YouTube video

Marc Steiner hosts a debate between the President of the Baltimore Teachers Union Marietta English and dissident teacher Iris Kirsh on the merits of the new Baltimore teachers union contract, being voted on Thursday by union members

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER, HOST, THE MARC STEINER SHOW: We’re here to talk now about our Baltimore City teachers union and the Baltimore teachers city contract, which is in a state of flux. After it was signed [incompr.] things have happened. It’s coming back. And we’ll talk about that with our two guests.

We’re here with Marietta English, who is president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

Marietta, welcome back. Good to have you with us.


STEINER: And Iris Kirsch is with us, who is a Baltimore City public schoolteacher and union member.


STEINER: Welcome to the studio. And you all can join us here at 410‑319‑8888. I think schools are in session, but you can call anyway if you can sneak out. You can join us here by Facebook. Log on to the Marc Steiner Show Facebook pages. Write to us at steinershow (at) gmail (dot) com. Or you can Tweet me @marcsteiner with your thoughts. 410‑319‑8888.

So, Marietta, let me begin with you. I mean, so where are we now in this process? We’re voting on the contract. And why is it happening again now?

ENGLISH: Okay. So the contract expired in June 2013. We got an extension because we were still negotiating the successive agreement. And we’ve reached the agreement. And now we are taking it to a vote for ratification on Thursday. This was, three years ago, a highly new, different way of compensating teachers. It was a new way for teachers to promote their career.

And now what we’re doing: we have eliminated all the unnecessary language. And for this new contract we have been able to secure our health care for the next three years. We’ve been able to increase the salaries by 1 percent for the next three years in a climate where teachers have had to give back, and we’ve been able to secure that. We’ve been able to keep our sick leave conversion. It remains the same. We’ve been able to secure flex time for our clinicians.

And as anything that is new or has been new, we did have some glitches. We had some hiccups we had to get over. And we are continuing to do that.

And let me put this out there right now: the evaluation of teachers is mandated by the federal government and the state. It is not something that we control. The union does not control the evaluation. We did have a group of teachers who sat with the district to try to mold what it would look like, to have influence in how it would look. They did make some changes, as recommended by the teachers who sat on that committee, but we don’t control that.

Now, what we did, because it is a different way of paying, a different way of getting paid, and we now, instead of having lanes for your degrees and graduate credits, we now have pathways where there is a standard professional model and a [incompr.] pathway.

And when we sent out a survey, what we found was teachers wanted to be able to make more money early and they wanted to be able to control that movement. And this is what that contract does. Teachers can control how they move intervals on that pathway. I had one teacher tell me last night she moved three intervals in a year. And while 1 percent doesn’t seem like a lot, with the salaries that–we’re now–we have moved up to the highest-paid teachers in the state of Maryland. We are well deserving of it, but we’ve lagged so much behind. And that was one of the things, to bring our salaries up to those in Montgomery County and Howard County, so that teachers wouldn’t want to exit Baltimore City and find things that they could get–or get paid more, or they wouldn’t want to become [inaud.] the great teachers in the [inaud.] than they would make.

STEINER: So tomorrow teachers will vote to accept or reject this contract, on February 6, correct?


STEINER: So–Iris Kirsch is in the studio, a Baltimore City schoolteacher. We just lost some schoolteachers calling in, but please call back at 410‑319‑8888. We’ll get you back on the air here. 410‑319‑8888.

So why is there an opposition to this contract?

KIRSCH: Well, so there’s a lot going on here. And most of what Ms. English has talked about has been the pay scales. And while I–certainly our job is very difficult, and we do deserve to be paid very, very, very well. But our job is also invaluable to society. And just focusing on the money really sells it short.

