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Newly Approved Pittsburgh Teachers Contract Includes Raises, Aims To Reduce Teacher Turnover

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
The PPS administrative building in Oakland.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board approved three employee contracts Wednesday night, more than a month after a planned teacher and support staff strike was averted.

The board voted 8-0 with one member, Veronica Edwards, absent. 

The new deal moves away from performance-based pay, a method the union opposed. It also gives principals flexibility in assigning teachers to classrooms, an issue district leaders said stalled negotiations.

According to a summary of the agreements issued by the district last week after union members voted to ratify contracts, the new agreements will expire June 30, 2020.

Board President Regina Holley acknowledged that negotiations were contentious. But, she called for unity.

“Our goals for the district are deceptively simple: to achieve the best possible education for the greatest number of students,” she said after the vote. “This contract allows us to move forward toward that goal with a more common vision.”

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said in a statement that there was give and take on both sides.

“Teachers will get a wage package that makes our district more competitive for new hires and in retaining talent, as well as a formidable health insurance and benefits plan. The new contract also addresses teachers’ concerns with early childhood educators as much as possible given the limitations of this grant-funded program,” he said.

Pay Raises

The new agreement will replace a performance-based pay schedule for teachers that dates back to 2010. According to a state-appointed fact finder report written and released with input from both sides last fall, both sides agreed at that point to eliminate the model.  

They agreed on a 12-step schedule for teachers hired after July 1, 2010 and a 2 percent increase for each steps. A teacher on the first step during the 2017-18 school year would make $46,000. A teacher at the highest step in the 2019-20 school year would reach $95,254.

Teachers hired before July 1, 2010 will also receive retroactive 2 percent pay raises for each of its 10 step-schedule. 

All other salary schedules for counselors, social workers, nurses and other support staff will also receive 2 percent raises.

Early childhood educators also nabbed a win – wages will increase by 2 percent every year of the union’s three-year contract. According to an early summary of the tentative contracts sent to union members and obtained by WESA, the district had proposed a 2 percent increase only in the first year.

Teacher Scheduling

The new teachers’ contract includes language to give principals a total of 35 involuntary assignment opportunities per year district-wide to move kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers. A teacher, though, can only be assigned a grade above or one grade below his or her current level. Teachers will also be able to appeal those decisions.

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 fact finder report stated that 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 district also highlighted what it described as a “loophole” in the hiring process that created what it deemed “far too much teacher turnover in our most challenged schools.”

The new teachers' contract eliminates what had been deemed the August 1 rule. 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.

Teacher Approved

The new teachers’ contract was accepted by 90 percent of voting members, the PFT announced last week.

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 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.

Both sides will be back at the table, though, in 2019. Esposito-Visgitis said her team has already started to think about what they will prioritize in the next round of negotiations.

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.

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