City teachers protest this week's vote on new contract

More than 100 Baltimore educators are protesting this week's vote on the proposed teachers union contract, calling for union officials to delay until the contract contains more details on the new evaluation system.

By Monday, 125 teachers had signed an electronic petition, titled "Delay the BTU contract vote until we know what we're signing," which was started by a teacher immediately after the union released the contract Sept. 29. Last week, another teacher began an effort to distribute 2,000 fliers throughout the district's schools saying, "Let's send our union back to the bargaining table," and urged that members vote against the contract.

Both campaigns say teachers need more specifics about how they will be evaluated under the new contract, which overhauls seniority compensation in exchange for merit pay and allows teachers to climb a pay ladder via a yet-to-be determined evaluation system. The petition also calls for a clearer explanation on how the $60 million contract will be funded after its initial three-year period.

"I just want to make sure this is a democratic process and that teachers are not treated as rubber-stampers," Robin Bingham, an English and drama teacher at Civitas Middle School who started the petition, said in an interview Monday. Bingham said she attended two information sessions before she fully understood the contract. Still, she said, two weeks is not enough to dissect radical changes.

"I don't like the rushed nature of it, and the fact that it's rushed makes me extremely suspicious about the things we're not being told," she said.

Union officials said they are aware of the protests but did not feel a delay of the vote was necessary. Early voting is scheduled for Wednesday at the union's headquarters, and regular voting will occur Thursday at Polytechnic Institute from noon to 3 p.m.

"We are aware of the petitions," said BTU spokeswoman Jessica Aldon. "We have found that teachers are not upset about the contract once they get their questions answered … and once teachers understand where they stand as far as pay scales are concerned and what it means for the future, they are fine."

Aldon said that field representatives and members of the union's negotiating team have been at schools explaining the new contract and will continue to do so until the vote. Aldon said, "If we find we need to push it [the vote] back we will, but I don't see that happening."

Proponents of the contract said that teachers have educated themselves on the contract in the past two weeks, and accept that it prepares teachers for imminent evaluation reforms at the state level.

"My experience has been that excitement about the contract goes up with more knowledge," said Campbell McLean, a building representative for the Baltimore Teachers Union, who has hosted information sessions on the contract.

Peter French, a 19-year veteran of the school system, is leading the effort to get teachers to vote against the contract Thursday. French, who teaches at City Neighbors Charter School, designed the leaflets dispersed throughout the city last week, which assert that the contract promotes "increased principal control, teacher competition and teaching to the test."

"We have a concept that's not developed," French said. "There's no research that says this is going to improve teaching and the system for kids."

French said he believed that both the union and school system had good intentions, but the radical changes to the compensation and evaluation systems called for more teacher input during the negotiating process. He said the contract focuses too much on pay raises rather than how the quality of teaching and work conditions will improve.

"Money is important to us, there's no question," he said. "But just to think that [is] all we will respond to, and that our classrooms will change because of that, is just wrong. I'm in favor in change, as long as I know what the change is. It's rather disrespectful to say, 'just trust us.'"

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