There is so much that we need to be arguing about and negotiating about as a union. For example, we could be negotiating about total student load, how many students a teacher has to deal with in a day. That is research-based, proven to really affect not only student learning, which is the main thing that I’m concerned about and the main thing that most teachers are concerned about, but it also makes our jobs significantly easier to do and do well. And Tisha Edwards specifically said that could be a point of negotiation, and we haven’t heard anything about negotiating on that, despite the fact that we surveyed well over 100 teachers, EDS did, and found that a vast preponderance of those teachers really wanted to negotiate on total student load. And we gave that information to the union negotiating committee.

Also, this whole thing about the state-mandated evaluations–totally true. Teachers have to be evaluated. And it is true that now the state is mandating that our evaluations be tied to some objective measures, so-called objective measures. But the state is not mandating that we base our pay on those evaluations. And that’s what makes this a merit-pay contract. It’s not that the only way to earn AUs is via your evaluation. However, your boss determines your evaluation, and your evaluation determines how many AUs you get for that. And that is a significant part of–you need 12 AUs to move up the pay scale. So it’s a modified merit-pay system, and I appreciate that.

But it’s still a merit-pay system, and merit-pay systems have been proven to fail. They’re really dragging down morale in the city. And this merit-pay system is based off of Microsoft’s, and Microsoft just scrapped it because it was ruining morale, ruining collaboration, and ruining innovation. We need to scrap the merit pay.

STEINER: So, Marietta, how would you respond to teachers who are concerned about that?

ENGLISH: First let me just say this, that, number one, small class sizes cannot be negotiated. What we have–

KIRSCH: But total student load can.

ENGLISH: [crosstalk] by the–that’s in the state law. And we–

KIRSCH: But total student load can.

ENGLISH: –are working with Delegate Cheryl Glenn about legislation for class sizes.

And on–this is not merit-pay. Merit-pay limits what you can get. This is an unlimited pay scale. Teachers can move up the pay scale as quickly as they choose. You’re not stuck on any interval. You’re going to be evaluated. What we did was add some monetary value to it. Twelve AUs, yes, you move an interval. But there are other ways to earn AUs besides the evaluation. If you get a satisfactory, you get nine AUs. And if you do–if you take a course, if you take professional development, if you facilitate the professional development, you then can earn AUs and you will earn your 12 AUs. Teachers are lifelong learners. They might as well earn AUs, since they’re taking professional development, they’re going to take classes. Anyway. So they earn AUs. And that’s another way to earn them.

If you have a project that–and this is teacher-driven. Let me just say this.

KIRSCH: But getting the projects approved–.

ENGLISH: Every pathway–movement on the pathway is determined by your peers. You submit your work to your peers, teachers–it is not driven by administration. These are teachers. Your projects are submitted to the JPP. The JPP are teachers. They’re teachers that are at teacher level who look at what you do and what teachers are doing, and they determine whether or not it is–how many AUs you will get for that. This is all driven by teachers.

STEINER: Marietta, let me just jump in for a moment. Just I want to make sure–.

ENGLISH: [crosstalk] driven by the work of teachers.

STEINER: Let me just jump in a second, Marietta, because–before people–people have a tendency to get lost when too many things jump in at one time.

Two things were just raised here. One has to do with the question of merit and teachers being able to move as quickly as they can, as they choose. The question is how we define what it means by they choose and the question of who does the evaluation on what projects. So let’s talk about that for a minute. We’ll come back to teacher load in a second, but let’s talk about that.

Let me start with Iris and come right back to Marietta. So parse that out for us. I don’t quite understand–I think most people listening to this don’t quite get what the discrepancy is, what the problem is, what the controversy is. Why, with Marietta saying–to many people what she’s saying would make sense.

KIRSCH: Sure. And if we got 12 AUs, enough to move up one pay scale, for every year of teaching and then we could do extra things on top of that, I wouldn’t have any problem with that, and I don’t think anybody else would. And I think there could be an argument made that if you get an unsatisfactory rating, you would get fewer than enough to move up a year, although I think that that’s still debatable and should be something our union would be pushing against, because it gives a lot of power to our bosses. The number of proficient ratings, which was at the time the highest, dropped precipitously. There was an article in The Baltimore Sun about it. I went from being proficient to being satisfactory and many, many, many of my colleagues did. It had been the case previously that principals could give as many proficient ratings as they deemed fit. And they’re our bosses. They’re not going to give away good marks. But many of us do incredibly hard jobs, almost impossible jobs, and do them well.

