One day before their school year is set to begin, teachers at area Catholic high schools have reached a contract agreement with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Teachers voted Tuesday morning to approve a new deal that will not increase health care costs and will raise teacher pay by $1,200 annually for the next two years.
Rita Schwartz, president of the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776, said the vote to accept the agreement was a pragmatic one.
“Student enrollment is not great, the church is not having the best time it ever had, and we figured, you know what’s the point” of a strike, she said, alluding to the recent bombshell grand jury report, describing widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. “As I said to the teachers, this is not the best contract we’ve ever gotten, but it’s also far from the worst.”
The union representing about 600 teachers at the Philadelphia area’s 17 Catholic high schools last went on strike in 2011.
Following Tuesday’s vote, Jason Budd, chief negotiator for the archdiocese, praised the school system’s teachers.
“We know that people come to the table with a drive that is unique to this particular mission. They’re not here for the reward, they’re here for the eternal reward,” he said.
Negotiations over the two-year contract began in April and ran into the night Monday.
One main sticking point for teachers, according to Schwartz, was a change in who would conduct their evaluations. Administrators who may not have expertise in a teacher’s subject area will now have a greater role in grading teachers, which before was the responsibility of those higher up in their own departments.
Department heads will now act more as “instructional coaches,” who will work with teachers throughout the year and also contribute to data collection about their performance, according to Budd. “Listening to the department chairs over the years talk, the piece of the job they liked the most … was indeed that coaching piece,” he said.
With the threat of a strike behind them, teachers and management turned their attention to the task nearly at hand: teaching.
Tuesday was an instructional day for teachers to prepare to return to their classrooms Wednesday.
“Tomorrow is an exciting day,” said Budd.
Teachers in the archdiocese’s elementary schools are not represented by a union.