Strong Teacher Contracts Make for Better Schools
We believe that securing a strong wage and benefit package for our members and establishing respectful, non-arbitrary and collaborative conditions of work are the best guarantee of recruiting and retaining top quality teachers. That's good for Boston's schoolchildren as well as for our members.
Our contract also has many great ideas and concepts that work well for both teachers and students. Some of the most important issues we have fought for include:
Improving the Delivery of Services to Special Needs and English Language Learners (ELL)
These are two areas where the BTU continues to struggle with the BPS over the lack of resources for — and the way services are delivered to — ELL and Special Needs students. For years, the BPS has dragged its feet in meeting federal requirements to provide special help to students who need to learn English. The BTU has repeatedly pointed out shortcomings in the services being provided and the resources allocated to meet ELL student needs. Only now that the BPS is under a federal court order are steps being taken. We will work hard to ensure that these steps actually meet the needs of our ELL students, and not just the letter of the law.
Our SPED Faculty Senate draws talent from all SPED disciplines citywide. It has met continually with SPED administrators to point the department in the right direction. We have had some success. But, all too often, the department has taken a top-down approach to problem-solving.
Reducing Maximum Class Size
One thing that teachers, parents, students and education experts agree upon is that smaller class size makes for better teaching and learning. Over the years, the Boston Teachers Union has successfully negotiated decreases in class size.
- In 1983, Kindergarten - Grade 3 maximum class size was 33 students; in 2002, that number was down to 22 students.
- In 1986, maximum classs size for Grades 6-8 was 33; in 2002, that number was down to 28.
- In 1986, maximum class size for Grades 9-112 was 36; in 2002, that number was down to 31.
Increasing Time for Individual and Collaborative Teacher Planning
Ensuring that all teachers have adequate time for lesson planning has always been a priority for our union. One of the earliest improvements the union fought for was to build Planning and Development (P&D) time into elementary teachers' schedules, as it already was —to some degree — for middle and high school teachers. Over the years, we have continued to negotiate for adequate time for lesson planning as well as time to collaborate and exchange ideas with other teachers.
It is now generally acknowledged that time for planning and collaboration with other teachers directly impacts the quality of the educational experience of students and the union continues to look for ways to enhance this work.
Ensuring a Healthy Physical Environment
The Boston Teachers Union works hard to ensure a clean, healthy physical environment in our school buildings. It was the union that fought for the safe removal of asbestos in all of our schools in the 1990s.
Since then, our efforts to improve the indoor school environment has expanded to include exposure to pesticides, chemicals (cleaning and others), allergens including mold and mildew, pests and rodents. Exposure to these things can trigger asthma in many individuals. Asthma is the leading chronic illness of children in the US and a leading cause of school absenteeism.
Our union is working together with the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Health Commission, MassCosh, the Boston Urban Asthma Coalition, and parent activists to get the school department to address these issues along with ensuring contract language that supports safe and healthy environments and fighting against budget cuts that prevent ongoing cleaning, maintenance and repairs of our school buildings.
Access to Professional Support Services
Many of BPS students require support and services that cannot be met by the classroom teacher. Academic success depends upon finding strategies to identify and address emotional, physical or social needs that hold some of our students back from experiencing academic success.
In contract negotiations, we work to identify the kinds of additional professional support staff needed in order to meet the needs of all our students and allow the classroom teacher to focus his or her energies on the working with students on the lesson plan of the day. We have worked to expand the range of professionals providing services including occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, health paraprofessionals, school nurses, school psychologists, social workers, parent liaisons, school attendance officers, and behavioral specialists. We are also working now to insure that we have a sufficient supply of social workers in our schools to help provide all students with a 'safety net' of resources in every building.
Working with Community Organizations to Assure Proper Funding of Our Schools
The fight to insure proper funding for our public schools is an ongoing one. (Visit the Public School Funding page to read more.) The recent recession has vastly intensified pressure to reduce the school budget. When this is coupled with the fact that money to fund the increasing number of charter schools comes off-the-top of the public school budget and it is clear we face some serious challenges.
The BTU pursues many avenues to try to ensure an adequate budget for meeting the high expectations we all have for our schools. This includes organizing public rallies and protests along with parents, students and community groups.
In March 2010, an estimated 1,200 BTU members joined with friends of labor, families, students and children to march up Court Street for a rally to protest the appointed school committee’s unanimous acquiescence to a $55 million budget cut.
Working with Community Organizations around Education Policy Issues
The BTU is interested in hearing from — and working with —parent and community organizations on goals of mutual concern.
To this end, the BTU has participated in community forums. The most recent forum was on April 6, 2011 at the 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury. The forum's focus was The BPS-BTU Teacher Contract: What's in it for our kids?
Parents, students and community leaders had the opportunity to present their priorities for the next contract and to participate in a question and answer period with BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson and BTU President Richard Stutman. The forum was organized by Boston United for Students – a coalition of nearly fifty community-based organizations, including representation from the ministerial community, parent organizing groups and youth advocacy organizations.
Pictured above are panelists BPS Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson, Student Leader Ayan Hassan, Parent Advocate Mary Monteiro and BTU President Richard Stutman.
The organizers identified four target areas for improvement related to the BPS/BTU contract. These areas ar:
- timely and effective teacher evaluation;
- flexibility in teacher hiring and reassignment;
- increased and strengthened parent and student voice in school-based decision making; and
- an extended school day to engage students and ensure teacher availability, planning and related professional development.
While there were some disagreements about the details and mechanisms of implementation, both the BPS and the BTU explicitly agreed to all of the BUS priorities.