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Teacher-led survey in Baltimore shows dissatisfaction with union contract

A caucus of the Baltimore Teachers Union has conducted its own survey which concluded that, of the sample participants, city teachers have been overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the union contract that is set to expire this month.

According to the survey, conducted by the Educators for Democratic Schools, of the roughly 200 teachers polled, only 11 percent of respondents said they would vote for the contract--passed in 2010, and hailed as the most progressive in the country for its pay-for-performance structure--if faced with the decision again.

The contract is currently being renegotiated by union and district leaders.

The organization said that respondents, which included classroom teachers and other educators, also indicated they hoped that the next round of negotiations would address large class sizes and the process of grieving and appealing evaluation decisions.

And only 17 percent said they supported having their pay tied to their formal evaluation, which will become a reality for all Maryland educators next year.

In particular, the group took issue with the assignment of a credit system called "achievement units" which educators could submit for going above and beyond, and earn through satisfactory evaluations. The group called the system, which allows teachers to cash in the units to climb up the pay ladder a "failed merit-pay system."

The system, which replaced traditional "step increases" has been among the most controversial of the contract. The Sun documented some of the frustrations surrounding the contract one year after it was passed, and the pay and evaluation system top-billed the concerns.

Marietta English, president of the BTU said she has met with several groups--including EDS--to hear their concerns, and have taken their suggestions into the negotiating room with her.

The union represents roughly 6,000 members. In November 2010, the contract was ratified in a 1,902-1,045 vote, after it failed to garner enough support one month earlier.

However, English said the spirit of this year's negotiations is to "continue moving forward to streamline the things that aren’t clear" in the contract.

She maintained the stance the union took when introducing the contract: “This is a contract that is teacher-driven by teacher-voice."

She said the group's characterization of the AU system as merit-pay is also inaccurate, because it implies that a small pot of money is reserved for a small group of people.

“Everyone has an opportunity to move at their own pace," she said of the AU system, adding that 75 percent of teachers have moved up the pay ladder more than once this past school year.

She acknowledged, however, that one of the biggest frustration has been the AU system, and determining what it takes to earn one. One of the biggest frustrations The Sun has documented over the life of the contract, is that teachers found the district often denied several of their submissions for AUs.

From the survey, which the group said was not scientific but conducted electronically and on paper during systematic professional development and other settings that offered a variety of opinions, the group drew up a list of demands as the Baltimore Teachers Union re-negotiates its contract.

Among them: a 7 percent raise every year for the next two years; a cap on the number of students they teach; the right to grieve not only the process, but the content of evaluations; and also a reasonable case load for administrators, such as school counselors and social workers.

According to the EDS, it delivered its results via ballooned pie charts to the district's leadership.

"We are calling upon the school district and the leadership of our union to take these priorities to heart," Mike Pesa, a history teacher and member who helped conduct the survey said in a release. "We need a contract that respects our educators for the hard work they do every day...the future of public education in Baltimore depends on it."

English said the union has conducted its own survey, and the responses are vastly different than the one conducted by EDS. She also questioned the validity of the group's results.

In its survey, the group defended the results gathered in late 2012 and early 2013.

"EDS stands by the accuracy of these results and believes that the overwhelming consistency of teachers responses presents clear evidence that many teachers are deeply dissatisfied with the current contract and want a contract that protects the rights of school employees, provides clear and reasonable expectations for all staff..."

Still, English said she was "confused" by its findings.

"I have been in schools, and I did not get the impression that people didn't like the contract," English said. "What I get is the frustration in implementing it, but not that they don’t like it.”

Of the other demands, English said union members have to be mindful of the current climate.

"Who wouldn’t be class sizes to be smaller? That, to me, is a no-brainer," she said. "But a 7 percent raise in a time when people are being laid off, and budgets are being cut. You have to ask yourself: Are you being realistic about what you’re asking for?"

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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