As Yale’s unions intensify their efforts in negotiations with the University, the New Haven Federation of Teachers is involved in its own fight with the New Haven Board of Education.

Especially contentious in the negotiations are points concerning starting teacher’s salaries and the pay scale. The school board’s proposal additionally addresses lengthening the school day, reducing class sizes and altering health-care benefits.

But both parties agree on many aspects of the negotiations, including increasing salaries and reducing class sizes.

“Conceptually, we’re very close,” said Pat Lucan, the president of the teacher’s union. “How we’re going to get there is where we differ.”

Board of Education member John Prokop said the talks are currently in mediation, but would be placed in arbitration if an agreement is not reached by the end of October. He added that the current contract expires June 30, 2003.

The debate, which became public after the parties decided to end the press blackout that usually accompanies such negotiations, heated up last Thursday when hundreds of teachers marched from High School in the Community to City Hall.

In a Sept. 17 press release, the school board said the current starting salary of $29,962 would be increased to $39,500 over a period of four years. The number of steps in the pay scale would be changed from 17 to 14, reducing the amount of time required to reach the top salary.

Lucan said the $39,500 figure was not presented to the union.

“They shouldn’t be publishing something they haven’t even offered us yet,” she said.

William Clark, the director of labor relations for the city, said that while the school board’s stated goal is to reach $39,500, the initial proposal is for an increase to $36,000.

In the past, the school board appropriated a lump sum to the teacher’s union, which then distributed it among all teachers. Lucan said that while the union’s plan calls for an increase in starting salaries, it plans to distribute the money to both new and veteran teachers.

“No group should take a hit for another group,” Lucan said.

Clark said distributing the pay increase across all pay levels would barely allow New Haven to keep pace with other school districts. He added that the top of the pay scale in New Haven is one of the highest in the state, but the bottom of the pay scale is among the lowest.

Prokop said 64 percent of the teachers who leave the New Haven school system are first or second-year teachers.

“We have teachers who have left New Haven who want to come back, but their [current] salaries are $10,000 to $15,000 more,” Prokop said.

Clark said compressing the pay scale would also make New Haven schools more attractive to incoming teachers. He added that many other districts have a 12- or 14-step pay scale.

Prokop said that though the school board also agrees with the union that class sizes need to be reduced, the city’s budget is limited. He said it would cost $78,000 to reduce one classroom from 26 to 20 students.

“We want smaller class sizes, and we want them now,” Lucan said.

The school board also plans to adjust health benefits by providing more plans and updating prescription coverage. The plan would mean increased cost sharing for more expensive plans, while less expensive plans would result in a lower cost sharing. Clark said this system would allow individuals to enroll in plans that are best suited to them and their families.