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Columbia Spectator Staff

Two weeks after the United Federation of Teachers told Mayor Michael Bloomberg that a strike was an option, the mayor and the UFT have formally agreed to a new contract.

The tentative agreement, reached Monday, will provide educators with new terms of employment, including a 15 percent pay increase and an increase in time teachers are required to be in the classroom.

"The agreement with the UFT not only raises teacher's salaries but also allows the Department of Education to make meaningful changes to further reform and improve our schools," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press conference, with UFT President Randi Weingarten at his side. "The new contract is good for teachers and the City, but most importantly, it is good for New York's 1.1 million schoolchildren."

Public school teachers have been working without a contract since the last one expired on May 30, 2003. The new contract, pending approval by union members, is set to expire Oct. 12, 2007.

By the end of the contract period, the minimum salary for new teachers will have risen from $39,000 to $42,512. The maximum will have risen from $81,232 to $93,416. The pay increases will also be applied retroactively to the end of the last contract.

"I am particularly pleased that we have significantly closed the pay gap between our hard-working educators and their colleagues in the suburbs," Weingarten said. "Between this agreement and our previous contract, teachers will have received more than a 30 percent increase in pay."

In return for the higher wages, teachers will be expected to teach or tutor students for an additional ten minutes per day. The academic calendar will also add two days of instruction per year and three "professional development days" for teachers.

UFT also gave in on the issue of seniority rights, which under the previous contract allowed experienced teachers to choose their school and bump a younger teacher off the faculty.

Upon hearing about the new contract, teachers at P.S. 75 on West End Avenue at 96th Street voiced their ambivalence about the agreement.

Donna Garfinkel, a fourth grade teacher at P.S. 75, said because the teachers have been working since 2003 without a contract, "I think that we have no choice but to accept it."

She added teachers were hesitant to strike because for every day teachers strike, they are docked two days' worth of pay.

With both a strike and mayoral election looming, Lisa Wilson, union representative and kindergarten teacher at the school, said she was not surprised by the timing of the agreement.

"Even though striking is not legal, we did consider the method. [Bloomberg] didn't want to risk teachers impairing children of New York City-his primary concern," she said, adding a laugh to the last few words.

Parents at P.S. 75 adopted a wait-and-see attitude about the new contract, though they generally supported improving teachers' benefits.

"Teachers play such an important role in our society, especially in New York," said Paul Gallo, the father of two P.S. 75 students. "They work very hard and are dedicated and we place a lot of trust in them in helping us guide our children's future. Hopefully the new contract will allow them to keep doing the job that they do. It's about time."

Gallo's nine-year-old son, James, added, "I think it's great because teachers are getting respect and they should be, for working hard."

Tanean Moore, who has a fourth grade son attending P.S. 125, located on 123rd Street, put it more bluntly.

"Shit, they need more than a 15 percent raise. [The teachers] work real hard," she said.

Sumaiya Ahmed and Amanda Erickson contributed to this report.