Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What is the role of the Boston Teachers Union?2023-04-05T14:32:12+00:00

The Boston Teachers Union is the exclusive collective bargaining agent for Boston’s teachers, other non-administrative, professional employees, paraprofessionals, ABA specialists and substitute teachers. We also represent workers at local charter schools and BPS retirees.

What are the BTU’s primary responsibilities?2023-03-28T17:19:08+00:00
  • Negotiate and enforce the contract
  • Provide the best education we can for the system’s students
  • Represent the membership in all matters related to their professional work
  • Advocate for racial, social and economic justice
  • Answer job-related questions and assist in any job-related matter
  • Promote the growth of — and respect for — our profession
  • Work with the community to ensure our schools are the best as they can be
  • Promote the strengthening of public education
  • Work to ensure adequate funding to support improvements in public education
  • Work to elect pro-public education, pro-union candidates
What else does the BTU do?2023-05-08T17:49:01+00:00

We sponsor a range of social and charitable events including:

  • We organize leadership development opportunities, including the Fall Leadership Conference, Winter Leadership Conference, Family2Family Conference, and Summer Organizing Union Leadership (SOUL) Internship Program. 
  • A variety of social get togethers, at the beginning, mid, and end of year including a reception for new staff and a reception for new teachers, paraprofessionals, and substitute teachers in the Fall.
  • We organize around a variety of issues that impact our members, students, and school communities. View our Organizing Committees.
  • Homework help/parent outreach at each Boston Public Library branch
  • Administer scholarships to BPS students & dependents of BTU members. Last year we gave $148,000.
  • Making Strides Against Breast Cancer team
  • Fundraiser for Pine Street Inn and Rosie’s Place in March
  • BTU night at the Celtics and Red Sox
  • BTU members’ holiday party for children and grandchildren

Union Membership

How do I join?2023-06-02T13:37:53+00:00
  • Although your benefits and rights begin generally when you do (see below for details about health insurance), you are not officially a union member until you sign a membership application card. Signing the card and giving it to your Building Representative ensures membership, the right to vote in union elections, and membership with our affiliates.
  • Register Here
When does the BTU meet and where is the office?2023-05-08T20:16:09+00:00

The regular BTU membership meetings are held on the 2nd Wednesday of every month at 4:30 PM. Meetings start at 4:30 p.m. and are held at our headquarters at 180 Mt. Vernon St. in Dorchester near the JFK/UMass Red Line T Stop.

How does the Union communicate with me?2023-06-02T13:39:20+00:00
  • Once you sign a membership application, you will then get on our mailing list and you will receive:
    • Membership letters
    • BTU e-Bulletin – sign-up here.
    • Boston Union Teacher, the union newspaper
    • AFT-Massachusetts electronic newsletter
    • “American Educator”, AFT magazine
How do I get in contact with the BTU?2023-06-02T13:40:39+00:00
  • Visit the BTU office at 180 Mount Vernon Street in Dorchester. Business hours are 8-5, all weekdays including school vacations. The office is closed on state, local, and national holidays, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Good Friday.
  • Call 617-288-2000.
  • Explore this website.
  • Email individual officers and staff.
  • Sign up for BTU news eBulletin online.
What is the leadership structure of the BTU?2023-06-02T13:55:31+00:00

All policy is set by the membership at its regularly scheduled monthly membership meetings on the 2nd Wednesday of each month at 4:30 PM at union headquarters. All members are welcome to attend.

The BTU’s policy board is its Executive Board, served by 12 members elected at large every two years, along with 7 full-time elected staff.

Serving as a direct link between the union office and the membership are elected BTU Building Representatives from every building and program in the city. BTU Building Reps are elected each year to service the members at each school site and act as the liaisons between the union office and our membership in our schools.

