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Teachers' Contract in Boston Heralded as Positive Step

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Educators and civic leaders in Boston are hailing a "new era of hope'' with the approval of an innovative teachers' contract and the release of final details of a renewed partnership among business, labor, and the schools.

Members of the Boston Teachers Union gave overwhelming approval June 29 to the three-year contract, which will cost an estimated $73.5 million to $80 million.

The voice vote by union members came about a week after the tentative contract was announced by Mayor Thomas M. Menino; the school committee's chairman, Felix D. Arroyo; Superintendent Lois Harrison-Jones; and the union president, Edward J. Doherty.

"This signals a new era of hope for the children of the Boston public schools,'' Mayor Menino said on June 22 when the contract agreement was announced. "This represents the future of our city, and it was accomplished in a realistic budget that the city can afford.''

Boston teachers began the 1993-94 school year without a contract, and they staged a one-day walkout last October after the school committee rejected a three-year, $100 million contract proposal. The school system and teachers agreed to a one-year pact last November.

New 'Pilot' Schools

The contract creates a new, eighth step on the system's salary scale, which will mean an additional $2,500 in the first year for the 80 percent of Boston teachers who have reached the top of the current scale. Base pay for all teachers will then increase 5 percent in fiscal1996 and 4 percent in 1997.

The pact also includes a number of innovations, such as the establishment of six "pilot'' schools that could be created from scratch or formed within existing schools based on the ideas of teachers, administrators, and parents.

The pilot-school idea has been dubbed "in-district charter schools'' because it resembles state programs, including one in Massachusetts, that allow groups of citizens to establish autonomous public schools.

The contract also calls for the creation of a Center for Leadership Development, which will provide training for teachers and parents in school-based management.

The center is also expected to train 200 to 300 lead teachers--a new position established under the contract. Lead teachers will serve as mentors to new teachers and will conduct professional-development sessions.

Several of the contract provisions were recommended in a 28-page report issued last month by the Boston Compact, a partnership of business, education, and labor leaders in the city.

In January, partnership leaders signed the third version of the Boston Compact, which set five broad goals for improving the schools and providing public school graduates with access to jobs and higher education. (See Education Week, Jan. 26, 1994.)

A partnership steering committee issued the report last month, which contained practical recommendations, including the pilot-school program and the Center for Leadership Development. The report also called for a new state program to insure that all children enter school ready to learn.

An observer of previous teachers' contracts in Boston said the new pact appears to be a positive step, but he warned that leadership will be required to insure that its reform initiatives are carried out.

"There are some very interesting initiatives in this contract, but it comes with the history of the 1989 contract,'' said Samuel R. Tyler, the executive director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, an independent watchdog group.

The school system's 1989 contract with teachers promised much in the way of reforms in school-based management and other initiatives to go along with salary increases, he noted.

"Unfortunately, because of financial problems and a lack of commitment, most of the reforms touted in 1989 were never implemented during the life of the contract,'' Mr. Tyler said.

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