La Cañada Unified teachers have a lot to look forward to in the coming school year, after recently approved negotiations with the district's bargaining team netted district employees an across-the-board raise and created a new incentives program for outstanding educators willing to take on extra work.

The school board approved agreements with its three employee unions at its June 24 meeting. The settlements call for 4% salary increases for certificated, classified and management employees, as well as a 2% raise retroactive to last school year, thanks to the passage of the Measure LC parcel tax in March.

Under the new agreements, the district will be paying a combined $26,037,710 in salaries, benefits and other compensations for a total of 353.5 FTEs (the equivalent amount of full-time positions), about $1 million more than what was budgeted prior to the negotiations.

In its agreement with La Cañada Teachers Assn. (LCTA), the district also created a slate of one-year extra-duty, extra-pay positions that would allow well-qualified and interested teachers to share their time, planning and knowledge with colleagues at their school site or grade level for greater pay.

Officials are excited the positions will lead to the development of Professional Learning Communities, small educator collaborations in which teachers teach each other and help meet district goals related to technology and the further implementation of new Common Core standards.

Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said Tuesday officials were pleased with the outcomes of the negotiations with employee bargaining teams, and felt the raises and the new positions were worthwhile investments.

"The newly developed extra duty, extra pay positions will support teacher leaders coming forward to lend their expertise in implementing and furthering district initiatives to promote a world-class education for every student," Sinnette said in an email interview.

District teachers with satisfactory or better evaluations may apply for one of several positions through school site administrators. Those accepted will be given the time and means to take on the additional role creating new curriculum, acting as liaisons between schools and district staff or improving the use of technology in the classroom.

Governing Board Vice President Andrew Blumenfeld called the program a trailblazing approach to professional development.

"We have provided teachers a career pathway that advances their knowledge of the their profession without leaving the classroom," he said. "We're excited about having them unleash their professional wisdom. Our hope is we can really expand the internal capacity of the district."

La Cañada Unified students have been learning new Common Core-focused lessons for the past year, though the statewide mandate doesn't take effect until the 2014-15 school year. Officials believe developing teacher mentors will assist those who may find the transition daunting.

"We're at this crux in education…where teachers are almost having to relearn their profession, to a certain extent," Governing Board President Ellen Multari said of the new Common Core implementation. "You're almost writing the score as you're conducting it, so this at least allows you to stay one bar ahead of your class."

The total cost of the new positions depends on the number of applicants and their pay level. LCUSD's extra-duty, extra-stipend schedule ranges from $1,423 to $3,415 per year.

"This is not meant to be a cost saving measure — it's an investment," Blumenfeld said. "(But) the more closely aligned the distribution of salaries is to the goals and priorities of the district, the more wisely, I think, that money is being spent."

Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter @SaraCardine.

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