This contract, unprecedented in length, provides security and predictability while inching toward a system designed to reward the best teachers with higher pay. So-called "performance pay" has been the equivalent of fighting words in many districts, and the concept continues to draw resistance from teachers unions. And make no mistake, it will be a long time before the majority of city teachers fall under all of its provisions.
But, as any world history teacher (and the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu) knows, "a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." All teachers hired after July 1 will be paid under a new salary scale tied to how well they perform in the classroom, with many of the criteria to be worked out by the district and union in the coming months. New teachers will start with a training year, in which they would earn $39,000, and their ability to earn more money in later years will depend on how well they do their jobs. It will take them four years to receive tenure and 11 to reach the top pay rate, which can range from $60,000 to $100,000 by the 2014-15 academic year.
Salary steps, the traditional formula on which teacher pay is based and which factors in years of experience and level of higher education, will remain in place for the 2,900 teachers already working in the district. They reach the top pay rate of $87,300 by the end of the contract if they have 10 years experience and a master's degree; they're also eligible for bonuses depending on their circumstances. The contract provides ways for those teachers to earn more money, including by training new teachers, working in schools that attain significant gains in student achievement, and — for top-scale teachers — forgoing their $1,500 annual raises in exchange for the chance to earn even more by volunteering for performance-based standards.
Beyond the innovation in pay scales it contains, this contract, because of its five-year duration, should give the district and its teachers the chance to focus on improving student performance.
Hard work is ahead both in developing the standards of the new assessment system and in educating students, but teachers, who voted 1,169 to 537 in favor of the new contract, and school board members, who voted 8-0 with one abstention, have taken that first important step.