Now, after–once it was based on pay, principals were told–and I was told this by a principal–principals were told that they could not–if their student data didn’t look stellar, they couldn’t have that many proficient teachers, so they had to rate people down. That leaves people chasing these AUs, which is the other issue that we’re talking about here.

STEINER: So [incompr.] clear here, ’cause I want to come back to the other issue. So are we saying here that teachers’ raises on these AUs, which–achievement units, are not based on years in the system; based on you get a raise every year ’cause you’ve been here for five years, been here for ten years, you get X number of dollar extra because you’ve been here, which is how it used to be.

KIRSCH: Always has been.

STEINER: And so this is now based on–how is this then, Marietta, not based on evaluations that are controlled by principals and others, given all the pressures that principals are under, which we know from talking to principals [incompr.] under for reaching a certain level school-wide or they’re going to lose their jobs. So do you know what I’m saying? So this is–there’s a lot of kind of stuff here that’s subtext that could send it all awry.

ENGLISH: Okay. Let me say this. I didn’t know that any principal was told that they couldn’t evaluate people as proficient. I think that’s ludicrous, because if teachers are doing their jobs, why wouldn’t you rate–why wouldn’t you want the most proficient teachers at your school?

We also have in a clause: if there is a significant drop in the number of teachers who got proficient, then the [incompr.] again [incompr.] a teacher, informs us, and we go to the district and investigate. We have had–.

KIRSCH: What happened with those investigations?

ENGLISH: Excuse me. We have had satisfactory evaluations overturned when there was a discrepancy, when there was a significant drop. So we have that protection in the clause, and we have utilized it. We have had those evaluations that declined significantly, we had them overturned. So we have the clause in there.

STEINER: Marietta.

ENGLISH: Principals are going to–you’re going to have an evaluation. It’s–as Iris has said, there are going to be evaluations. You are able to earn other AUs by moving or doing activities that would allow you to get an AU.

Now, if you are an overachiever, you are able to move more than one. There are lots of teachers who have had the ability to move more than once on an interval. You no longer–this is not based on the step that is traditional, where you wait 25 years to get at the top of the scale and you get an increment of, perhaps, 1 percent. Here you get–we have at 1 percent on your base. If you move an interval, the average interval movement is 3 percent. So if you move 1 or 2 intervals, you’re getting an average of 6 percent increase in your salary.

STEINER: So how do teachers, then–and [incompr.] come back to Iris for a moment–so how do teachers then get these achievement units? I mean, so what does that mean? I mean, I think there are a lot of people in this country right now, Iris, who are worried that teachers are not teaching our students.

KIRSCH: Right.

STEINER: Right? Which is one of the reasons this stuff is in everybody’s face at the moment, because they want some accountability.

STEINER: [incompr.] is.

ENGLISH: Accountability is nationwide. And that’s the big thing. And I think [crosstalk]

STEINER: Marietta, let me let Iris jump in for a moment. She hasn’t [crosstalk] her jump in. We’ll get you right back in.

KIRSCH: So I do my job for 60 to 70 hours every week. And I early on saw the incredible amount of time–I saw teachers spend upwards of 100 hours going back and forth with their AU proposals, just writing up–.

STEINER: What does that mean, AU proposal?

KIRSCH: So they have to write up what it is that they’re doing outside of school. The simplest thing to do is to pay to take classes. But everybody doesn’t have $500 to $1,000 to drop on a three-credit class. We were told vehemently at the last contract vote that all of the things that we do–afterschool clubs, you know, these kind of out-of-the-classroom things that we do that really do affect student achievement, we were going to get AUs for, and that’s what sold a lot of people on the contract. For example, there’s a man at my school who has been the sole adult working on the newspaper, the school newspaper, for years. And he’s spends probably thousands of hours a year working on that newspaper.

