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Tentative accord by teachers, schools

Pact would hike health payments

After more than a year of tense negotiations and a threatened one-day strike, Boston teachers and the school system last night reached a tentative contract agreement that would boost teachers' pay and require they contribute more to blunt the rising price of health insurance.

The agreement would raise teachers' salaries between 13 and 14 percent over previously agreed-upon salary increases between September 2006 and August 2010. Over the same time, teachers would increase their contribution to health insurance premiums from 10 to 15 percent. The agreement also allows for greater autonomy at 20 so-called superintendent's, or low-performing, schools, enabling principals to extend their day, choose their curriculum, pay teachers for assuming extra responsibilities, and among other things, have more flexibility in hiring.

"Our prime goal was to fix underperforming schools," Superintendent Michael G. Contompasis said last night after school and union officials overcame their differences during a four-hour meeting at school headquarters on Court Street. "We think we have crafted an agreement that meets our needs and puts schools on the right track."

The Boston Teachers Union and the School Committee still must approve the contract. Union leaders said they will recommend that members approve the agreement when they vote on it March 14.

The tentative accord was reached on a day when a Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled that the union must pay a $30,000 fine -- which will increase by $10,000 a day -- for refusing to comply with a previous court order to rescind the union's threat to strike.

The union suspended their threat to strike until members vote today. By the time members meet this afternoon, the fine against the union will have risen to $120,000, said union officials, who are appealing the decision.

"We take this as a real threat to unions everywhere," said Richard Stutman , president of the Boston Teachers Union. "There isn't a doubt that the threat of a strike brought us closer to a settlement.

The two sides have battled for 14 months. In mid-February, the school system's offer was an 11 percent rise in base salaries over four years, below the union's request for a 21 percent rise over the same period, Stutman said.

In January, talks grew so strained that teachers announced plans to strike. Earlier this month, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts upheld a lower court's ruling that the strike vote was illegal and ordered the union to call it off.

The last teachers strike was in 1993. After a one-day strike, the parties agreed on a one-year contract and a 3 percent pay rise.

Yesterday's agreement also includes the School Department's commitment to maintaining small classes, with no increases in class-size limits at any grade level.

It provides for at least seven new pilot schools, one governed by the Boston Teachers Union, with additional compensation for some pilot school teachers who work extra hours. The agreement also has changes to the district's performance evaluation process.

Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff contributed to this report.