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Rochester teachers, school board approve new union contract

rochester teachers' association president Adam Urbanski
James Brown
Rochester Teacher's Association President Adam Urbanski says the contract signals greater collaboration between the teachers union and the city school district, with further negotiations to follow.

Teachers at the Rochester City School District have a new three-year contract.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night in the first city school board meeting of 2023, commissioners voted to approve the new pact for union members.

Board president Cynthia Elliott, who was re-elected to the position earlier in the meeting, says she can't recall being in favor of a contract since her tenure began but sees this as an opportunity to better support students.. Elliott first joined the board in 2006.

“We've got to do it on behalf of the citizens of Rochester because Rochester and this workforce is looking for us to get this right,” Elliott said ahead of the vote.

Teachers cast their ballots earlier in the day; of those who voted, about 80% were in favor. English teacher Corrine Mundorf at the Virtual Academy voted yes at the Rochester Teachers Association office on North Union Street.

“I think it's a fair contract,” she said just before entering the building to cast her ballot. “I think it keeps us competitive with our salaries and I think it is a contract that is what's best for students.”

Claire Labrosa, an English as a Second Language teacher with the Rochester Organization of Rank-and-File Educators voted no, saying the process felt rushed. She also found the concessions insufficient.

“Teaching in the Rochester City School District is the most challenging place to teach in the county for many reasons,” Labrosa said. “And we’ve got to have a contract that shows that.”

Provided by Corrine Mundorf
Virtual Academy of Rochester teacher Corrine Mundorf casts her ballot in favor of ratifying the tentative contract at the Rochester Teachers Association Union Offices after school on Tuesday.

The new contract includes a 3.8% salary increase that’s retroactive to July, and an annual $1,500 retention bonus for the next two years. Teachers are also obligated to assist with student arrivals and dismissals for up to 15 minutes and attend mandatory professional training for one hour each month.

Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, said he and Superintendent Carmine Peluso will continue to negotiate a living contract in the coming months.

School safety and updating the code of conduct are among key items of interest to teachers like Mundorf, who pursued legal action against the district in October for damages after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a student at Franklin High School the year prior.

“There is latitude that was gained in these negotiations on the issue of school safety, but the matter has not been fully resolved,” Urbanski said.

“And therefore we will continue to negotiate it through the living contract, which is a protocol that's part of our contract that says that even in between negotiations, the district and the Union ... will meet regularly to address issues before they become problems. And one of those issues is school safety.”

Peluso called teachers the "backbone” of the district in a statement, saying the agreement ensures high-quality instruction with greater collaboration.

“This negotiation process provided the forum for extensive conversations with RTA leadership that outlined our shared vision and priorities for the future of this District,” Peluso said in the statement.

The vote was initially scheduled for Dec. 22 ahead of the winter break. However, due to a water main break that flooded Ford Street and neighboring blocks, as well as a boil water notice for much of the city for days after, schools closed and the vote was postponed to Jan. 3.

Corrected: January 10, 2023 at 12:36 PM EST
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that nearly 2,500 teachers voted for the contract. The total number of teachers who voted is not yet publicly known.
Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.