STEINER: So he’d get AUs for this.

KIRSCH: So he should get AUs for this. He spent over 100 hours writing up the proposal, submitting it, having it denied, have it coming back. He’s–writes–rewrite–.

STEINER: And who does the proposal go to?

KIRSCH: This panel of teachers, half of whom–.

STEINER: In your school?

KIRSCH: No, in the–. Actually, Ms. English, I don’t know where they operate out of. But half of them are appointed by our union’s executive board, and half of them are appointed by the city. And it seems to be that they’ve been told not to give AUs very easily. He’s gotten one AU out of all of this for three years of work, including all of the work with the AU proposal.

So I’ve never even submitted for an AU, because I want to spend my time working with my students. I don’t want to spend my time chasing an AU.

STEINER: So you’ll get your 1 percent.

So Marietta English, so from what Iris is saying, I mean, it sounds like–well, describe the process, ’cause (A) it sounds cumbersome, the AU process, at best, and–.

ENGLISH: Let me–. Okay. So–.

STEINER: Yeah. Go ahead. Please. Go ahead.

ENGLISH: If I have an afterschool club. Say I’m a dance teacher and I have an afterschool dance club. I write the proposal to and submit it to the JGP. This is the panel of teachers, half appointed by the district, half appointed by the JGP. And they were not told to not award AUs for projects. What they are looking for is: how would it advance student achievement? Which is why we have these clubs. We have–I would have a dance club because that’s my passion, and I know that students would come to school, probably to be in my dance club.

STEINER: Well, it would have to be approved, though. You couldn’t just do it.

ENGLISH: Well, exactly. But I’ve done dance clubs at school, and principals have approved that I have this dance club after school.

So I simply send to the JGP that I have the dance club, this is my objective for it, and this is my means of showing success of the students, the attendance, their grades. That’s what we do. You’re spending hundreds of hours working with students because you want them to achieve. And to show their achievement, I would want, as a teacher of students who are doing these extra things, I would want to show that because I work with them after school, I made a difference in their academic achievements, their attendance. I would want to show that, because if you’re just working with them after school, what is your evidence that what you did made a difference for these students? And if you’re giving these kinds of hours, you certainly should write that up, show where they were when they came to you, where they are when they leave you, show the success that you’ve had with these students, and then you get your AUs for that. All that the JGP is asking: how did these students achieve while you were doing this project? If you take, for example, a chess club, the children learn a lot of things in their chess club, and they come to school perhaps to be in the chess club. So you show that your students’ attendance improved because they participated in the chess club. You can show that probably because they came and participated and wanted to participate in the chess club, their grades went up and/or their test scores went up, data that you can pull from the statistics about what your students are doing. [crosstalk]

STEINER: So let me very quickly–.

ENGLISH: –if you were giving these kind of hours, which I have done, I wish I could have shown how my students, because they were in my dance class, improved in attendance, approved in their grades.

STEINER: So, Marietta, we heard you say [incompr.] Let me just go back to Iris very quickly. I do want to get this one teacher in who called, ’cause we have not been able teo get to the phones. They’re just calling in now. Vivian, we’re going to come to your call. We have five minutes left.

So, Iris, respond [crosstalk] to say.

KIRSCH: Okay. So in Article 5.2(b), it talks about the joint governing panel. And first of all, there was supposed to be several different menus of options for how to get these AUs. The JGP was supposed to define those. They were supposed to define those. And they took way, way, way longer than the original deadline proposed or set out in writing in the original contract, which–by the way, the contract includes a clause that the contract would be–this whole new scale would be nullified if they didn’t do things on time. We went to the union and requested that it be nullified. And we go back to making raises per years because things were not ready on time, and we were told that they were working very hard.

