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he Rochester school board has signed off on a new two-year contract with the Rochester Teachers Association, an agreement that gives teachers raises and gives schools more flexibility to negotiate unique terms tailored to specific academic programs.
That flexibility will allow individual schools to change any contract provision � except for salary, benefits and due process rights � allowing them to lengthen the school day, add specialized programs or even change its leadership structure.
Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said that could open the door for a teacher-led school, one where the ultimate decision making power falls to teachers rather than a principal.
"We wanted to give schools the opportunity to tailor the school to the needs of the students without begging for permission," said Urbanski. "This is more autonomy and more flexibility than schools have in other districts in America."
The contract also includes a 3.2 percent pay raise for the district's roughly 3,100 teachers, which includes the standard step increases built into teachers' contracts. Athletic coaches will also see their stipend rise by $500, bringing them in line with other suburban districts.
The board approved the contract in a 5-1 vote Tuesday night.
Board member Cynthia Elliott was the lone dissenter, saying the board should have taken more time to look at the contract for savings.
"I figured it was an opportunity to come up with a fresh contract and really look at the issues that are facing the district and that our parents are concerned with," Elliott said. "This contract and contracts we have done in the past have given too much control to the union."
One of the highlights of the contract is added instruction time for students. Five schools will add at least 300 hours of instruction, 13 will add at least 200 hours of instruction and two will add an indeterminate amount of time through flexible scheduling.
The contract also eliminates early dismissal on Wednesdays, a relic of a time when many had after-school religious education classes to attend.
Restoring that class time means a full week of additional instruction over the course of the year, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said by email. The contract, which expires in June, 2015, "continues the stable, effective working relationship with teachers who are the front lines of our relentless focus on improving student achievement."