A new contract for Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers was accepted by 90 percent of voting members Wednesday night.
The nearly 3,000 members of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers began voting last month but that process was delayed when a discrepancy was discovered in health care benefits. The new deals moved some employees to a different provider.
The PFT planned a strike in February and later canceled it off after a 14-hour bargaining session ended with tentative contracts. Union members have been without a contract since June when the extension of the previous contracts expired. The new deals will be in effect until 2020.
Both sides will be back at the table, though, in 2019. PFT President Nina Esposito-Visgitis said her team has already started to think about what they will prioritize in the next round of negotiations.
“Of course I’m not happy with everything, but I am happy with some parts of the contract,” she said.
The union also negotiated deals for paraprofessionals and technical-clerical workers. While 90 percent of technical-clerical workers approved the new agreement, 77 percent of paraprofessionals did so. Esposito-Visgitis said residency requirements for paraprofessionals is something that will continue to be negotiated in the next round of bargaining.
“We would like for them to live wherever they like,” she said.
The Pittsburgh Board of Education will vote next week whether to approve the contracts. PPS Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said he was encouraged by the ratification.
“I am optimistic that both the district and our teachers can now focus on our mutual top priority as educators: the students we serve,” Hamlet said.
Union leaders said class size, and pay for early childhood educators were unresolved issues for many months. Esposito-Visgitis said she still wants to see class size caps decreased.
“We want to make sure that across our district, teachers have the ability to engage with each and every student,” she said. “And not only the students, but be able to have the opportunity to engage with each and every family.”
The new deals include 2 percent pay raises at each level of the new 12-step salary schedule for teachers hired after July 1, 2010. Early childhood educators will also receive 2 percent pay raises during each year of the contract.
A release from the district noted that the teachers’ contract includes, “greater flexibility for principals to schedule kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers, with mechanisms for teachers to both express their assignment preferences and appeal decisions.”
The district said in the week leading up to the planned strike that teacher scheduling was one of two issues holding up an agreement.
“The PFT refuses to allow principals to assign teachers to classes to maximize student achievement,” he said in a statement.
PFT President Nina Esposito-Visgitis said at that time that there were still several unresolved issues.
In October, a state-appointed fact finder met with both sides and later released his findings. The PPS Board approved the report and the union rejected it.
According to the report, the district wanted to give principals, who were being held accountable for their school’s success, the final authority to assign teachers to certain classes or grade levels.
The union argued that would further erode teacher autonomy and lead to low morale.
The fact finder sided with the district.
“It is absolutely essential in this time and place where student performance throughout the district is, to put it mildly, not inspiring that the Board have flexibility to use its resources as it deems they can be most effective,” said Lewis Amis in his report.
An early copy of the tentative contract showed added language that would affect kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers.
The district would be given a total of 35 involuntary assignments per year. A teacher could only be assigned a grade above or one grade below his or her current level. Teachers could also appeal those decisions.
Esposito-Visgitis said Wednesday that she was ready to move forward and work together with the district leaders.
Board President Regina Holley said in a statement that she also hoped the new agreement would allow both sides to work together.
“With the difficult work of collective bargaining behind us, we can now turn our focus to the most important part of our mission: the future of our students,” Holley said. “Together, we can create a public school education of unparalleled excellence. Our city, our families -- and most importantly, our children – deserve nothing less.”