Cambridge teacher contract preamble focuses on shared responsibility

Originally published April 9, 2014 in the Cambridge Chronicle.

Nearly a year after Cambridge Public School teachers rejected a contract that would have added an extra hour to the school day, the Cambridge Educators Association and School Committee ratified an agreement on March 13 and 18, respectively.

Educators Association president Chris Colbath-Hess said the collective bargaining agreement includes a preamble that focuses on a shared responsibility between the administration and the union to provide excellent education for Cambridge students.

“We share a responsibility and a commitment to foster an organizational culture of respect and accountability at all levels of the CPS,” read the preamble. “We therefore commit ourselves to an ongoing value-driven review of the contractual structures and committees that currently exist to ensure that they are serving the interest of the partners at both the district and school levels to educate all students to their highest capacities.”

Now, more than ever, Colbath-Hess said it’s critical that teachers and the district work in close collaboration with each other. With a new federal testing system being piloted this year and a new statewide teacher evaluation system, the pressures on the district are growing, she said.

“Things that used to be decided only at the local level are now being decided one and two steps away from where they are actually being implemented,” Colbath-Hess said. “Because the locus of control has shifted so much, that’s why it’s so important now that the people who have to actually operationalize these policies work together to figure out the best way to do it, so that it fits the local district.”

Members of the administration, union and School Committee attended National Education Association conferences and workshops in Washington, D.C., in preparation for the negotiations, a two- to three-year process, Colbath-Hess said.

As part of the increased collaboration, the new agreement includes a provision for a joint-management team to review the new statewide teacher evaluation processes and procedures annually through the first three years of its implementation, said Superintendent Jeff Young.

The new contract extends the collective bargaining agreement through August 2016, Young said. The previous contract had expired in August 2012. Teachers had been skeptical of a provision in the contract last year that would have added an extra hour to the school day, balking at what some called a “lack of clarity” for how teachers would spend that time. In a June vote last year, the union rejected the contract on a 26-vote margin.

In January this year, roughly 300 teachers filled a School Committee meeting to urge them to ratify an agreement and presented a petition that Colbath-Hess said included signatures from every school.

Young said highlights of the new contract include a provision for a .5 percent increase to teachers’ base wages in the first year, which was on top of a 2 percent increase that was made as part of an interim agreement on Sept. 2, 2012. Beginning in September 2014, teachers will see a 2 percent raise, and in 2015, they will receive a 4 percent raise. Part of those salary increases came in exchange for a higher employee contribution to the teachers’ health insurance plans, Young said.

The contract also includes increases to stipends for athletic coaches and adds stipends for the visual and performing arts, Young said.

School Committee member Patty Nolan, who sat on the negotiating committee for the final few months of the negotiations, said the contract was both generous and fair.

“I think it shows that we really do provide teachers with great compensation and that should encourage people to go into the profession,” Nolan said.


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