Tentative agreement reached after 18 months of negotiation
After contract negotiations that dragged on for a year and a half, members of the Boston Teachers Union and city officials have reached a tentative agreement. Mayor Martin Walsh and the heads of the BTU, Boston Public Schools and Boston School Committee made their announcement last Thursday during an event at Boston University.
Not all points of contention are put to rest in the contract, but officials said it was important to settle what they could now and begin the school year with a contract in place.
A major element of the agreement is increased paraprofessional staffing. BPS will hire additional substitute paraprofessionals who can provide one-on-one support to high-needs students or teach them in substantially separate environments, according to a BPS spokesperson. Another piece of the agreement ensures that in times of layoffs and other staffing flux, positions serving students with autism or emotional needs remain held by paraprofessionals who have specific expertise in those areas, instead of going to those with seniority, said a BPS official.
Jessica Tang, BTU president, praised the agreement.
“I am thrilled we were able to come to an agreement and it was great to work with everyone and think of how we could get to ‘yes’ with supporting our students,” Tang said. “The agreement prioritizes and improves upon key supports for our students and will help to attract and retain highly-qualified teachers.”
Other elements of the agreement include a pay raise, expanded eligibility for parental leave, minimum school nurse staffing standards, more flexible hiring processes and new faculty focused on implementing restorative justice discipline practices. The contract has a relatively short span, only two years — this past year, retroactively, and the coming year until September 2018. The prior contract had a six-year scope. Officials said discussion would continue on the unresolved items.
Before going into effect, the agreement must be ratified by the BTU and approved by the Boston School Committee. It goes before the Committee in early September.
The Boston Teachers Union represents 10,000 members, including teachers, paraprofessionals, social workers, nurses, librarians and related service providers, Tang said. Members have been working without a contract since August 2016.
Staffing, tests and conflict resolution
Educators and city officials have agreed to establish a minimum standard per-school nurse staffing level. The minimum is set at 0.5 nurses per school, meaning that each school has a full-time nurse spending at least half of his or her time on site, although how those hours are allocated is flexible. Most schools already have above minimum staffing, a BPS spokesperson said, but this is the first time the contract states a per-school standard that must be maintained regardless of individual student population size. This standard will be implemented in 2018-2019, while BPS commits to hiring additional nurses during the 2017-2018 year.
Also under the contract, three schools will receive a full-time faculty member dedicated to implementing restorative justice practices, which are aimed at mediating discipline cases by helping students identify and reflect on the causes and impacts of misbehavior and make up with those they have harmed. The district also will appoint a restorative practices coach to coordinate with the on-site faculty and central office and to organize professional development.
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