Monday, June 21, 2010

Boston Teachers Get a Dose of Ed Deform

Teachers, city reach extra-hour agreement

By James Vaznis

Globe Staff / June 21, 2010

Boston school officials announced yesterday that they had reached a tentative agreement with the teachers’ union on a plan to overhaul the city’s 12 underperforming schools, in a new state negotiating process that attempted to resolve a divisive battle over compensating teachers for working extra hours.

The agreement calls for having teachers work about an extra hour a day, equaling 190 hours over the school year, while paying them an extra $4,100 a year. The pay rate is less than half what the union sought, but greater than what Superintendent Carol R. Johnson initially proposed: no extra pay at all.

The agreement includes a number of other proposals, such as using MCAS results to financially reward teachers whose students raise their academic performance.

High school teachers will also be judged on student attendance and graduation rates.

Johnson and Mayor Thomas M. Menino issued statements praising the agreement as a strong step forward in overhauling the schools’ instruction and educational programs, with some of the changes taking effect as early as this summer.

“I’m pleased by the outcome of this joint decision,’’ Menino said. “This is an example of how collective bargaining units and the city of Boston can work together in meaningful ways to create positive change for the students of Boston.’’

However, Richard Stutman, the teachers’ union president, expressed disappointment with the rate of pay and other provisions in a message he e-mailed to union membership late yesterday afternoon.

Teachers are not opposed to working extended hours, he said in a statement issued to the news media, but they should be adequately compensated.

He noted t hat teachers already work extra hours at several schools across the city and are compensated.

“If the goal really is to attract and retain the best teachers to these struggling schools, it will not be achieved by requiring teachers to work hundreds of hours at a fraction of their regular rate of pay,’’ he said.

Reached by phone yesterday, Stutman declined to comment because the union’s lawyers are reviewing the agreement.

The tentative agreement was reached under a new state law that aims to accelerate the turnaround of chronically failing schools by giving school district leaders greater leverage to make changes to union contracts.

While district leaders must still negotiate changes, they do so within a shorter time frame outlined in the new law.

Should those tal ks break down, as they did in Boston, differences are resolved by a “joint resolution committee,’’ which consists of a union representative, a School Committee appointee, and an arbitrator.

The resulting agreement must be endorsed by the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, who has not yet made a determination on the Boston agreement.

Boston school officials are the first to engage in union negotiations under the new law.

The process has been widely watched across the state to gauge whether school district leaders would lose ground in a joint resolution committee — a process the Legislature established to appease union concerns over due process when an earlier version of legislation would have allowed superintendents to impose contract changes.

Boston school officials won a number of victories in the agreement announced yesterday, such as mandating that all teachers and classroom aides master appropriate strategies to teach students who are learning to speak English.

Teachers will not be paid for this training, which will be separate from the professional development hours for which they are compensated.

But school officials suffered one key defeat: They failed to win approval to increase class sizes for students learning to speak English.

During the joint resolution committee negotiations, the union representative voted against several provisions, such as the pay rate for the additional 190 hours, which Stutman described in his bulletin yesterday as “substandard.’’

“This was not a fair process; it was not a give and take,’’ Stutman wrote in his e-mail.

“Paying professionals 20 cents on the dollar is not respecting us,’’ he concluded. “It’s exploiting us.’’

A spokesman said Johnson was not available for comment yesterday, but her statement said she was eager to enact the tentative provisions, particularly the extended school day.

Almost half of the additional time will go toward extending classroom instruction, while the rest will be devoted to teacher training, classroom preparation time, and student tutoring.

“This decision allows us to move swiftly to put the time, people, and resources in place that will directly impact the students of Boston,’’ she said.

James Vaznis can be reached at Description:

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