This is Legal Talk Maryland, hosted by the Maryland Law Firm of Kahn, Smith & Collins, the only legal podcast focused on the issues affecting ordinary people in the State of Maryland.
Kahn, Smith & Collins, has been representing individual and labor organizations in the State of Maryland for twenty years, and can be found on the web at kahnsmith.com.
Andy: Welcome to Episode 15 of Legal Talk Maryland, I’m Andy Spicer of razegroup.com and I’m joined again today by Keith Zimmerman of Kahn, Smith & Collins, our host for the podcast. Keith focuses his practice in the representation of unions and employees at Kahn, Smith & Collins, and in this episode we’re going to talk about the new Baltimore teachers’ contract. So Keith, you guys played some pivotal role in that contract negotiation and it’s an interesting new contract, so let’s talk about what it is.
Keith: Yes we did and I’m quite proud of it. I was counsel to the chief negotiator of the Baltimore Teachers Union. Traditionally, the way teachers have been paid in the United States has been on a pay scale that is set up with lanes and steps. The lanes are generally based on the individual’s level of education, such as if they hold a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, or a master’s plus a certain number of credits, or a doctorate. That would set up the lane that they were in. Then they would progress along steps in each lane. As each year went by they would get an increase in pay.
Andy: So it was time based.
Keith: It was time or seniority based. The longer you’re there the more you’re paid. In addition, the unions would negotiate cost-of-living adjustments on the entire pay scale itself. What we did in Baltimore was something that has never been done in the United States, and that is to basically separate the notion of how much you have attained in your own education with pay. What we’ve created is a new career ladder and a new way of paying teachers based on performance.
Andy: There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about pay for performance for teachers, so this is the implementation of those conversations in an actual contract.
Keith: Yes it is and what helped generate this change was the federal government, which has caused many of the states to change their laws in how they evaluate teachers. Now in Maryland, starting in a pilot this coming school year, to be fully implemented across the state in the 2013 school year is a new evaluation system. Fifty percent of the evaluation system will take into account student achievement.
Andy: That’s just in Baltimore city or is that across the state?
Keith: It’s going to be piloted in Baltimore city, Baltimore County, and I think four or five other counties. Then it will go statewide in 2013, I believe. This contract tries to capture some of that. Let me explain.
What we have set up in Baltimore are four new pathways for a teacher. There is the Standard teacher as one pathway; a Professional teacher as another pathway; a Model teacher, and finally a Lead teacher. That may sound very similar to the bachelor’s lane and master’s lane, and the master’s plus 30 lane, etc., but it’s not. I’ll explain.
The idea of these pathways is that an individual will move from one pathway to the next by achieving what we’ll call “credits” or “achievement units,” which should be tied to student achievement and professional development.
The way it’s tied to student achievement is the rating that a teacher will receive on their evaluation will cause or enable them to earn achievement units or credits. Individuals will need a certain number of achievement units to move, on the pay scales, to move up the standard pay scale, to move up the professional pay scale, etc. In fact, they will need to earn twelve achievement units to move up the scales.
To move across the scales they will have to appear before peer review committees who will evaluate the teacher’s professional practice and determine whether they should be moved to the next scale. Each scale has significant increases in pay, leading up to the Lead teacher where, in this contract for the first time in Baltimore, a teacher who is a Lead can earn up to $100,000 in annual salary.
Andy: That’s a significant jump over the highest grade before, isn’t it?
Keith: Almost $20,000. Also, under this plan we have created the highest starting salary for a public school teacher in the State of Maryland, and that has had its effect already this school year. We have seen twice the number of people applying to teach in Baltimore City and that’s a wonderful thing.
Andy: That’s great.
Keith: The evaluations, as I had mentioned before, 50% of the evaluation is based on student achievement and if you receive the highest rating in your evaluation, you’ll move forward. Otherwise, you’ll have to probably wait another year or do other things to earn achievement units.