How can I get involved in the union?2023-06-02T13:57:06+00:00

You can start by attending a membership meeting. We also have various committees, some of which are looking for volunteers. Many members write articles for the union newspaper. Still others become Building Representatives. We are interested in involving new activists. Please feel free to stop by or call one of our organizers and we can discuss your interests.

I have a question about the contract, my rights, or the like. Whom do I call?2023-04-12T16:24:37+00:00

Before you call, ask your local Building Representative. He or she represents the union in your school and has generally had experience in many of the matters that affect each of us.

If you still need help, there are eight of us you can call. Initial questions on contract implementation, payroll problems, possible grievances, and the like should be directed to:

  • Lea Serena, Elementary Field Rep.
    lserena@btu.org — if you’re an elementary teacher/nurse/etc.
  • Caren Carew, Secondary Field Rep.
    ccarew@btu.org — if you are a secondary school teacher, etc.
  • Colleen Hart, Paraprofessional/Substitute Teacher Field Rep
    chart@btu.org — if you are a paraprofessional or substitute teacher

If you have questions about the union’s political activities or about our Committee on Political Education (COPE), please direct them to:

If you have a question about the union’s operations, dues, and the like, please call:

Questions about outstanding grievances, contract questions or interpretation should be directed to:

For community or internal organizing or coalition questions:

For questions concerning professional learning, schedule A, teacher leadership:

If you have any other questions, please call:

Although each of us has individual responsibilities, we all routinely pinch hit for each other and are reasonably familiar with all aspects of the union’s work. In other words, if you need an immediate answer, we ought to be able to help you right away even if the appropriate person is not in the office at that time. In any case, leave a message or email one of us and we will get back to you.

Health Benefits

Tell me about health insurance.2023-05-11T15:42:55+00:00
  • Health insurance is provided to the membership through the city of Boston’s Group Insurance Office at 617-635-4570. Call that number for more information or visit the office at Boston City Hall, Room 807. Or visit the BPS website.
  • You have only 60 calendar days from your first day of service to register. The 60 days is FIRM. Sign up for health insurance by calling 617-635-4570.
  • Health insurance coverage is delayed by city contract; if you sign up for coverage in August, it won’t normally begin until October 1.
  • You can only change plans during the next Open Enrollment period, which occurs in the Spring for health insurance that will take effect on July 1.
  • The Public Employee Committee is the authorized and exclusive health insurance bargaining representative for the coalition of public employee bargaining units and retirees of the City of Boston. You can find documents related to the work of the committee here.
What is the Health and Welfare plan?2023-05-08T17:47:41+00:00

The BTU’s Health and Welfare Plan includes eye care, dental care, hearing aids, legal services, a hospitalization benefit, a funeral benefit, and more. Visit the Health and Welfare Fund’s website for more information. For enrollment in the plan, call the Health and Welfare Office at 617- 288-5883. Ask for a brochure which gives a detailed explanation of all benefits or visit their offices next door to the BTU offices at the BTU union hall.

Flexible Spending/Dependent Care Programs2023-04-12T16:19:58+00:00

The Flexible Spending Program allows our members to set aside funds on a pre-tax basis for medical needs, day care needs and transportation (T, parking) costs. Hundreds of our members currently participate in this tax-advantaged program.

Dependent Care Plan: The Dependent Care FSA is a great tax savings for people who have children in daycare or parents that require elder care. The IRS allows you to set aside up to $5,000 pre-tax from your paycheck to pay for these expenses. In most instances, participation in the Dependent Care FSA results in a greater tax savings than the Dependent Care Tax Credit. (We recommend you speak with your tax advisor to determine which would provide the greatest tax benefit for you.) Some examples of eligible Dependent Care Expenses are: daycare, pre-school, before school care, after school care, and summer day camp.The Medical Dental Care plan allows a set aside of $5,000 for out-of-pocket medical expenses: doctor visits, prescriptions, deductibles, and so on. See here for more examples of deductibles.

