On the night of March 27, the Boston Teachers Union filed for mediation (PDF) with the state after reaching the conclusion that we need a third party mediator to help us work out our differences with an intransigent school district. On April 3, after a marathon session, we unsuccessfully completed contract negotiations.
Read more about the mediation filing here. On March 28 the Boston Globe and the Herald covered the mediation news.
At the end it came down to a few items, in particular how much — or how little — the school department values our teaching. It is as simple as that.
School District Disrespects Us By Devaluing Our Time
The school department insisted that our members work an additional 45 minutes per day instructing our students for a daily sum of $13.89. The feeling of our negotiating team unanimously was that if we agreed to this proposal our members, already working a long school day, they’d rightly resent that decision and see it forever as a mistake. After all, our members have busy lives and to ask them to give up 45 minutes per day for an insulting sum of money that devalues their worth would set a very bad precedent as well as a bad taste. So we walked away from the offer.
That wasn’t the only issue.
The pay raises the district offered, too, were inadequate. The district offered 0% effective 9/1/2010, 1.25% on 9/1/2011, 1.75% on 9/1/2012, 2.5% on 9/1/2013, and 2.5% on 9/1/2014. We agreed on the proposed increases for the last two years. On the first three, we asked for a 1.5% in year 1, a 2.5% in year 2, and a 1.25% in year 3 provided we also got paid at the $41.03 contractual hourly rate, not at the hourly rate of $18.51, which the department was offering.
Close but Extended Day Issue Caused Breakdown
Other issues loomed large as well, and although we were near an agreement on a few key issues (such as an alternative pay proposal for new members only that would keep a close tab on how people advanced beyond Master 15 and a new teacher assignment process), the issue that separated us — and in the end proved fatal — was the question of working the extended day for a bargain rate.
At Last Minute, School Department Shifts Position
For the last six months the district insisted that it wanted to implement a 30-minute block of time as an extension of the work day. All discussions, over literally hundreds of hours, were predicated on that specific proposal. Last night, a full 300 hours into the negotiations, the school department suddenly switched gears and asked for 45 minutes per day for most, not all teachers. For this the department offered $2,000, while the going rate is closer to $5,500.
We didn’t particularly care for the sudden extension and we offered as a compromise a schedule at 45 minutes, four days per week, with one day at regular dismissal–but still with compensation at the going rate. This didn’t work and the department rejected both the schedule proposal and the compensation. We went back and forth, but at the end, we couldn’t get the department to budge. And neither would we. Frankly, we were insulted that the department would value our professional instructional time at $18.51 per hour. And negotiations broke down.
School Department Spin on TIF Grant Lacks Credibility
Unfortunately, so did, too, negotiations on the TIF grant, as it had to be part of the entire package. The $9.4 M TIF grant was ready to be agreed to provided it could be packaged together with the Master Bargain. But as the Master Bargain fell apart, so, too, did the TIF Grant. This is regrettable, but the school department’s ‘spin’ (“We really tried to do this, but the Union held us back”) on this is reprehensible. The school district doth protest too much, we think.
The grant would have been a good addition to our Turnaround Program, everything else being equal. But let me give a more complete picture.
School District Sat on TIF Grant for 16 Months Wasting Valuable Time
The district knew it was getting the grant in September 2010 and SAT on it for 16 months. When the districted got upbraided by the state for not fulfilling its reporting obligation to the state, it finally acted, a full 16 months AFTER it first knew it had to negotiate with the union. Its first proposal to us contained a boondoggle of administrative costs and overhead, roughly 35% of the total proposed expenditure of $9.3 AM.
Included in the boondoggle were the hiring of mega consultants, contractors, support staff, travel expenses, and $1.33 million in the hiring of data analysts and data team support. C’mon now. There’s no excuse to spend 14% of this budget on the hiring and training of the people to interpret data that is readily available! Nonetheless, we wanted to settle this as part of the contract so we told them to curb their administrative overhead and spend the rest on the schools to the largest extent possible. They then made the effort — a little late — but unfortunately did not make the same effort to settle our contract.
School Department Twists Union’s Objectives
Finally, a radio station called me this afternoon, April 3, and told me that the superintendent was saying that all we wanted to do was talk about money, money, and more money. Nothing for the kids. Yes, we have heard that many times. This is unfortunate.
On March 8 we submitted a 22-page comprehensive proposal to the school department. Our proposal is all-encompassing and contains many items of interest directly tied to improving teaching and learning. Let me please list a few of these items to give you a taste of how very wrong and purposely misleading the superintendent is.
- P2: an item about working with universities to provide tutoring program. The BTU offered to pay for the mentoring of the tutors
- P11: an item to establish a reading task force
- P 11: an item to shore library services in our schools and budget for improved library and media resources
- P11: lower class size by 1 in grades 6 and 9
- P12: improvising technology for students
- P12: allowing BTU members to enroll their children and foster children in their own schools
- P12: an item to allow the BTU to and the BPS to jointly run a post-high school mentoring program with Bunker Hill and Roxbury Community colleges to provide follow up to recent graduates
- P14: to hire social workers to allow for the establishment of a safety net for our children in a number of schools
These are but a few of the many items we have proposed to improve our schools. None of these items enriches any of our members and each would help our system. So what was the department’s response: it rejected each and every one of these items. The department wants it both ways. On the one hand, it wants to criticize us for being about “money, money, money.” But as soon as we mention a non-money item that is meant to improve our schools, the district tells us that our proposal is out of bounds and that is is “not interested.”
(Incidentally, until this past weekend, our negotiating teams had met roughly 50 times @ an average of perhaps 5 hours per session. Question: How many of those hours were spent on “money, money, money?” Put another way, for how many hours did we talk about the BTU’s salary proposal? Answer: If you said “two,” you would be correct. In 22 months, we spent a total of two hours on salary. So much for “money, money, money.”)
At the end of the day we are looking for a contract that is good for students, affordable to the city, and fair to our members. Going through mediation is not the most direct route, but it is the route we have to go through. And so we will.
Thank you for all of your support. And thank you to our negotiating team members who worked round the clock for the last week to represent our membership. They are Erik Berg, Josefina Lascano, Garret Virchick. Ed Doherty, Gary Fisher, and all BTU staff members. Thank you.
The Boston Globe covered the contract talk collapse on April 4: “Teacher Contract Talks Between Boston, Union Collapse.”
— Richard Stutman