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Tentative Contract For PPS Teachers Shows Both Sides Made Concessions

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
School buses outside of the Arsenal Middle School in Lawrencville.

Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers and support staff are reviewing a summary of proposed changes to their collective bargaining contract including pay raises, new health care benefits, changes to teacher scheduling and sick leave. 

Over the weekend, an employee of Pittsburgh Public Schools provided WESA with a copy of the preliminary contract changes.

Stalled negotiations nearly sent teachers to the picket line last week. Just three days before a planned walkout on Friday, March 2, leaders emerged from a 14-hour bargaining session saying they had reached a deal and both sides made concessions. The planned strike was canceled.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers mailed ratification ballots to its more than 3,000 members Saturday, March 3. Those ballots will be counted March 19. The district’s board of directors is expected to vote on the contract March 21.

A document sent to the professional unit of the union, which includes social workers, counselors and nurses, identifies proposed changes in 12 topic areas.

When contacted Monday, both the district and the union declined to comment on the tentative agreement until it was ratified and released to the public.

The district also negotiated two other contracts for paraprofessionals and technical-clerical workers.

Teacher scheduling

In the week leading up to a planned strike, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet issued a release stating all but one issue had been resolved. He wrote, “The PFT refuses to allow principals to assign teachers to classes to maximize student achievement.”

PFT President Nina Esposito-Visgitis said at that time that there were still several unresolved issues.

The state-appointed fact finder report written and released with input from both sides last fall reported 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. According to the report, the union argued that would further erode teacher autonomy and lead to low morale, but 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,” fact finder Lewis Amis said in his report.

The tentative bargain struck last week would only add language affecting kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers. The entire 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.

Voluntary transfers

Last month the district also highlighted what it called a “loophole” in the human resource process that created what it deemed “far too much teacher turnover in our most challenged schools.”

According to the fact finder report, if a teacher is hired after August 1 when principals are supposed to have staffing finalized, the position maintains a “vacant” label until the next hiring period. According to the district, as a result, last year nearly 100 staff members moved and mostly from high-needs schools.

The tentative contract would eliminate what is referred to as the August 1 rule, something the union did not want to happen, though the contract would also maintain the one-year timeline to complete a voluntary transfer.

Teachers can currently transfer to other schools within the district based on seniority and vacancies. The board argued unsuccessfully for that process to take place every three years.

Salary schedules

The tentative agreement would replace a performance-based pay schedule known as the Career Ladder Salary Schedule for teachers hired after July 1, 2010.

Both sides agreed on eliminating the performance-based pay, according to the fact finder report, but they failed to agree on a replacement. The union proposed a 12-step scale, while the district proposed 15, which would take teachers longer to reach the top step.

The preliminary contract includes 2 percent increases on all steps of the salary schedules. The replacement would be a 12-step salary schedule with the highest step in 2019 reaching $95,254.

Early childhood educators

One of the more public points of the contract involved pay for early childhood educators. Several teachers spoke at a public hearing before the Board of Education asking for the same treatment as K-12 teachers.

Teachers were on a separate salary schedule. The union wanted to move pre-school teachers into the regular teaching pay schedules. The board contended it was too costly.

“Unfortunately, the board does not have the means to support the good work and fold it into its regular responsibilities,” the report stated.

The PFT document sent to teachers and support staff this weekend indicates early childhood educators nabbed a small win -- wages will increase by 2 percent every year of the union's new three-year contract. The district had proposed only a 2 percent increase in the first year, according to the PFT document.