The BTU Negotiating Team walked out of the bargaining session shortly after it began yesterday, March 22, in response to the School Department’s public airing of what was supposed to be a private negotiating proposal. At issue is the School Department’s proposal to drastically change the school year. Their proposed changes—move the start day to as early as August 22 and eliminate February recess—both require negotiations with the BTU. Not that it was necessary, but the School Department was informed by the BTU two weeks ago when it first floated the idea that all school calendar changes require negotiations.
Instead of formally presenting their plan to adjust the school calendar at yesterday’s negotiating session, the district released its plan to the public at last week’s School Committee meeting. The BTU did not receive a copy of the proposal. Coverage of the district’s proposed calendar change appeared online in the Boston Globe, WBZ, and WBUR yesterday prior to the negotiating session. This is a serious breach of our bargaining ground rules agreed to by both the BTU president and the superintendent. An excerpt of those ground rules follows:
…Neither side shall make any public statements or divulge the contents of their discussions to third parties prior to the declaration of an impasse without forty-eight hours advance notice to the other party. Nothing in this ground rule shall prohibit the union from updating its members or prohibit the school department’s negotiators from updating members of the school committee about the status of their negotiations nor shall it prohibit public statements after impasse is declared.
What’s more, the Globe report referred to an upcoming school district-generated survey of parents that would poll the viability of the district’s proposal. Surveying parents in and of itself is fine. We all do that. In fact, the BTU met with parent groups throughout the fall before crafting our proposal. The School Department could have done the same. This is different, however. The school district will be asking parents to weigh in on a series of questions designed to buttress its case for a negotiating position it has already drafted. We take issue with that as a violation of protocol. Simply, it’s not appropriate to ask parents or anyone else to weigh in on a subject that is already the subject of negotiations.
Curiously, we have to add, the district is selective in how it chose what questions, and on what topics, to survey parents. We have in our package of items submitted to the School Department a host of thoughtful proposals that would be suitable to ask parents about. Here are a few of them, as they appear in the BTU package:
- Should “all employees and students… have access to clean bathrooms, including handicap-accessible bathrooms, with locking doors, adequate sanitary supplies., hot and cold running water, and soap and paper towels?”
- Or, should there be “at least one field trip per class… funded by the district per year, inclusive of transportation?”
- Or, should “all students and staff… be provided with a safe and clean learning space, furnished with enough seating and writing spaces for all students?”
- Or “should.. class size maxima in all K-8 classrooms … be reduced by 1 and at the high school level, by 2?”
The long and the short of it is, both sides have agreed to ground rules that allow for an effective, expeditious, and respectful exchange of proposals designed to improve instruction and learning conditions for our students. We are disappointed that the ground rules have not been followed by the district, and we expect and hope to get back to the bargaining table shortly.
I spoke to Superintendent Chang this morning, March 23, and believe that he is as sincere as we are in correcting a process that has temporarily gone off-course.