Ways you can earn achievement units are by taking additional education courses, by acting as a model to other teachers modeling lessons, running clubs, doing after school work for which you’re not receiving any kind of stipend or extra pay, going that extra mile to help improve education of the children. The whole idea, aside from creating career pathways for teachers, the main reason of all of this is education and advancing the students of Baltimore City.
Andy: Ho we determine student achievement? What are the metrics for that?
Keith: One of the metrics is state exams, but there aren’t exams in every area of teaching. There aren’t exams in theater, aren’t exams in the foreign languages. The methods of achievement are actually being planned and negotiated as we speak now. It’s not complete. There may be portfolios to show how certain students have achieved. That hasn’t been worked out 100% yet.
Andy: This is in Baltimore City now, are you starting to see other areas begin to look at this sort of a contract?
Keith: School districts all over the country are looking at it. It remains to be seen in two ways; one, whether other unions in other jurisdictions are willing to try something new. Two, they’re also probably waiting to see what happens in Baltimore. But there’s been a lot of buzz, all over the country, about this new concept.
Andy: How difficult a thing was this to sell to the union members? What was the response there?
Keith: The membership approved this contract by about a two-to-one vote.
Andy: Good. What are the benefits from the membership’s point of view? What makes it attractive to a union member?
Keith: Two things. One, for a young teacher, a teacher at the beginning of their career, they don’t have to wait until they get their master’s degree or master’s plus 30 credits to start moving up the career ladder. They can achieve by obtaining the highest performance rating, by furthering their education, but not necessarily getting that extra degree immediately, or by going before a peer review committee they can move from a standard teacher to a professional teacher much faster.
Andy: They can move up those ladders without the education requirements necessarily, by doing other things.
Keith: By doing other things that help improve student achievement. For more seasoned teachers, the best teachers we have out there, the ones who’ve been working their tails off for years, they get rewarded financially.
Andy: Did any of them see pay increases initially as this contract was signed? Was there an immediate impact?
Keith: When the contract was signed initially there was a cost-of-living adjustment as well as a signing bonus for all teachers. All those who see the really big jumps in their income are a certain group of individuals who already have their master’s plus 30 credits, who’ve been teaching at least ten years in the Baltimore city school system, and who have had the highest performance ratings over the last few years. In that group there are individuals who will be receiving anywhere from six thousand to seventeen thousand dollar jumps in income in one year, which is not only unheard of in public employment, it’s pretty much unheard of anywhere nowadays.
Andy: That’s terrific and it certainly sounds like the type of people we want to be giving pay increases to. That seems to hit the nail on the head.
Andy: The other question that comes up is with all the budget concerns and things, how is this funded? We talk about 100,000 teachers. It sounds like a good idea to me as important as education is, but how is it being paid for and is it funded?
Keith: It is funded. The way it’s being paid for is there is still stimulus money from the federal stimulus plan. People may have heard of the “Race to the Top” which is a U.S. Department of Education competitive grant program where the states had to apply and Maryland has received $250 million for that. Baltimore has gotten a large chunk of that money to help fund this agreement.
Andy: They not only have come up with a new contract but gotten creative about how to fund it, and it is funded. That’s terrific. What does the future hold for this contract? How long does it last?
Keith: This is a three-year contract and the school year of 2011-2012 will be the second year of the contract.
Andy: Does renegotiation and the next contract conversation begin almost immediately?
Keith: No, it will not be until probably January of 2013 that we’ll be sitting down again, and hopefully tweaking whatever problems we see may come up in this contract.
Andy: That sounds like a novel approach and a good approach to keeping teachers engaged and promoting and paying the good ones. Is there anything else on that front that we should talk about?
Keith: I don’t think right now.
Andy: Great, thanks Keith. Well thanks for listening. And that’s it for this episode of Legal Talk Maryland. Please join us next time and until then, you can find us on the web at kahnsmith.com.
As always, none of the content of this program should be considered legal advice. Please seek an attorney for specific legal guidance relating to your individual circumstances. This podcast does not create an attorney/client relationship between Kahn, Smith & Collins and any individual.