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Boston teachers would get 2 percent pay raises under contract deal

Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, spoke at a rally outside of the Bolling Building on March 20.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, spoke at a rally outside of the Bolling Building on March 20. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

Officials from the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union on Thursday night signed a tentative contract that offers 2 percent annual pay raises, guarantees a full-time nurse in every school, and provides an aide for every kindergarten classroom.

Details on the three-year pact emerged one day after the union notified its more than 7,500 members that an “agreement in principle” had been reached. The agreement paves the way for ratification by union members on June 12. The School Committee will likely vote a week later.

Under the contract deal, the first annual increase of 2 percent would be retroactive, covering the time teachers have worked without a contract, school officials said. The previous agreement expired last August. The other two pay raises of 2 percent would occur over each of the next two years.

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According to the School Department, the average teacher pay last year was $97,300.

“This is a fiscally responsible contract that is good for kids and fair to educators, and came as the result of a collaborative process,” said the interim superintendent, Laura Perille.

There is a possibility that one of the two additional annual pay raises over the next two years could be adjusted upward to 2.5 percent. That hinges on the outcome this fall of two unresolved issues: updating teacher contract language and school district policies to reflect changes in state laws governing layoffs and family leave, school officials said.

Jessica Tang, president of the teachers union, said she was thrilled with the agreement.

“This was many months of hard work from all parties for over a year,” she said. “We have a number of significant wins for students.”

The two sides were racing to reach an agreement before teachers and other educators depart for summer break and before the incoming superintendent, Brenda Cassellius, begins her duties on July 1. The agreement is expected to catch the eye of Beacon Hill, where any perception of hefty pay raises could derail efforts by Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the teachers union to secure more state funding.

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In a statement, Cassellius said she supported the agreement.

“This agreement provides an opportunity for continued engagement with the community as we develop our shared priorities for strategic investments on behalf of the students and families of the Boston Public Schools,” she said.

Walsh lauded the agreement, saying in a statement, “I’m thankful to the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union for taking a major step forward in providing better outcomes for our students.”

School officials characterized the pay raises as a cost-of-living increase. The union called it modest. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index for the Boston-Cambridge-Newton area was up 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier. The pay raises, overall, are slightly less generous than what the union secured under its previous two-year contract, which called for a 2 percent raise the first year and a 3 percent raise the second year.

Other provisions in the tentative agreement include increasing pay for classroom aides districtwide, reducing class sizes for students with language barriers who are learning English in preschool and kindergarten from 25 to 22, and adding 23 mental health professionals and psychologists, bringing the total number dispatched out of the central offices to more than 100. The union advocated for improvements in these areas.

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Maria Moura, a Boston Public Schools parent, praised the increased staffing support for what are known as “individual education plans’’ for students.

“I am grateful that the Boston Teachers Union continues to push so hard for inclusion done right,” Moura said in a statement.

One of the thornier issues the two sides attempted to work through was the fate of permanent teachers who fail to gain new long-term classroom assignments after losing other positions through budget cutting, staff overhauls at low-performing schools, or returning from a leave. There are currently 59 teachers in this situation, down from 82 two years ago, costing the school system millions of dollars.

In previous talks, the school system wanted the ability to fire these teachers if they didn’t find new long-term assignments within a certain period. It’s unclear if the school system pushed this proposal again.

However, in an effort to entice more principals to give these teachers a try, the tentative agreement would allow principals to hire them on a one-year trial, while the teachers would waive certain seniority rights. The agreement would also guarantee teachers without classroom assignments interviews if they apply for at least five qualified positions.

The teachers union fought to have full-time nurses in every school to help deal with myriad health issues among students, many who live in poverty. Guaranteeing a full-time nurse for every school expands upon previous advocacy by the union to boost the nursing ranks. Under the union’s previous contract, the school system promised for the first time that every school would have, at minimum, a half-time nurse.

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Currently, 44 Boston schools have half-time nurses, while the other 81 have full-time nurses. Overall, the system employs 131 nurses, 10 more than in the previous year.

City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George said she was “excited to see the details” of the deal and “understand the full impacts of this contract for our teachers, our school communities, but most importantly for our kids.”

Essaibi George, a former high school teacher, has four boys in the school system and chairs the council’s committee on education. She said she supports having a full-time nurse in every school. “Nurses have a special opportunity to identify when there is something significantly wrong with a child,” she said Thursday night.

But the union did not get everything it wanted, such as full-time counselors in each school.

Tang said the union plans to advocate for more counselors and hopes it can be achieved through the school budgeting process before negotiations begin again in two years.

“We are more than halfway there” in getting more counselors in schools, she said.


Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed. James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com.