Home > Message from PPS's Anthony Hamlet regarding contract negotiations

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GETTING TO THE REAL ISSUES IN CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS
 
 
Dear Valued Stakeholders,

 

In light of the recent vote by members of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT) to authorize a strike, I’m writing to keep you apprised of the current state of our negotiations as well as to clarify the facts and explain the District’s rationale for its position. Tonight, the PFT executive committee will meet to discuss the issues in advance of tomorrow’s negotiation session. It’s important that the public knows the real issues that they could potentially be striking over. The real issues at stake are about the District’s ability to put kids first.

 

Now, onto the facts, the sticking points in our negotiations and the issues on which a potential strike hinges. The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board appointed a neutral third-party fact finder to explore all issues at stake. This fact-finder agreed with the District on most issues, including: 

 

Principals’ Right to Make the Best Decisions for Their Students. Currently, we are one of the only urban school districts in the nation that gives teachers the power to override their principal with regard to their class schedule and teaching assignments. We want to empower principals to make these decisions – in consultation with the teachers and with a committee at each school – to produce the best results for the students. We want to hold our principals accountable for improving student achievement in their buildings; to do that, we need to give them the autonomy to make the best decisions possible when scheduling their students.  We are more than willing to create processes that will allow teachers to appeal an assignment they truly do not want or believe is inappropriate. However, the PFT has not, to date, been willing to work with us on this point.
Teacher Churn. Currently, a loophole in our human resources process creates too much movement in our schools. Today, if a teacher is hired after Aug. 1, the personnel system considers the job unfilled. That means teachers hired after Aug. 1 may move – something we refer to as “churn.” This is extremely disruptive for students and is negatively affecting our most high-needs schools – where poverty rates are up to 90% and the staff turnover ratio is nearly 30%. In the 2016-17 school year, nearly 100 staff were displaced as a result of the Aug. 1 rule. The District wants to minimize churn and put the best teachers in front of the children who need them most. 
 
Knowing how disruptive a strike would be to our city, our families, and most importantly, to our students and the educational process, the District has worked very hard to reach an agreement with the PFT. In fact, we’ve resolved the following issues, and in many cases, have even gone beyond what the fact-finder recommended:

 

Increase of wages - We agreed to transfer to a new 12-step salary schedule, which means district teachers will have one of the state’s shortest salary schedules with the ability to reach their maximum pay in the shortest amount of time. The fact finder suggested a 15-step schedule. In addition to set salary schedule increases, all teachers will be getting a raise of nearly 2 percent, compounded yearly during the course of the proposed three-year agreement. Again, this is in addition to the wage increases they will already receive according to the 12-step salary schedule. To illustrate what this means: if a teacher goes from step seven to eight, their salary will jump from $60,000 to $64,000, before the wage increase. The exact amount of this year-over-year wage increase, separate and distinct from the salary schedule, has not been agreed upon and we believe we are very close to resolving it. Early childhood educators will also receive this year-over-year increase.
Healthcare - Teachers’ healthcare plan has been largely unchanged. The plan we agreed to has no deductibles and there’s no increase in the amount teachers will contribute. The percentage of contribution they pay has stayed the same for 10 years and what they pay is well below the national average for employee-based health plans. Teachers receive full healthcare benefits after retirement until they become eligible for Medicare. 
Athletic Coach Selection and Salary - The District has gained the ability to hire outside the district to find the most qualified coaching candidates. In addition, all stipends for coaching will be increased by 12%. The fact-finder suggest 10%, but we increased that to come to an agreement. 
 
You may have heard the PFT president saying that the issues of disagreement boil down to classroom size, wages, healthcare and increasing salaries for early childhood educators. Yes, these talking points may be easily absorbed by teachers and parents, but let me be clear: they are a blatant effort to manipulate facts. Let me set the record straight:

 

Classroom size has not been an issue that the parties have even discussed in months.  It is no longer on the table. It’s a matter that is determined by school board policy.
Teachers’ wages will increase every year in the three-year agreement. They will continue to be among the highest compensated teachers in the state.
We’ve agreed on healthcare. The teachers’ healthcare plan will have no deductibles and there will be no increase in the amount they will contribute.
Our ability to fund our early childhood program comes from state and federal grants. We’re mandated to service an exact number of children with these funds. We have agreed to increase salaries which already far exceed benchmarks, but if we were to increase these salaries to what the PFT wishes, there will a drastic reduction in the number students we can serve, which will result in a reduction of early childhood employees. That’s not an option.
 
Let me be clear, the core two issues that remain unresolved, Principals’ Right to Manage and Teacher Churn, speak directly to the basic quality of the education the children receive. We strongly believe that our principals must be able to assign teachers to classes where they are most needed, just as a coach must assign players to the appropriate position for a team to win. The District must be able to staff its schools in order to minimize students’ disruption. 

 

We stand fully prepared to work with the PFT on resolving these issues, but we must first protect the interests of the children we serve. It is the District who is ultimately responsible for the big picture that is PPS – for creating better outcomes, for creating brighter futures for our students and our city. These policies will influence those outcomes long past the point where any of our current teachers retire. That is why we are doing everything we can to bring them to fruition.

 

We deeply appreciate your support throughout these negotiations and look forward to creating a better school district together.

 

Yours in education,

 

Dr. Anthony Hamlet

 
Source: PPS

 

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