Baltimore city teachers' union ratifies 2.5 percent pay raise over two years

City school teachers would receive a pay increase of 2.5 percent over the next two years — including a retroactive raise dating to last summer — as part of a new salary scale ratified by the Baltimore Teachers Union.

“This salary increase is long overdue for the educators of our city’s children,” said the union’s president, Marietta English, in a statement. “The negotiations for this raise were difficult, but I am proud to say we never shied away from what our teachers deserve.”

The union entered contract negotiations with the school system in spring 2016, and through a tense and drawn-out process pushed for teacher salaries to keep up with the rising cost of living.

The package, approved Friday by the union’s rank and file, includes a 1 percent raise to be applied retroactively to July 1, 2017, with the rest coming in January 2019.

The reconfigured salary scales, which are based on where a teacher stands on a career ladder tied to professional development, still need to be officially approved by the school board next month.

District officials estimated that the pay increases will cost about $5 million in the current fiscal year.

“Because high-quality teachers have an enormous impact on the success of our students and school communities, City Schools is pleased to have reached this agreement that recognizes their efforts in advancing our vision of excellence in education for every child,” spokeswoman Edie House Foster said in a statement.

Union and school district officials launched negotiations in March 2016. By last October, they had approved a contract that secured teachers’ health care benefits through the end of 2019 and provided educators with a one-time stipend of 1 percent of their 2016-2017 salaries. But union officials pledged at the time to continue pushing for cost-of-living adjustments.

“This raise will help our members keep pace with the cost of living, all while continuing to do what they love, which is ensuring children in Baltimore City receive the quality education they deserve,” English said.

The union contract covers about 6,000 city teachers. Baltimore educators have the highest starting salary in the region and the second highest in the state, after Montgomery County. A standard first-year teacher makes $48,430 under the current contract, but the new salary scales will bring that up to $49,648 by January 2019.

In Montgomery, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $49,013 this school year.

For Baltimore teachers on the “professional pathway,” “model pathway” or “lead pathway” — designations that mean they’ve collected credits that enable them to climb the career ladder — there is a bigger boost.

The previous teachers’ contract was approved in 2014, and preserved many of the terms of a 2010 deal that was lauded as one of the most progressive in the country. The landmark contract tied teacher pay to performance and allows city educators to increase their base salary based on participation in professional development programs.

The union’s newly ratified salary agreement comes shortly after West Virginia teachers drew national attention by going on strike for more than a week. Schools in all of the state’s 55 counties were forced to close as educators fought for better pay and benefits.

While the contract process in Baltimore never reached such a fever pitch, negotiations did take place in an unusually public forum over the past two years. In fall 2016, hundreds of dissatisfied teachers showed up to district headquarters dressed in yellow in a show of solidarity. English sent a letter to union members a few months later, in which she called district negotiators “ineffective and indecisive.”

The school board and the teachers’ union later reached an impasse, and asked a mediator to take over last spring.

Union leaders said they believed the district was trying to cut millions of dollars in compensation and benefits at a time when the school system was struggling with a massive budget deficit.

Last December, city schools CEO Sonja Santelises announced a $130 million shortfall in the $1.31 billion budget for this school year, and the system was forced to lay off about 115 people.

Santelises previously denied any intention to reduce teacher salaries.

Frederick Douglass High School teacher Jesse Schneiderman said he’s obviously glad to get a raise, though he anticipates much of it will go to offset the money he already spends buying his own school supplies.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “I’m happy these negotiations aren’t hanging over our heads anymore.”

The two parties will be back at the negotiating table soon , working on a deal for the 2019-2020 school year.

trichman@baltsun.com

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