Information on leaves of absence2023-05-08T17:50:39+00:00

Other Benefits

Transportation Benefit Plan2023-05-08T20:34:35+00:00
  • The Transportation Benefit Plan allows you to set aside an amount pre-tax from your paycheck to pay for certain parking and transportation expenses subject to the following limits:
    • Parking Reimbursement Account: Allows you to pay for your daily or monthly parking expenses up to $230.00 per month.
    • Mass Transit Reimbursement Account:  Allows you to pay for your mass transit expenses related to your commute to work up to $230 per month.
  • More information on transportation plan benefits
BTU Dependent Scholarships2023-04-12T16:19:24+00:00

Every year the BTU awards roughly 16 scholarships in the amount of $2,000 to high school seniors who are dependents of BTU members. Click here for the application. In addition, the Retired Teachers Chapter of the Boston Teachers Union awards three scholarships to deserving high school seniors who are children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews of RTC members. One of these scholarships is earmarked for a student who might choose to attend a vocational school or equivalent institution. Click here for the application.

Class Coverage

General Instructions2023-04-05T15:15:44+00:00

The following forms; Class Coverage, Planning & Development and Administrative Sped Periods are to be submitted on the first of each month beginning with October 1. The completed and submitted forms should be for the previous month’s coverage and planning periods. For example; all class coverage for the month of September should be submitted on or about October 1st and so on. View more information here.

Class Coverage2023-04-05T15:05:36+00:00

Class coverage is used to compensate Paraprofessional and Teachers who are needed to cover a class for another teacher during the course of the school day. The class coverage form is not intended for missed P & D’s (there is a separate form for that purpose). Substitutes do not receive Class Coverage; they should be compensated through a stipend. View the form here.

Planning & Development and Administrative Sped Periods2023-06-02T13:59:18+00:00

The forms for Planning & Development and Administrative Sped Periods are used to compensate those teachers who miss their P&D period(s) and administrative period(s) for Special Education (also known as SEIMS periods). These forms are to be used for teachers only; Substitute teachers do not receive compensation for missed P&D periods or SEIMSPeriods.

Loss of P&D

What should I do if I lose my P&D?2023-04-12T16:29:26+00:00

Those who lose their P&D are almost always entitled to compensations. Keep good records — teachers who miss a P&D are paid one fifth of the per diem substitute rate unless the missed P&D is made up that same week.

What if I don’t lose my P&D but a principal places students from another class into my room because a substitute to cover that class is not available, for whatever reason?2023-04-12T16:20:54+00:00

As above, you are entitled to receive compensation under a wide range of circumstances. Fill out this form, and keep records on how many students are assigned to your class and for how long.

Many administrators routinely break up classes instead of calling for substitutes because it saves them money. Certainly schools need more resources, and it’s always good to save where one can, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of loading up “receiving” classes, which helps no one.

Providing compensation to teachers who must do additional work is meant to be a deterrent to this practice.

Loss of SEIMS, and Missing Substitute Teachers

What should I do if I lose my SEIMS (Administrative Special Education) period?2023-03-28T17:51:17+00:00

As above, those who lose their SEIMS time are almost entitled to compensation. Keep good records.

I am asked to be present or to otherwise participate in a Special Ed IEPmeeting. Does that time come out of my SEIMS time?2023-04-12T16:30:27+00:00

No, it does not. That time must be provided to you in addition to your SEIMS time. 

What if the principal says that there’s no money in the school budget to hire substitutes for either the absence of a teacher or a missing SEIMS period?2023-04-12T16:30:47+00:00

Respectfully, that’s not a true statement. There is money in every school’s budget for the aforementioned coverage items, although school leaders often choose to use their resources elsewhere. Schools are required to provide coverage for each of the above.

What if my principal does not call for substitutes as a matter of policy?2023-04-12T16:35:48+00:00

The BTU contract mandates that “it is the policy of the Committee that substitutes be hired to cover classes of regularly assigned teachers when they are absent. If your school is not calling for substitutes when needed, please speak with either Caren or Lea.

