Yesterday Boston Public Schools and teachers in America were highlighted in President Obama’s press conference in which he urged lawmakers once again to pass the American Jobs Act. However, we are disappointed with Superintendent Johnson’s public statement in reaction because she missed an opportunity to promote support for Boston Public Schools and instead chose to exploit the situation by publishing information in BPS This Week that misleads the public as to our current contract negotiations.

Here is what President Obama said:
“Hundreds of thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers have been laid off because of state budget cuts. This jobs bill has funding to put a lot of those men and women back to work. It has funding to prevent a lot more from losing their job. I had a chance to meet a young man named Robert Baroz (a teacher at the Curley K8 in Jamaica Plain)…In the last few years, he’s received three pink slips because of budget cuts. Why wouldn’t we want to pass a bill that puts somebody like Robert back in the classroom teaching our kids?”
Here’s what the Superintendent said:
“Using stimulus funds and an allocation from the 2010 Congressional Jobs Bill, BPS has been able to save Mr. Baroz’s job three years in a row despite budget pressures from higher teacher salaries and increased health care and transportation costs…
“In ongoing contract negotiations with the Boston Teachers Union, BPS proposed to raise teachers’ starting salary and create a new career ladder for teachers, tied to performance evaluations, parent and student feedback, and professional development. The proposal would also make changes to the way vacancies are filled — so successful teaching, not just longevity, would become a primary trigger.”
 “Given today’s economic realities, more dollars from Washington would certainly go a long way toward protecting teachers’ jobs,” Johnson said. “But real reform needs more than money. We also need the flexibility to base decisions on something more than longevity alone. We need to have the ability to protect teachers based on excellence. We hope that our teachers union and the community agree with us.”

The Superintendent is manipulating Mr. Baroz’s situation for her own ends, and her telling of his story is seriously inaccurate and flawed. As the Superintendent has pulled this same stunt on a few recent occasions, we no longer give her the benefit of the doubt in this regard. We have told her privately that we will not allow her to mislead the public and our membership. We will answer her each and every time she is less than truthful.

I called Mr. Baroz to offer my congratulations for President Obama’s acknowledgement of his value and achievement as a teacher. Mr. Baroz came to Boston because of its national reputation for literacy coaching.

Ironically, our national model of training teachers to better teach literacy was cut by the Superintendent on two occasions, for both budgetary reasons and policy reasons. It was this decision that led to the elimination of Mr. Baroz’s position and those of a great many other members who work as literacy coaches. Mr. Baroz was not laid off because of the teachers’ union contract. He was laid off because of a school department policy decision. The BPS didn’t ‘save his job’ as the Superintendent states.  The BPS cut his job.

Incidentally, the stimulus money didn’t ‘save’  his job either “€” it had not arrived yet!

The Superintendent misinforms further by implying that Baroz’s situation was caused by the pressure for higher salaries. There were no contract negotiations going on when Mr. Baroz lost his literacy coaching positions.

The third time the teacher was ‘saved’ by the school department, he was told prematurely that he might be excessed. He wasn’t. You may recall the school district unilaterally implemented a weighted student-based formula last winter, a sudden shift that had dozens of school communities up in arms.  After dozens of schools complained, the Superintendent suddenly ‘found’ more funds, more than $6 Million to be precise. And that’s what happened at Mr. Baroz’s school. More funds were found, and he wasn’t excessed.

These yearly budget shenanigans happen, unfortunately, quite often “€” each year in fact. And this teacher’s on-again, off-again excessing is repeated hundreds of times every year all around the city. It’s not about seniority and it’s not about the BTU contract “€” it’s about Central Office mismanagement and bungling.

We are thrilled Mr. Baroz is still with us, advocating on behalf of teachers in his work as a Classroom Teacher Ambassador with the Department of Education.

Now, as far as the Superintendent’s comments in general about the negotiations…She doesn’t attend any sessions. In fact, she has never attended a single session. Not even for one minute. So how would she know what goes on? Consider her comment about the filling of vacancies. She says that her proposal ‘would make changes to the way vacancies are filled.’ Well, the filling of vacancies is the one part of the agreement we have reached tentative agreement on. The Superintendent apparently doesn’t know that.

We have had numerous conversations with the Superintendent about her misleading our membership and the public about negotiations. We have asked her respectfully and privately to not spread misinformation. We have told her it is not helpful and that she is doing our school system a disservice by continuing along this path. She has persisted.

The Superintendent also did us a huge disservice in not acknowledging the millions of dollars that the Boston School Department stands to receive if the American Jobs Act passes.  As Mr. Baroz had said, “Every one wants public education to be the best, to do that, we need to invest in modernizing our schools and in employing again the nearly 200, 000 teachers out of work.”

The school system already has enormous problems: growth of charter schools, straightening out the student assignment process, and untangling itself from the BLA-Hyde Park-BAA fiasco “€” without manufacturing any more.

The Superintendent is invited to attend our negotiations if she wishes. We would welcome her involvement so she can get on the same page as her negotiating team. But if the Superintendent would rather shoot poison arrows from afar, we suggest she better spend her time productively, like trying to get the school busses to run on time.