Baltimore Teachers Balk At Giving Mailbox Monopoly To Union

A new contract for teachers in Baltimore may change the lines of teacher communication.  A clause in their new contract states, “individuals and organizations other than the union shall not be permitted to use the school system’s interdepartmental mail and email facilities, or the right of distribution of materials to teachers’ mailboxes” — effectively giving the union exclusive rights to communicate with teachers via mail.

Some teachers find this “disturbing”. Currently, teachers can receive all kinds of messages from coupons and curriculum to book club invitations. However, unless the terms change the only mail these teachers will be getting is from the Baltimore Teachers Union.

City teachers are criticizing an unusual clause included in the proposed contract that appears to give the union the exclusive right to disseminate information via email or through teachers’ mailboxes. They say the new language is too broad and attempts to silence dissenters and disempower those who organize outside of union parameters.

A Patterson High School Teacher called the communication clause a “gag rule”. President of the Baltimore Teachers Union Marietta English denies this claim, saying that in a world of Facebook, blogs and Tweets there are plenty of ways to communicate beyond a traditional mailbox.,

The union says the new agreements are good because it “builds on the successes of the previous contract” and allows them to keep benefits that other districts are losing. It calls for teachers to receive a stipend of 1% of their annual salary if the contract is ratified and a 1% raise every year through 2016, and the teacher’s health insurance will not change.

The contract maintains key elements of the agreement ratified three years ago, which overhauled the district’s pay structure. Traditional “step increases,” or automatic annual pay raises, were replaced with a pay-for-performance career ladder that teachers could climb with good evaluations and “achievement units,” earned by attending professional development, taking courses or other activities.

Some teachers are complaining that they only get a week to look over terms, which is not enough time to provide feedback and make changes if necessary. Others say they that the contract does not address issues like teacher evaluations and working conditions. Another complaint is that while they are happy that health insurance isn’t changing, a 1% raise does not offset the rising cost of living.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erica Green discussed the issue with English, who says that even though the increase may seem small, the career ladder gives them an opportunity to earn more. The achievement units allow teachers to navigate through four “pathways”: standard, professional, model, and lead. English says that moving up one pathway can increase a teacher’s salary by 11%.

Teachers in the district also feel that the union has not provided clarity on teacher evaluations, now that the state is requiring teachers to be judged by student achievement. The Baltimore district is the only district in Maryland that ties evaluation to compensation, and English says the union is negotiating the parts of evaluations not dictated by the state.