Other school systems unlikely to embrace city teachers contract

Mike McCabe says he has had a "good gig" teaching in Montgomery County schools for the past decade, but the contract that Baltimore teachers approved recently is attracting his attention and making him ponder a move.

"I want the ability to be paid based on how well I do what I do as opposed to how well I survive the school year. It is something I will keep an eye on," he said.

While it is too early to say whether the passage of a radical new teachers' contract in the city will have any effect on how other union contracts are negotiated, or whether teachers from other districts might be attracted to the city, the contract has gotten a lot of attention.

"I think it is very likely that school systems and negotiating teams will be looking very closely at this agreement. What is in it? What isn't in it? What were the stumbling blocks?" said John Woolums, the director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

The contract does away with the traditional way of paying teachers based on years of service and graduate degrees. Instead, teachers' pay will be based on the growth of students' knowledge over a year, the extra leadership positions and mentoring teachers take on, and the additional training they receive.

The new contract is designed to allow effective and energetic teachers move more quickly up a four-tier career ladder and have the opportunity to earn as much as $100,000 in a relatively short time.

But Woolums and others say it is unlikely that any other union will quickly embrace the ideas in the new city contract. Suburban and rural teachers unions are represented by the National Education Association, which has been less enthusiastic about the reforms. The Baltimore Teachers Union is part of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents primarily urban school teachers.

Ann De Lacy, Howard County's union president, said the new contract "will have no impact on us." And she thinks that very few teachers would be enticed to leave their positions in a county where the classroom environment is very different than in the city.

Few teachers move between jurisdictions, according to Cheryl Bost, the president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. Only a tiny trickle of teachers have left the county for the city in recent years.

Bost, too, thinks that the contract is unlikely to have an impact on current negotiations with her county. In fact, she said, most of the teachers she has heard discuss the city contract make it clear they don't want a similar one.

The city has been a hotbed of experimentation in the past decade. Dozens of charters and small "innovation" schools have opened, and students now have a choice of which middle and high school they want to attend. But almost none of those reforms have spread around the state.

The news teacher contract is viewed as central to improving teacher quality, an issue that is at the top of the national debate about education. Many of the reforms are part of Maryland's Race to the Top federal grant application, which promised changes in the teacher evaluation system.

"This would be out of the blue and radical if it had been presented two years ago," Nancy S. Grasmick, the state schools superintendent, said of the city contract.

Today, she said, the conversation is focusing on a new teacher evaluation system. Bost and Grasmick said the new city contract is unlikely to gain much support outside of the city until the evaluation system — which is an integral part of the contract — has been put in place and teachers see how it works.

Grasmick said she is not sure that there will be a crossover between districts, but she does believe that doing away with the automatic increases that teachers get every year based on seniority may be interesting to school systems.

"I think that may be contagious. I think people will look at that," she said.

The new contract will also make Baltimore teachers the highest-paid in the state, which can help attract graduates looking for their first teaching jobs and veteran teachers like McCabe. With 10 years in the system, the 33-year-old high school teacher would have to take about a $4,000 to $5,000 annual cut in pay to go to Baltimore, so he said he will not consider applying for a job in the city just yet.

But, he said, Montgomery teachers haven't gotten a pay increase in three years and may have to take a cut this coming year while the city teachers get raises. "I don't think I am the best teacher, but I think I am a pretty darn good one, and I want to be paid for that," he said.

The challenge of teaching in the city is also attractive. "It would be scary for me to move there, but I want to see how good I am at my craft," he said.


Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad