Boston Teachers Reach Contract Settlement

By Bess Keller — March 31, 2004 3 min read
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Boston teachers will get raises averaging 9 percent to 10 percent over the next three years if they ratify a contract settlement reached less than a week before they were poised to stage an illegal one-day walkout.

The accord, announced March 18, would modestly widen the power Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant has over teacher assignment and training at low-performing schools.

And it would leave unchanged the number of hours teachers must spend on training specified by administrators and the time they use at their discretion for planning and preparation. Teachers in some low-performing schools would be excepted.

Raises and nonclassroom hours were the final sticking points in negotiations that had dragged on since early last year. Teachers in the 60,000-student district have been working without a contract since September.

“It’s a good contract,” said Stephen Crawford, a spokesman for the Boston Teachers Union, which has about 6,500 active members.

“While some teachers get 10 percent raises over the three years, many will get 11 to 15 percent over the life of the contract,” he added, when awards for additional longevity and education are counted in.

Teachers are expected to vote on the agreement April 14.

Union Bypass

Under the pact, Mr. Payzant would be allowed in limited circumstances to bypass union rules that give preference in assignment to tenured teachers over those recently or not yet hired.

He would be able to designate up to five low-performing schools for a “freeze” on half their vacancies and then appoint teachers to those jobs without regard to seniority or transfer rights.

In the second year of the program, if a school continued to perform poorly, he could repeat the process. Because turnover is high in such schools, the change could have a significant effect on the faculty.

The pact would also give the superintendent the prerogative of requiring 20 hours of training for teachers in such schools.

Some 40 Boston schools have failed to meet federal student- achievement standards; two of them are underperforming according to state law.

“It’s something we fought for, and something the union agreed to and didn’t see as a major roadblock,” said Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the district.

The BTU’s Mr. Crawford seconded that description. “The compromises we made on school assignment are far less onerous,” he said, “than some of the proposals on the state level designed to gut collective bargaining.”

But the head of a business-financed watchdog group contended that those more sweeping measures are just what is needed.

The compromise “just reinforces that the reforms necessary in an urban school system can’t come fast enough if they depend on incremental changes through collective bargaining,” said Samuel R. Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

Strike Averted

Union members had approved a strike for March 23, and Mr. Payzant had subsequently declared the day as one for professional development so as not to shorten the school year for students. The superintendent said he would dock teachers one day’s pay and ask state labor officials to fine the union.

With leaders reaching a tentative contract, March 23 returned to a regular school day.

The $64 million deal that was negotiated would include a pay increase of 2 percent in the first year of the contract, a 2.5 percent raise in the second, and a 4 percent increase coming in increments during the final year.

District leaders “really feel like they gave the teachers a fair wage increase that was still within the city budget,” Mr. Palumbo said. “We said, in effect, if we make it through the first year, we’ll make it up to you.”

With the economy on the rise, he added, the district hopes for increased state funding.

The union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, originally sought a 9.75 increase apart from the longevity and education increases, at a cost of $107 million over three years, while the district offered 7 percent, for $52 million.

In exchange for the raise, the union dropped its demand to reduce the 18 hours that teachers must give to district-set training.

The district originally wanted to up the number of professional-development hours for all teachers, while the union sought to put more time into preparation and planning.

Negotiators also compromised on issues related to class management. Teachers wanted to reduce classes in all grades by one student, but ended up accepting the addition of alternative education classes for disruptive students.

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