Area Catholic high school teachers accepted a two-year pact Tuesday afternoon, narrowly averting a strike but barely making peace with what their union president called "a terrible contract."

The vote was 268-247, and came after a marathon negotiating session that began at 10 a.m. Monday and did not end until 5:50 a.m. Tuesday. The prior pact expired at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. After the vote at a union hall on South Columbus Boulevard, teachers returned to their schools, where classes are set to start Wednesday.

Teachers at the area's 17 Catholic high schools will receive pay raises of $1,200 in each year of the contract, and will see no premium or copay increases on health insurance. That wasn't the sticking point, though. Teachers are unhappy with a provision that will largely take their evaluations out of the hands of department heads and give them solely to administrators.

At one point, a visibly angry educator warned during the meeting that agreeing to such a provision would be tantamount to a "death sentence." Two other teachers, speaking after the meeting, said they believed it would be easier for the administration to target educators who were out of favor politically. They declined to give their names for fear of retribution.

Rita Schwartz, longtime Association of Catholic Teachers president, said the vote, the closest in the union's history, should send a message to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Office of Catholic Education.

Association of Catholic Teachers president Rita Schwartz speaks to reporters.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Association of Catholic Teachers president Rita Schwartz speaks to reporters.

"It's a terrible contract," said Schwartz, whose union represents 650 members. "They had every right to be upset with it."

Schwartz said teachers preferred that department heads — who know teachers' subject material well — have more of a say in their evaluations, as was the case in prior years.

In a prepared statement, Jason Budd, chief negotiator for the Office of Catholic Education, said: "The Office of Catholic Education is pleased that the general membership of ACT ratified the contract today.  It is the agreement we had hoped to obtain for the current and future benefit of everyone, most especially our students and school families.

"Since April 2018, the focus of the OCE negotiating team has been to achieve a contract that provides the best possible educational environment for the young people entrusted to our care while respecting the sacrifice and dedication of our educators."

Under the current contract, teacher pay starts at $39,800. The highest-earning teachers, those with a doctorate and 40 years of experience, earn $80,505; top pay without a doctorate is about $79,000, with about 10 percent of teachers at that level.

Schwartz said the one bright spot was contract length: The prior deal was one year, which made members uneasy.