Union Wage Agreements Kept At Bay
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
The Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) have been negotiating for 21 months in 49 negotiating sessions for a new teachers’ contract. However, on March 27, they declared an impasse, which will end up costing BPS $9 million in federal funds.
The original goal of the negotiations, said Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, was to “create a contract that invests in our great teachers and allows us to connect them with the students who need them the most.” BPS offered to raise funds allotted to teacher salaries by $32.6 million but also wanted to lengthen the school day because Boston has one of the shortest school days in the nation.
After 15 hours of talks, the BTU rejected this proposal and demanded that the school district either drop their call for a longer school day or offer millions of more dollars to pay for it. They are also demanding a 10.3 percent salary increase by Labor Day. In total, the BTU’s demands to increase pay by $116 million would, in the end, lead to harsh cuts and layoffs in developing areas of the school district.
As a last resort, the school district presented an amended proposal to the BTU that would have raised teacher salaries by more than $124 million over five years in exchange for the BTU agreeing to extend the school day by 45 minutes for students in grades K-8 (the equivalent of one month), remove the tenure rules, make teachers with unsatisfactory evaluations ineligible, remove obstacles to an effective evaluation process, and grant principals the authority to hire teachers based upon expertise rather than on seniority.
The BTU remained steadfast, however, and did not accept this amended proposal either.
“We have made substantial progress and come to agreement on a number of needed reforms, but the BPS Administration has continued to make unreasonable demands such as insisting that our teachers work the equivalent of over two weeks per year without pay,” said BTU President Richard Stutman. “This intransigence will have a negative impact on the children in the BPS System.”
The commissioner told both sides that he could not extend the federal funding deadline any further. As a result, both the BPS and the BTU will be seeking state help to decide upon an acceptable contract by filing a joint petition for mediation with the State Division of Labor Relations. Because of their failure to reach an agreement on a new contract with its teachers union, BPS will lose $9 million in federal funds that would have supported teacher bonuses, among other initiatives.
According to the BPS Negotiation Update website, if reforms to the hiring process are not put in place by early April, up to 244 current teachers will be forced to move out of their classrooms and into new schools through an annual seniority-driven process that “includes little or no input from the school principal or, in many cases, even the teachers themselves.” BPS also claims that, at the bargaining table and in press releases, the BTU team has agreed that changes are necessary but will not implement them until a contract is signed that contains a 10.3 percent wage increase.
“We recognized that we had a window of opportunity to create a contract that would bring historic change to our schools, benefiting our students,” Johnson said. “What is most unfortunate is that instead of working on developing a contract that would benefit our students and our teachers, giving them both the time and support they need to be successful, the BTU squandered away this opportunity by continuing to make unreasonable and irresponsible financial demands. It’s also unfortunate that teachers working in turnaround schools will lose out on an additional $9 million in grant funds that were within our reach.”
This is not a black-and-white argument—I cannot assert that one side is completely at fault in the failure of these negotiations. Unions are important because they provide a means for teachers to voice their opinions, but in order for both the union and the school system to be successful, they need to work together. It is unfortunate that both sides could not make concessions in order to come to an agreement by the pre-determined deadline because, in their failure to do so, they were sacrificing funds that could have benefited the students at the end of the day.