Boston Hiring Pact Making Some Headway, Study Finds
New rules in the Boston teachers' contract have helped the city's schools move toward the ideal of finding the best person for the job, but school administrators still have a way to go before they take full advantage of the system's expanded capacity to hire teachers from outside the district, a report concludes.
The new rules scale back provisions that give preference to senior teachers in getting job assignments, and in the past led to criticism that the teachers' contract kept schools from assembling the staffs they needed to improve. The contract's job protections changed in fall 2000 after lengthy and heated negotiations between the Boston Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, and the district. The revised contract also gives teachers a 15 percent raise over its three-year duration.
The job-assignment changes were supported publicly by a coalition of community groups, including the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, which issued last month's report on the effects of the changes in the contract's first year.
District officials and education advocates sought to follow the lead of the Seattle public schools' groundbreaking 1997 contract with the Seattle Education Association and a few others around the country since. All limit to varying degrees the rights to particular job placements that teachers have by dint of seniority.
"I think the one strong message we are trying to leave is that the school system needs to embrace the idea that personnel is a high priority," said Samuel R. Tyler, the president of the bureau, a private, business-backed research group that looks at public issues. Teacher placement is "an integral part of teaching and learning" and affects student achievement, he said.
The report praises the 64,000-student district for posting job vacancies much earlier than in the past. That action created the potential for Boston to offer jobs to teachers early enough so that it could compete better with surrounding suburban districts. And Mr. Tyler acknowledged that the personnel office had been beefed up under a new head before the beginning of the 2000-01 school year.
But school heads did not take full advantage of expanded recruitment and earlier deadlines to hire more broadly, the report says. On the other hand, principals did offer jobs to more first-year teachers at their schools—in part because, for the first time, they could protect them from being "bumped" by more senior teachers without taking the often hasty step of getting them tenured, according to the report.
Along with encouraging principals to consider more outside candidates, the report urges the district to start a new tracking system for applicants and in general to improve its data collection on hiring and transfers.
Ray F. Shurtleff, who heads the district's personnel office, called the report fair. "It really does speak to the real accomplishments that the system has made," he said. "We have changed the perception of the Boston public schools' hiring process, but we still have some work to do."
He noted that school heads and their personnel committees, which include teachers and parents, had to get used to the work it takes to hire from a much larger field of applicants.
"I had a gazillion résumés, résumés from everywhere," quipped Jean L. Dorcus, the principal of Dennis C. Haley Elementary School. "It was much more time-consuming, but at the same time we got a better result."
Ms. Dorcus said she had one vacancy last year in her 300-student school. She filled it with a teacher from an area private school who had three years of experience, including with the literacy program that Haley Elementary uses. Too often in the past, she said, "you wanted the right person for the job, but it became a matter of who will I settle for."
The Boston Teachers Union, which has about 6,000 members, could not be reached for comment last week.
Vol. 21, Issue 30, Page 5