A long-awaited contract settlement in Greece gains much more than dollars and cents; it improves childcare leave for adoptive parents, adds student learning time without increasing the work day and gives teachers more control over their own professional learning.
Greece, the largest suburban district in greater Rochester, is one of many locals around the state winning groundbreaking contract agreements — thanks to the power of collective bargaining and substantial state and federal pandemic relief funding.
“We‘re very proud of our contract and hope it will help set the pace for other districts,” said Greece Teachers Association President Brian Ebertz, a member of NYSUT’s Board. “That’s what unionism is all about.“
Ebertz noted that with significant staff shortages and retention issues, districts know they need to be competitive and should be more open to wide-ranging contract talks on measures that will improve teaching and learning conditions.
After surveying members on contract priorities, Ebertz said the negotiating team worked hard to restructure the step schedule to accelerate raises, improve starting salaries and remove the salary cap for the most experienced teachers. By the third year of the four-year contract, individuals who started their careers at $35,000 will have increased to $47,638. “The new salary schedule will definitely help us with recruitment and retention,” Ebertz said.
Another priority was maintaining the district’s 90/10 health insurance cost-sharing. “There aren’t many districts still contributing 90 percent. We were able to preserve that until the last year of the contract,” he said. The agreement also overhauls the district’s longtime professional development system.
Rather than a top-down, pointsbased system, members will now have a great deal more control and choice for their required professional learning. “We researched other models and our goal was to have a menu of appropriate offerings based on goals and interests,” Ebertz said. “It’s really a revolutionary change, where P.D. is more tailored, flexible and on-demand.”
The contract will also allow staff to provide more of the professional learning for colleagues and get compensated at a higher rate.
In response to changing times and member requests, the union negotiated a 13-day expansion of paid leave for adoptive parents. Non-birthing parents will be eligible for an additional three days. Until now, adoptive and same-sex parents had to patch together days just to spend some time with their new child. “It’s a matter of fairness,” Ebertz said.
To expand quality sports programs, the contract adds three dozen coaching positions and raises stipends. The district has committed to similarly increase extracurricular compensation once an internal audit is completed.
“Sports and extracurriculars are important to our community and our kids,” Ebertz said.
Other important provisions provide scheduled time for speech language pathologists to consult with classroom teachers, complete student testing, develop IEPs and provide Medicaid documentation. In an effort to improve retention of special education staff, those teaching students with severe needs will receive stipends. “Again, this is a first step,” Ebertz said.
Negotiations haven’t always been so favorable for the 1,100-member Greece TA. In the last two decades, negotiations have been so protracted that the two sides have reached only three contract agreements since 2001. With that in mind, the new pact includes a guaranteed 1.5 percent salary increase that kicks in if the current contract expires.
“We’re hopeful this agreement sets the stage for future negotiations, with only minor tweaks next time,” Ebertz said. The contract was overwhelmingly approved by 87 percent of members.