The Salem Teachers Union and Salem school leaders have achieved what some may have considered an unlikely, if not impossible, milestone: agreement on a contract for Bentley School teachers without going to a panel of state arbitrators.
The agreement, ratified by the School Committee this week, guarantees that the private Blueprint Schools Network will have a chance to carry out its ideas for revamping the underperforming school. The contract applies only to teachers in grades 3 through 5, which will be managed by Blueprint next year.
For the first time at Bentley, teachers will work both a longer school day — one hour more — and a longer school year, about two weeks more. In return, they will be paid a stipend of $5,000 a year extra, with additional money for mentor, lead and senior teachers.
This was a tough negotiation. The city had tried previously to extend the school day after the state labeled Bentley a Level 4 school and gave the city three years to turn it around or risk a state takeover. But teachers balked. In the end, they couldn’t reach an agreement, and teachers did not work a longer day.
Now the stakes are higher. The city has just a year to make progress at the school and has turned to a private management firm that can play by a different set of negotiating rules. This time, the parties had 30 days to reach an agreement or else turn to a panel of state arbitrators, which would issue a decision in 10 days.
In Salem, they worked for 40 days, with both sides trying to avoid the panel, and in the end, they negotiated a contract that should benefit both sides. It may not be as much extra money as teachers would have liked, but it’s a fair settlement, and it gives school management the flexibility it needs to make changes at the school.