, but in the relationships of the people who run the school system.

"I am proud that we have changed the way we relate to each other," he said, alluding to what has sometimes been a caustic relationship between his administration, the school board and the teachers union.

In the contract, the district's approximately 2,900 teachers will remain on a traditional 10-step salary schedule in which their pay increases happen automatically every year.

In 2010-11, the top-step salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree will be $77,300 a year, growing to $83,300 a year in 2014-15. Teachers with master's degrees will earn $4,000 a year more.

All teachers at the top of the pay scale -- about 1,700 of them -- will each receive a $1,500 pay increase annually over the life of this contract.

But all new teachers hired after July 1 will enter the district on a new pay scale that essentially changes the time needed to attain tenure from three years to four years and pegs their compensation directly to how well they perform in the classroom.

Under their pay scale, teachers with the same years of experience could reach the top of the scale in five different categories, depending on their effectiveness as teachers.

There will be those making less than $60,000; then $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 or $100,000.

Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, the Hill District-based education group and city schools watchdog, praised the district for embracing the initiatives in the contract.

"Your vote will surely position the city of Pittsburgh nationally as a model of professional collaboration, educational innovation and excellence through inspired teaching," she said.

Still, district administrators and union officials agree they have a lot of work to do in crafting an evaluation model that teachers under the merit-pay plan can see as fair and equitable.

Karamagi Rujumba: krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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