The JGP is going down from six members to four members next year, to two members next year, and they still haven’t even finished the menus. And I’m telling you that this process of proving–not that you have a club, but that your club in fact proves student achievement is onerous.

STEINER: So let me very quickly go to the phones so you can get [incompr.] 410‑319‑8888. Vivian, you’re on the air. We only have a few minutes. You’re welcome.

CALLER (VIVIAN): Oh. I just wanted to say that I’m one of those people that helps score that information, and we were given rubrics. We did not choose because we knew that person or favoritism. We were given rubrics. And those people actually earned what they were supposed to earn based on the rubrics, not based on favoritism.

KIRSCH: Great. So who made the rubric?


KIRSCH: Uh-huh. Right. So that–I really honor your work, Ms. Vivian. I appreciate that. My problem is that that rubric must be very strenuous. And I think it’s fine if it’s in addition to movement every year on the pay scale. But if it’s the only way that people can access a raise every year to keep up with inflation because the cost of living adjustment in this contract does not go anywhere near inflation, we need to be able to–they need to be easier to earn.

STEINER: Let me ask this question. Where is the vote taking place tomorrow? Where are the votes taking place and where do you vote on this tomorrow?

ENGLISH: We have seven voting places–Douglass High School; Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology; Baltimore Teachers Union, Lake Clifton Campus; Cherry Hill Elementary; Edmondson-Westside; Success Academy at North Avenue. And you can vote anywhere, at any of these sites. So you can vote on your way to work. You can vote at your lunchtime. You can vote on your way home. The poll’s open from 7:30 until 5:30 p.m. And all you need is your picture ID. And you must be a member of the Baltimore Teachers Union.


KIRSCH: And you sent an email last night stating that if the contract did not pass, you might not push as hard to keep our–

ENGLISH: That’s not–.

KIRSCH: –health benefits. And I think it’s really incumbent upon you as a member of the negotiating team to push for what the teachers want.

STEINER: We have 90 seconds, Marietta.

ENGLISH: I listen to teachers, heard what they have to say. That’s how we got our proposals. We will push forward ever teachers want in the contract. I hope they vote yes. It is made up of teachers. It’s for teachers. Teachers have an opportunity. These teachers now can make up to almost $100,000. That is absolutely unheard of. I never thought I’d be [crosstalk]

STEINER: Alright. We’re just about out of time.

KIRSCH: So teachers want safety in our schools. Teachers want positive learning environments for our students. And we don’t just want money.

STEINER: Well, first of all I want to thank Iris Kirsch for coming in, a Baltimore schoolteacher; Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union for joining us for this very important discussion. I encourage all teachers to get out there and vote on your contract on February 6 tomorrow night.

KIRSCH: Yes. Please come out and vote.

STEINER: And I appreciate both of you for taking time today.

ENGLISH: Thank you.

KIRSCH: Thank you.

STEINER: And I’d also like to thank, before we go out of here, The Real News Network for filming today’s show. Check out for more information. And you’ll see what’s up there at The Real News Network. We have them in the studio with us. And we are actually moving our offices and studios down to The Real News Network, The Marc Steiner Show is. We’ll still be here on WEAA, but we’ll be moving our offices down there. I look forward to a continuing collaboration with The Real News Network. Good to have them in the studio with us.

I want to thank all of you for joining us today and being part of this program. The Marc Steiner Show is a production of the Center for Emerging Media. Our producers are Mark Gunnery and Stefanie Mavronis. Our engineer is [Andre.mIlt@n]. Our interns are Alex Boston and Matt [‘m{lIs]. To hear this show again or podcast any of our past shows, find information about what the guests have been talking about, please visit us on the web at And you can also listen to and download all of our programs now on iTunes. So for the public radio, it’d be WEAA 88.9 FM, the voice of the community.

I’m Marc Steiner. And that’s “Money (That’s What I Want)”, Barrett Strong.

I’m Marc Steiner. Take care.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.