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St. Louis Public School teachers overwhelmingly approve new contract

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 27, 2009 - St. Louis Public School teachers and paraprofessionals ratified a new contract during a standing room only meeting Wednesday night at Carpenters' Hall, 1401 Hampton Ave.

Union officials did not offer an immediate vote count, but they said 95 percent of the district's teachers and 95 percent of its paraprofessionals voted to approve the contract.

The vote followed by about a week the union's rejection of a previous two-year contract offer, which included a pay raise of at least 3 percent a year. Teachers had stormed out of that meeting, saying they were displeased by the "take aways" in the board's proposal.

"There were no changes in the financial package," said Byron Clemens, vice president of Local 420, after last night's meeting. "But members had asked for changes in issues involving discipline and the seniority language. Superintendent Kelvin Adams and (Local 420 President) Mary Armstrong sat down and worked out a few changes. The union leadership is proud of the responses of the membership."

Clemens wouldn't disclose specifics about the language on discipline and seniority that had upset the teachers. The two sides had been trying to hammer out a new agreement for over a year.

The Special Administrative Board is expected to vote on the contract at its regular meeting Thursday night. 

Although the Special Administrative Board offered teachers a pay raise, the board also is trying to trim $53 million from the budget to close a deficit. It hopes to do so in part by closing 14 school buildings. In addition, Adams has recommended that the board trim $20 million from salaries, including $4.5 million from the use of substitute teachers, and cut back on school supplies.

The board has yet to vote on Adams' recommendations.

Read the Beacon's earlier story below:

St. Louis Public Schools officials and the teachers union reached a tentative agreement Friday on a new contract, the St. Louis Beacon has learned. Members of the union, the American Federation of Teachers Local 420, are to vote on the proposal Wednesday evening. The details of the contract have not been made public yet.

The tentative accord came over a week after the union rejected what the city's school district said was its final two-year contract offer. School officials said that proposal would have raised pay by at least 3 percent a year.

At that time, the union's website said the union's meeting on the contract ended when most teachers stormed out of the meeting, saying they were displeased by "take aways" in the board's proposal.

School officials have argued that their proposal not only would have increased pay by at least 3 percent but extended health benefits and offered a good retirement package. Rick Sullivan, head of the Special Administrative Board, said at the time that the district's fiscal problems prevented it from offering more benefits to its teachers.

At a recent School Board meeting, Superintendent Kelvin Adams presented a proposal to trim $53 million from the budget, and he suggested that the board could decrease health benefits, cut salaries by 10 percent or take back some other benefits to help balance the budget. He said he wasn't urging the board to take these steps, just suggesting that they were options.

School officials apparently have rejected those suggestions and sweetened its previous contract offer. But neither side would comment on whether the board made new offers and what in the new proposal had prompted the union to present it to members.

At the last board meeting, Adams noted that the district was closing 14 school buildings to save more than $12 million. He proposed that other savings of about $20 million come from salaries, including trimming $4.5 from the use of substitute teachers. He also proposed to trim nearly $5 million from school supplies. Adams said he hoped the board would vote on his proposals by the first board meeting next month. The board also has a meeting scheduled for Thursday evening.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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