UBJ: Teachers Miffed Over Lack of Money To Pay for 'Model' Contract
in Boston By Ann Bradley
Six months after the Boston Teachers Union and the Boston Public Schools reached agreement on a contract hailed by many as a model for reform, union members are considering staging a one-day strike to protest the city's inability to fund the contract.
Edward J. Doherty, president of the teachers' union, said its leadership would decide at a Dec. 13 meeting whether to strike that day.
"We believe it's an outstanding contract that has a lot of promise for improving the schools," Mr. Doherty said. "Forcing us to go back to a traditional adversarial relationship will be an opportunity missed by the school department and the city."
The agreement on the contract, which calls for decentralized school management, was announced with much fanfare on May 22. The settlement broke a tradition of protracted labor negotiations and was hailed as providing "a climate of stability" for the opening of school in the fall.
From the start, however, Mayor Raymond L. Flynn cautioned that the city could not afford to pay for the contract without new taxes.
The three-year, $44-million contract calls for teachers to receive annual salary increases of 7 percent. The teachers agreed to defer this year's raise for three months, and are now growing "frustrated and angry" at the possibility of receiving no raises at all, Mr. Doherty said.
Boston has been crippled by the state's severe fiscal crisis. Cities and towns have lost $225 million in state aid this year, 40 percent of which would have gone to the schools.
The Boston Association of School Administrators and Supervisors also ratified a three-year contract that has yet to be funded.
"When a typhoon strikes, who do you blame?" said Thomas E. Clegg Sr., president of that union.
Mr. Flynn recently filed a bill in the state legislature calling for a one-cent increase on the sales tax in Boston to pay for the contract, according to Ellen Guiney, the Mayor's education adviser.
But she acknowledged that "all the tax proposals are having a very difficult time in Massachusetts right now."
Thomas M. O'Reilly, chairman of the Boston School Committee, called the Flynn bill "a false effort."
"Nobody has seen any weight put behind it," Mr. O'Reilly noted.
The teachers' union is pressing the city to pay for the first year of the contract, Mr. Doherty said, but has not received a commitment.
Without raises, the reforms agreed to in the contract will not be implemented, he predicted. "The contract is a very intricate document," he said. "The concessions teachers made were dependent upon other things happening."
If the union is forced to return to the bargaining table, he added, "there will definitely be a strike."
The business community, which pressed for the reforms contained in the contract, has been "disappointingly silent," Mr. Doherty said, about identifying money to pay teachers.
But James J. Darr, president of the Boston Private Industry Council, said the city faces "a very difficult situation."
"This is a collision of a very sound and legitimate bargaining process with economic reality above, beyond, and outside the control of all the parties and of the mayor," Mr. Darr said.
The contract was the first in Boston's history to go beyond bread-and-butter issues. It establishes "school-site councils" at each school--governing bodies made up of a principal and parent, student, teacher, and community representatives. They would be responsible for making decisions on educational goals, the instructional program, budgeting and fund-raising, purchasing, staffing, scheduling, hiring, and parent-teacher relations.
Schools would be assessed each year based on their own educational plans. Teachers and administrators in underperforming schools could be removed by the council.
In addition, the contract provides for a mentoring program for new teachers and a voluntary peer-assistance program, and would allow school councils to hire teachers from other schools regardless of seniority.