By voting an overwhelming ‘yes’ to ratifying a new contract with city of New Haven, members of the New Haven teachers’ union will have an unprecedented voice in the city’s education reform effort, union president David Cicarella said Wednesday.

At a press conference in City Hall, Cicarella and City Hall officials announced the details of the four-year contract, which comes into effect in July 2010, and praised the agreement for the benefit it provides to teachers and the greater role it gives them in the fate of their schools. The press conference followed a vote Tuesday night, in which the New Haven Federation of Teachers approved the agreement, 842 to 39.

“This is truly a very, very unique opportunity for teachers to have real input into reform,” Cicarella said. “We’re sitting as equal partners at the table. That’s very different. It’s not done pretty much anywhere in the country.”

The contract still needs to be approved by the Board of Aldermen, to which it will be submitted Oct. 19. The Board of Aldermen will have to decide on the contract within 30 days. But the agreement is good news for public schools, which suffered layoffs of 19 assistant teachers and three teachers this past summer. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. issued pink slips to city employees over the last 13 months to balance the city budget.

At the press conference, DeStefano laid out some of the goals for his plans to reform New Haven’s public school system, the main focus of his re-election campaign, and explained that the agreement allows for school officials to consider student progress in their teacher evaluations.

The move will allow New Haven to better compete for federal education stimulus money. This summer, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced he would award school districts “Race to the Top” grants for education reform. DeStefano said at a meeting with parents at the Edgewood School earlier this month that he expected to be awarded some of the federal funds if the teachers’ union contract was approved, according to the New Haven Independent.

“Public school reform is the most effective economic development initiative, wealth creation strategy and violence reduction program that the city of New Haven could pursue,” DeStefano said at the press conference.

He added that he hopes to close the achievement gap between New Haven public schools and the state average, cut the drop-out rate in half and have all New Haven public school students matriculate to and graduate from college.

New Haven Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo said he hopes the agreement will push Yale, state, community and national organization officials to lend their support to education reform.

“The teachers … stepped up, and they didn’t hit a single. They hit a home run on behalf of the children in this city, and again we’re expecting others to step up to the plate,” Mayo said. “If you can’t hit a home run, hit a triple. We’re not interested in singles and doubles.”

In an interview after the press conference, Cicarella said that as part of the reform effort, Yale educators could provide training to teachers. Yale professors do work with school teachers through the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, in which New Haven public school teachers take seminars with professors and later create curricula to bring back to their schools.

One alderman interviewed Wednesday night, Ward 13 Alderman Alexander Rhodeen, said he applauds the contract agreement and thinks that it creates an “exciting environment” for teachers. He added that he “absolutely” believes that the Board of Aldermen will approve the contract.

Even some DeStefano opponents said they welcome the move. Mayoral candidate Ralph Ferrucci said that although had not seen what the union voted on, he’s in favor of the agreement as long as it supports reform.

DeStefano will be up for re-election Nov. 3.