Teachers in Boston averted going on strike last week by ratifying a three-year contract that eliminates benefits once enjoyed by tenured educators, increases salaries, and shrinks class sizes in all grades.
The contract was pounded out during last-minute negotiating sessions Oct. 9 and 10. Union members had been set to vote on a strike Oct. 11.
“This is a fair economic package and a fair compromise,” said Edward Doherty, the president of the 6,000-member Boston Teachers Union.
“It was a difficult contract to bargain, but both sides are able to walk away with some wins,” Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant said.
Concessions made by the union on the seniority issue were “major breakthroughs,” he added.
The use of seniority in job-placement decisions proved to be the final sticking point.
Under the new contract, tenured teachers will no longer be allowed to bump first-year teachers from their jobs. In the past, the teams of administrators, teachers, and parents responsible for hiring were required to give preference to candidates with more experience.
The change will affect about 250 new teachers a year, a union spokesman said.
The deal also gives more power to the district in assigning teachers who transfer from one school to another. Should only one tenured teacher apply for an open position, the district will have the option of casting a veto and choosing an employee from a pool of other tenured teachers interested in filling vacancies.
“This is really going to give us more flexibility in hiring at the school level, and will put us in a more competitive position,” Mr. Payzant said.
The union prevailed in its efforts to retain a particularly contentious provision in job assignments. Teachers whose positions have been eliminated must be assigned to one of three vacancies they’ve selected.
In winning concessions on hiring practices, the 64,000-student district increased pay and added a ninth salary step to the pay scale.
Teachers will receive a 12 percent raise over three years. Beginning teachers will make $36,000 the first year under the new contract; teachers at the top of the pay scale will earn $70,000.
The union also won class-size reductions. Instead of shrinking the student-to-teacher ratios in grades K-5 only, as had originally been proposed, the district expanded the measure to cover the middle and high school grades as well.
All classes are to decrease in size by two pupils by 2003. Average class sizes in Boston hover around 25 in the early grades and 33 in high school.
Virgin Islands Walkout
Elsewhere, though, more than 2,000 teachers walked off the job in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Educators on the Caribbean islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas began the strike Oct. 11 after rejecting a contract proposed earlier this month by Democratic Gov. Charles Turnbull, said Tyrone Molyneaux, the president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. That contract included a promise to pay only half the $120 million owed to teachers in back wages for work over the past nine years.
“It was a good deal for the government, but not for the union,” Mr. Molyneaux argued.
Union members are also frustrated with their working conditions, Mr. Molyneaux said. The government has not adequately repaired school buildings since hurricanes hit the islands in 1989, 1995, 1998, and 1999, according to the union leader. Both textbooks and teachers are in short supply, he added.
Government officials could not be reached for comment last week.
The St. Croix Federation of Teachers and its sister union, the St. Thomas/St. John Federation of Teachers, work under a single contract that expired in 1995.