The secondary school system of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Association of Catholic School Teachers (ACT), Local 1776, reached a two-year agreement Sept. 4 on a new contract for full-time lay high school teachers in the 17 archdiocesan high schools.

The new contract as ratified by the union’s membership calls for increases in teacher salaries of $1,200 per year, an average 2.3 percent raise, according to Jason Buck the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education’s chief negotiator.

The medical plan and employee contributions to it will remain the same due to favorable claim experience, Buck added.

Representatives of the archdiocese and ACT had been negotiating a new contract since last April. OCE’s goal was to agree on 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,” Buck said in a statement.

“We are grateful to the teachers for ratifying the agreement which included the changes we were looking for in professional responsibilities while providing increases in salary and benefits.

“OCE is most grateful for the sacrifices school families make for their children and takes its responsibility seriously to create classroom environments where excellence in faith formation, teaching and learning is paramount. OCE is delighted to have its students and teachers in the classroom for the start of the 2018-2019 school year as scheduled,” Buck said.

But as it has been the case in recent years, negotiations went right down to the wire before the start of school for most students on Sept. 5. The contract was hammered out after an all-night session, according Rita Schwartz, the longtime president of Local 1776. And it wasn’t a certainty that the rank and file would agree to it.

“The vote was 268-247, as close as I’ve ever seen it,” Schwartz said.

The real sticking point was a change in how teachers are evaluated, which increased the role of administrators and lessened the role of department heads, who the teachers believe are in the best position to evaluate them.

“I didn’t want to go on strike over that,” Schwartz said, “The rest of the contract wasn’t bad, if it wasn’t the best we ever had. It wasn’t worth a strike.”

Another win for both sides, they agreed, was the two-year term of the contract so they won’t have to do this all over again next year.

The new contract only covers teachers in the archdiocesan high schools; the elementary schools are not unionized.