What if I have other questions?2023-06-02T14:00:25+00:00

Email your field representative, Caren or Lea. Don’t know who your field representative is? See here.

Class Size

What are the class size limits?2023-08-17T13:26:45+00:00

The recent contract settlement reduced class sizes at most grade levels and in most schools. The newly negotiated limits may be found in the table below. It is important to note that class sizes in schools with fewer than 6.5% of students on IEPs are somewhat larger.

In Bilingual, ESL, and SEI classes, there can be no more than 20 students at any grade level, or the lower of the limit in the above table or 25 if a paraprofessional is provided.

In elementary schools where there is only one regular education class in a grade level, the above maxima may be exceeded by one or two students. Similarly, in secondary schools where there is a singular regular education course offering (for instance, only a single section of French 4, or AP Physics, etc.), the maxima may be exceeded by one or two students.

Are these strict limits?2023-08-17T13:27:40+00:00

BTU members, and the students we serve, have among the strongest class size language in the state. While we might want the actual limits to be lower, the limits themselves are firm. The most important sentence in our contract around class size is this: “Ultimately, the classroom teacher may insist that the class size maximum be enforced.” (p. 25) This right was reinforced by a settlement agreement reached in 2004 between the BTU and the BPS.

When the Boston Public Schools assign more students to a class than are allowed under our contract, they do a disservice to those students. It is our job to ensure that our kids get the differentiation and personalized attention that they deserve. We can do this by insisting that our class size limits are enforced.

What should I do if my class size is over the limit?2023-08-17T13:28:27+00:00

First, file a grievance immediately. You can do this from the BTU website. At the same time, please download and print the form at the same website and record your class size each day throughout the year. We will need this at the end of the year to process your grievance and ensure proper payment if compensation is required.

Second, you should insist that the class size issue is addressed. This could involve moving a student or students to a different class or section, opening a new class, or adding a teacher. While the district may offer a paraprofessional or payment to you, our advice is to “insist that the class size maximum be enforced.” This follows our contract, and ensures that our students get the education they deserve. Stay strong. Your principal and others will try to pressure you to settle for a stipend. If you do this, you are letting our colleagues and our kids down.

What payment is owed to teachers who taught oversubscribed classes and the grievance was not resolved?2023-08-17T13:32:05+00:00

There are two arbitration decisions governing this situation. The calculations are different for elementary and secondary teachers, but in every case, teachers are owed significantly more than $1500 per student. In general, after each school year, the district and the union get together and work out compensation for any teachers who may be owed payment. This can take many months to resolve.

Who do I contact for more information?2023-04-12T16:39:47+00:00

Please contact BTU Executive Vice President Erik Berg at eberg@btu.org or at 617-288-2000.

My principal gave me a form to waive the grievance and accept payment. Should sign it?2023-08-17T13:29:52+00:00

No. We believe that class size issues are most effectively addressed by adding personnel, not paying a stipend. And with the limited exceptions of single-strand elementary schools and secondary schools with a single course offering, and the rare circumstance of a column 2 maximum being exceeded in order to accommodate a child already in the school.

Are there exceptions to the class size limits?2023-08-17T13:30:37+00:00

There are two limited exceptions. In elementary schools with only a single class at a grade level or secondary schools with only a singular course offering, the limits may be exceeded by two. And in the case where the limit in Column 2 is exceeded in order to keep a student already in the school, the limit may be extended to the Column 1 limit. But in either case, payment is owed to the teacher. Check with your field rep if you are unsure about your situation.

What about inclusion classes?2023-08-17T13:31:03+00:00

As BPS transitions away from designated inclusion classes, the limits above will be for all general education classrooms. However, unless and until your school and/or grade level has had a new inclusion plan approved and implemented, the previous inclusion class size limit of 20 remains in place.

Go to Top