Chelsea Teachers Vow To Fight Boston University Pact
The Chelsea (Mass.) Teachers Union has declared "war" on a proposal to allow Boston University to manage that city's schools and is seeking to replace it with a school-improvement plan of its own.
The unprecedented management plan, which the school committee may vote on next week, has been hailed as a bold step to help solve the problems of a troubled urban school system.
But the union, with the backing of the American Federation of Teachers, contends that in its current form the proposal would trample on teachers' rights and set a dangerous precedent by placing an unaccountable private institution in charge of a public-school system.
Union officials are expected this week to unveil a counterproposal featuring structural changes similar to reform efforts under way in Rochester, N.Y., Dade County, Fla., and elsewhere.
"We're going to war," said Donald W. Menzies, the union's president. The university's plan "isn't the only way to trade in this market,'' he said. "You don't need to sell out to the first bidder."
"We want to see positive educationalchange in the city," Mr. Menzies added. "We're not fighting that. We're fighting the bu approach."
He argued that the university's proposal would take personnel decisions out of the hands of the elected school committee and place them in the hands of the university--an institution "answerable to a board of trustees not elected by a cross-section of the public."
In addition, Mr. Menzies said, the plan would insulate all university officials from lawsuits, which would allow them to commit civil-rights and tort violations with im- Continued on Page 17
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Dean Peter G. Greer of the university's school of education, who was hired last summer to implement the agreement, denied last week that the proposals would jeopardize any rights. The plan was aimed, he said, at giving the university sufficient authority to implement its reforms without violating its status as a private institution.
"If I am evil, Chelsea can abrogate the agreement on a mere 4-to-3 vote," he added. "They don't have any reason to fear."
Andrew P. Quigley, a school-committee member who was the original sponsor of of the plan, called the union's objections "inconceivable and outrageous," and said the teachers "are fighting a losing battle."
"It's the age-old confrontation between a determined grave-digger and a reluctant corpse," Mr. Quigley said. "They are determined to bury the system unless they get what they want."
"We," he said, "are in favor of improving the system."
The school committee, which sought the university's help in turning around its troubled schools, voted last summer to hire the university as an unpaid consultant while lawyers drew up a management contract.
The committee is scheduled to meet on Nov. 29 and may vote on a proposed contract then, if the lawyers have produced one ready to sign. The contract must also be approved by the local board of aldermen and the state legislature.
Legislative approval, once considered pro forma, has also run into snags. State officials are concerned that the proposal would exempt the university from conflict-of-interest, open-meeting, and oversight laws, according to Robert B. Schwartz, an aide to Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
"If they are going to play a public role," Mr. Schwartz said, "the question is to what degree must they comply with the normal set of state statutes that guarantee public accountability."
'Monkeying' With Rights
The proposed management agreement has sparked considerable debate in Chelsea and elsewhere since it was announced last summer.
Although teacher-union officials had complained that they were not consulted while the plan was being developed, they subsequently agreed to go along with it after bu officials pledged to work with teachers in implementing reforms.
Union officials objected, however, to proposals to allow the university's management committee, not the school committee, to review decisions to dismiss teachers.
"I don't see what monkeying with teachers' rights has to do with improving the school system," said Mr. Menzies. "Why should our people be treated differently from teachers in 361 other cities and towns in Massachusetts, when the school system's troubles are not their fault?''
Mr. Greer acknowledged that the union had "strong feelings" about the proposal, but he denied that it would affect their rights.
"If you are fired, you will have all the rights you always had under state law," he said. "The only change is that you face a bu management team instead of the school committee."
If the bu team rules against a teacher, he added, the teacher will retain the right to have the case heard in court.
Union officials also argued that a provision to insulate university officials from lawsuits raises "very grave concerns."
"They could commit civil-rights violations and could not be sued," said Bella Rosenberg, a special assistant to Albert Shanker, the president of the aft "To say this is unusual is an understatement."
Such a proposal could expose the shaky Chelsea treasury to lawsuits resulting from actions by bu officials, added Mr. Menzies.
Mr. Greer noted that the issue of exposure to lawsuits is the major outstanding matter yet to be resolved in the contract negotiations.
But he said that the university included it in its plan in order to protect its finances. "We can't expose all the assets of Boston University to a series of suits," he said.
The dean added that the university also sought exemptions from state laws in order to ensure its status as a private institution.
"We want as much public as possible," he said. "But what we can't have, and won't have, is people seeing all papers in Boston University that may have mentioned Chelsea."
"We're not going to open all our financial accounts and papers," he added.
Union's 'Track Record'
Union officials pledged last week to come up with an alternative plan to improve the schools that would be effective and would not jeopardize any rights.
"We feel a moral obligation to have an alternative for Chelsea," said Ms. Rosenberg of the aft "There is no question the district is in trouble. It has been in trouble for some time."
"In seeking to block this," she said, "we do not intend to leave Chelsea with the status quo."
Ms. Rosenberg declined to discuss the specifics of the plan, which she said would be announced this week.
She noted that the union has "a track record" in developing school8improvement plans, such as those in Rochester and Dade County. Under such plans, teachers gain greater decisionmaking authority and are held accountable for results.
But Ms. Rosenberg added that "we don't have a cookie-cutter plan."
"We have a point of view," she said, "and a process for doing things. We include parents, teachers, and others, to figure out what's wrong, what can we do better."
"The starting point is a district that is starved for funds," Ms. Rosenberg said.
Fundraising Under Way
Mr. Greer noted that university officials have started to obtain commitments for funding, despite the lack of a formal contract.
Last week, for example, President John R. Silber announced that a former bu trustee, who was born in Chelsea, had pledged to contribute $100,000, provided that nine other Chelsea natives pledge a like amount.
And the industrialist H. Ross Perot is expected to visit Chelsea in December, Mr. Greer said.
"We are actively seeking funds for such things as raising teacher salaries," the dean added. "That's one thing we must do. But there are many others that don't require money."
In the four months they have worked with the Chelsea schools, Mr. Greer said, university officials have helped administrators develop goals and objectives for the coming year, and have worked with teachers and parents to hire administrators.
"This was a process they've never been through before," he said.