It's taken months of hard-fought negotiations and a teachers strike causing five days of missed school to get to this point, but Harlem teachers finally have a new contract.
"Because of the emotions it's going to take time to heal. It is my job to make sure that healing process starts and takes place," Harlem Schools Superintendent Pat Deluca said after the vote.
The school board approved the contract six to zero Tuesday with one member abstaining due to a conflict of interest. Under the new three year deal, insurance is largely unchanged, with no premium for single coverage. The base pay for a starting teacher will increase three percent each year, meaning the new starting salary in 2008-2009 will be about $32,000. In addition all teachers will receive a five percent raise for every year of teaching experience. That means the controversial two-tiered pay scales are gone.
"That was the one sticking point. So we knew that if we wanted to stay in school and reach a deal quickly, we knew that was something that would definitely get the deal through," says school board member Christopher Webb.
Board members hesitated to move all teachers to the higher pay scale because they don't know what their state funding will be. They worry the increased salaries could run down the district's surplus over the coming years.
Webb explains, "That was a concern. But Machesney Park, we're growing, you've got 173, brand new properties coming up all the time, so the future really is the future."
And everyone hopes that future includes quality education in Harlem.
"To have high quality professionals stay in the district you need to have a very competitive wage. And this will start to bring that back," says Harlem Teachers' Union President Lynn Kearney.
One provision of the contract could still cause a stir. Kearney says school leaders can now change school start times within 90 minutes earlier or later, as long as they alert teachers in April before the school year they plan to make those changes.
A school board member will address recent calls for Superintendent Deluca's resignation at the next board meeting.