Baltimore City school officials say they want to overhaul a merit-based salary scale that was considered a groundbreaking approach to teacher pay when it was adopted more than a decade ago. But it doesn’t have support from the teachers union.

The goal is for the new pay structure to be aligned with the requirements of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, landmark legislation committing billions of dollars to reform education in a number of ways, including raising teacher pay. School systems across the state are now in the process of negotiating these plans with their teachers unions, according to Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association. She said negotiations should be finished by the end of the year.

“We think that gives us a really good opportunity to come together to think about ways we can strengthen our current career ladder,“ said Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools.

School system leaders have to first meet with the teachers union before anything is decided. That meeting is set for this week. They’ll have to determine whether the new goals of the pay structure will replace or integrate with what’s already in place.

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The Blueprint calls for a teacher pay structure that’s similar to what Baltimore City already has in place. All other Maryland school systems have step increases — automatic, often annual, raises based on teachers’ college degrees and how long they’ve worked there. The city shifted away from that structure in 2010 when it linked pay increases to teacher evaluations and leadership roles.

In the city’s proposed overhaul, there’d be more emphasis on rewarding teachers who help other teachers. For instance, if a teacher wanted to write curriculum, coach other teachers or mentor younger teachers, they’d be compensated for that. The amount would have to be negotiated with the teachers union, but the Blueprint calls for increased between $5,000 and $15,000 at each level.

“It takes the profession of teaching and brings it to a higher level, where people have the opportunity to move up, remain in their schools but perform leadership roles where they’re actually raising the level of practice of other, less-experienced teachers in their school environment,” said Alison Perkins-Cohen, the system’s chief of staff.

Teachers meeting those leadership standards will not only will be paid more but get raises more quickly, according to school district leaders. Santelises said they’d get compensated “in real time,” seeing that money a lot sooner than they do now. Under the current structure, city teachers have to collect a certain number of “achievement units,” often earned through attending professional development, in order to reach the next pay level. Collecting those units could take weeks or even a year. But under the proposed plan, teacher achievements can be rewarded with stipends credited in the next paycheck.

Bost, whose association represents all districts except for the city, said the Blueprint’s career ladder requires teachers have a National Board Certification, a rigorous process that gives teachers an additional $10,000.

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Zach Taylor, Baltimore Teachers Union’s director of negotiations, said the union recommends having another ladder that allows teachers to move up in pay without needing a National Board Certification.

“What we prefer are options,” he said, calling the city’s proposal “half-baked.”

Taylor said the union is still negotiating with the school system over salaries, and this Thursday both parties will have to decide whether to keep the achievement unit system. He’s hoping the system and the union can have a meaningful conversation about the best pay options.

Both the union and the school system leaders agree teachers should be paid more. The Blueprint calls for new teachers to be paid at least $60,000 by 2026. Some districts in the region have already started raising their starting pay to come close to that mark in anticipation of the legislative requirements. Baltimore City tried to do the same but couldn’t come to agreement with the union, who also wanted to see increases for veteran teachers, too

It’s the veteran teachers, Santelises said, who are most equipped to benefit from the changes they’re pitching.

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Bost said that only a small number of teachers are at the top of their career ladders taking on leadership roles, and that compensating them for the work is similar to what many districts are already doing. An English teacher who heads a school English department, for example, is already getting extra money for helping their colleagues.

“Now, we’re just really trying to make that happen in every district with some standardization,” she said.

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