Negotiations nearing end for teacher contract

The Board of Education and the New Haven Federation of Teachers have not yet settled negotiations for a new teacher contract, but both parties are confident that they will reach an agreement before arbitrators have to dictate the terms.

The current teacher contract, which includes provisions for wages and benefits as well as a teacher evaluation system, expires in June 2014. According to state statutes, the two parties can be forced into arbitration since they failed to settle the contract by Oct. 17. Under arbitration, a panel of three arbitrators would hear each side and unilaterally dictate the terms of the contract. Although the October deadline has past, NHFT president Dave Cicarella said he is optimistic that negotiations will be settled before the Nov. 11 arbitration date. He added that the new contract will likely remain similar to the 2009 contract, including a teacher evaluation system that focuses on teacher accountability and support; however, he also said that the details of wages and benefits are still being negotiated.

“Often times, the parties are able to come to an agreement before the arbitration date,” Cicarella said. “We are in pretty good shape now, so I’m very confident that within the next couple of weeks we will have a contract.”

NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 echoed this sentiment, saying that although negotiations are behind schedule, there are no fundamental disagreements between the two parties.

The current contract, which was ratified in October 2009, has been widely celebrated as a groundbreaking collaboration between the Board of Education, teachers and administrators. Unlike many other school districts that take a top-down approach to education reform, New Haven is unique in that district officials are willing to treat teachers as equals, American Federation of Teachers spokesperson Matt O’Connor said.

Mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said New Haven’s model of reform defies national trends.

“A lot of the national conversation in education reform is that the teachers union is this group that is creating all sorts of problems,” Elicker said. “But the New Haven model proves that that is not the case, and that teachers understand that some things need to change.”

The 2009 contract includes a landmark teacher evaluation system which measures teacher performance based on students’ standardized test scores and classroom observations. At the end of the year, teachers are assigned a rating on a one to five scale indicating their level of performance.

Teachers who are on the track to receive a rating of 1 — “needs improvement” — are notified by Nov. 1, and, through support sessions with teaching coaches and opportunities for development, are expected to improve by the end of the year. Since the contract went into effect, just over 60 teachers in the district have been let go for not meeting the standards, Cicarella said.

“The litmus test we always use for teachers is, ‘Would I want my own child to be in that classroom?’” he said. “If the answer is no, then we as an organization have to be willing to do something about it … we have to be willing to have those tough conversations.”

David Low, an ocean engineering and calculus teacher at The Sound School in New Haven, said that the fact that no complaints were filed by any of the teachers who were let go suggests that the system is well-founded.

Before the 2009 contract was signed, there was no rubric that explained what constitutes satisfactory classroom management and teacher instruction. Instead, teacher evaluation was left to the discretion of individual principals who each had their own ideas, said Cicarella.

To establish a set of guidelines, between October and July, committees met to discuss particular aspects of the evaluation system, from teacher accountability to professionalism. Through these yearlong deliberations, said Cicerella, teachers and city officials came up with a strong framework for teacher evaluations.

Still, there are some areas that the teachers union and the Board are negotiating for the new contract, including class size, wages and benefits and length of the school day.

The new agreement will also likely include terms to reward high-performing teachers using a $53 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant that the city received in 2012 for a Professional Educator Program. Both Harries and O’Connor said that the agreement would not necessarily translate to “merit-pay,” in which teachers are paid for high student test scores.

“What we want to do is find more meaningful career trajectories for teachers, so that our best teachers can stay in the classroom and have long and prosperous careers doing that,” Harries said.

The current four-year teacher contract was signed on Oct. 13, 2009.

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