Q&A: Union President Champions Schools in Boston Mayoral Race

June 12, 1991 4 min read

In the midst of a highly charged political fight over abolishing the Boston School Committee and continuing concerns over the city’s school-desegregation case, Edward J. Doherty, 47, president of the Boston Teachers Union, announced that he would run for mayor against two-term incumbent Raymond L. Flynn, who is expected to seek a third term.

Mr. Doherty, who has been president of the union since 1983, taught English at Boston Technical High School from 1967 to 1975 before assuming several full-time union positions. He discussed his candidacy with Assistant Editor Ann Bradley.

Q. What made you decide to run for mayor?

A. Without question, the catalyst for my decision to run for mayor was my growing dissatisfaction with the current Mayor’s lack of leadership on educational issues and his failure to make public education a priority issue in this city. From my point of view, he has walked away from the public schools.

We had a contract settled in 1989 that I truly believe was an outstanding collective-bargaining agreement, not so much because of the raises or benefits it gave to the people I represent, but because of major breakthroughs in the areas of accountability, school-based management, measurement and assessment factors, and in really trying to strike a partnership between schools, parents, and administrators. I don’t believe the Mayor has really lifted a finger since that contract was signed to try to make that contract work.

He has been engaging in at least a 2 1/2 year battle with the current school committee over the issue of governance. ... Part of his strategy in convincing the electorate and the legislature that the school committee should be abolished has been to make the school committee and the system look bad. We certainly have our flaws, we suffer in many respects from the same problems that school systems all across the country suffer from: dropout rates, student violence, test scores that aren’t what we’d like them to be. All of those issues have been ignored and haven’t been tended to while this bitter and divisive battle has gone on. In a big city like Boston, if you don’t have a major player like the Mayor involved in school reform, it almost dooms it to failure.

Q. Where do you expect to find support for your candidacy?

A. I expect to find broad-based support. ... Certainly there are people who are unhappy with the current administration, unhappy with what I perceive to be a lack of leadership on a whole host of issues dealing with the quality of life in this city. ...

I don’t limit it to education. We’ve got increasing numbers of families living be low the poverty line in Boston, as in many other cities. They are suffering the same kinds of problems: inadequate nutrition and health care, a high infant-mortality rate, a major drug problem, inadequate child-care facilities, all those issues. All of that needs serious attention.)

Q. Your union is appealing U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.'s final orders in the desegregation case, which specify that the school system must continue to adhere to racial guidelines in hiring teachers. How do you expect to gain widespread voter support in Boston when the Boston Teachers Union is engaged in such a racially charged court fight?

A. We are appealing the final orders of the court, which in my view keep quotas in place into the indefinite future. ...

The appeal has to do with putting an end to the federal court supervision. We are not opposed to affirmative action in terms of at tempting to achieve a racially balanced workforce. But we are opposed to fixed quotas and we have always taken that position. ... I believe the majority of the people in this city share my view.)’

Q. What is your opinion on whether the Boston School Committee should be abolished? What are your ideas for getting the committee back on track?

A. I do not believe that it should be abolished. I believe there should be an elected school committee. Changing the structure of governance based on the individuals in office at any given time is a terrible, terrible mistake. ...

I don’t defend the status quo. One of the major mistakes that was made in terms of a deliberative body dealing with school issues is to have a committee of 13. I would suggest that it ought to be reduced to around seven members. [The b.t.u. believes] it should be much smaller, elected, and with four-year terms.

We also suggested that if the Mayor wants a greater role in fashioning school policy, the school committee should be re constructed so the Mayor was president of the school committee.

Q. What role do you think the may or of Boston should play in the administration of the schools?

A. He does play certainly a financial role in the sense that he recommends to the City Council the appropriate level of funding for the school system.)

But I think the Mayor should play a greater role than as a conduit for submitting budgets. I think the Mayor should be an educational leader in the sense that, if he’s not on the school committee, he meets with the school committee and the superintendent on a regular basis ... and be comes, in some respects, a cheerleader for public education in the city.

I think elected officials have an obligation to make the case to the general public that they are all constituents of public education.

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 1991 edition of Education Week as Q&A: Union President Champions Schools in Boston Mayoral Race