"While revamping teacher evaluations has been on the national agenda, California as a whole has lagged. And the California Teachers Association isn't looking at San Jose Unified as an example. 'If it works for them, we're supportive,' CTA Vice President Eric Heins said. But it's not necessarily a template, Heins said, because contracts need to meet local teachers' needs.
San Jose teachers, district agree to landmark contract
By Sharon Noguchi
Jennifer Thomas, president of the San Jose Teachers Association.
SAN JOSE -- In a groundbreaking contract, the San Jose Unified School District and its teachers union have agreed to peg pay increases to teaching skill rather than college credits, create a career ladder for outstanding teachers and slow the advancement of ineffective teachers -- or ultimately fire them.
The school board last week approved a three-year contract, effective July 1, after 72 percent of teachers ratified the contract in an election with a 76 percent turnout.
"I'm definitely excited about the direction and the opportunity that this contract presents," said Superintendent Vincent Matthews.
The contract includes incremental but substantial change in how teachers are evaluated and promoted. "It required both parties to come to the table and realize something needed to change fundamentally," said Jennifer Thomas, president of the San Jose Teachers Association. "We are really excited."
Unlike neighboring districts where acrimonious negotiations have stalled over pay and benefits, the San Jose Unified contract builds on two decades of cooperation and collaboration. The contract creates a teacher quality panel and outlines ways teachers will be evaluated and will advance. Those who fail to make the grade could be denied a raise.
While revamping teacher evaluations has been on the national agenda, California as a whole has lagged. And the California Teachers Association isn't looking at San Jose Unified as an example.
"If it works for them, we're supportive," CTA Vice President Eric Heins said. But it's not necessarily a template, Heins said, because contracts need to meet local teachers' needs.
San Jose's was a rough road. Relations were so broken that teachers went on strike twice in the 1980s, and negotiations in 1993 reached an impasse before being settled.
After intensive talks on how to move from negativity to partnership, the sides agreed on a revenue-sharing formula that today is still a rarity in the state. Certificated staff gets 67 percent of revenues.
"Once we opened the books, we were very clear: it is what it is," said Linda Murray, who began as superintendent in 1993. Teachers shared in the district's ups and downs. "It made all the difference in the world."
With that agreement, "we can see every penny," Thomas said.
But though dubbed revolutionary by some, the new contract omits some elements once discussed but deemed too controversial, such as paying teachers to teach at high-poverty, low-achieving schools, and pegging teacher evaluations to student test scores.
"There is no reliable study showing that increase so-called accountability by making student test scores a significant part of evaluation improves outcomes for students or teacher performance," Thomas said.
While student performance will be part of the discussion on evaluations, teachers won't be penalized if students don't meet expectations.
"What will drive this," Thomas said, "is the belief that teachers can be trusted to self-assess."
That doesn't entirely satisfy school reformers, who have pushed hard -- and succeeded in many states -- for test scores to be one element of teacher evaluations.
But teachers will get rewarded for being more effective and sharing their expertise with colleagues. "We want to end the isolation of excellent teaching," Thomas said.
Thus, the contract creates new categories of teachers who will mentor, advise and evaluate their peers, in ways that only beginning teachers get now.
The cost of the contract will be minuscule -- about $355,000, out of a $176.8 million unrestricted general fund for 2014-15, the year the new salary schedule kicks in, according to the district.
It includes a no cost-of-living raise, which teachers have not had since 2008, but the district is shouldering increases in health insurance costs.
But creating the expert categories -- which depend on the district finding outside sources of revenue -- could bump top salaries to $97,228 for a model teacher and $112,278 for a master teacher, both with 30 years of service.
Across the state, teachers move up the salary schedule based on both longevity and college credits. Currently, a beginning San Jose Unified teacher with 44 credits beyond a bachelor's degree earns $47,716 for working 186 days a year. Completing 16 more units adds more than $5,000; a master's degree adds $2,576.
The new schedule will keep the longevity steps and degree stipends but replace the credits with categories based on skills and expertise.
Evaluations will be more detailed and will be done by both administrators and a team of teachers. That's an improvement, said district administrator Jodi Lax, a former elementary principal. Now, she said, "we end up doing a less complete job because we are so overwhelmed by the number of people we have to evaluate."
Detailed evaluations focused on improving performance may be common practice in the private sector but have been slow to come to public schools.
The contracts adds the potential of a third year of probationary status, which will require a waiver or change in law, Thomas said. Currently, teachers either receive tenure or are let go after two years.
She credited Matthews for his faith in employees, and Stephen McMahon -- who pushed for the contract first as Thomas's predecessor at the union, then since January as the district's finance chief. "His style and skill -- that's what helped these conversations start."
While not as forceful as it could be, the contract is a step in the right direction, reformers said. The skill-based salary schedule is "fantastic," said Arun Ramanathan, of the Oakland-based advocacy group Education Trust-West.
Murray said, "I see this as the next generation of forward-thinking work."