State Called in to Mediate Evaluation Dispute in Boston

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has asked the state to get involved in contract negotiations between the Boston Teachers Union and the city after hitting an impasse over the state’s new teacher evaluation system, reports WBUR. Erica Crystal, director of the Department of Labor Relations, has advised the Boston School Committee and the union that her department will launch a fact-finding process over the next few months. Menino said the union had delayed the evaluation system passed by the Legislature this spring by refusing to allow teacher tenure to be outweighed by student test scores and performance.

S2315 was the compromise between the Legislature and the Massachusetts Teachers Association in order to avoid a November ballot question. The refusal of the BTU to now allow teacher seniority to play a diminished role is likely to be seen by Stand for Children as a breach of good faith. Stand for Children dropped their ballot initiative when Governor Deval Patrick signed the bill at the end of June.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, denies that they are trying to block the new teacher evaluation system and says that they simply want to give under performing teachers a chance to improve:

“We have no concerns with making the evaluation process more accurate, more rigorous, and more transparent. We want and expect good teachers. That isn’t the issue,” Stutman told the News Service Tuesday. “The school department wants to have a simplified process, without giving people notification when they are not doing as well as they should. What we are looking for is timely and constructive feedback, time to improve and notification of the rating evaluation cycle.”

While Stutman believes allowing teachers these three things is critical to a real evaluation system he says that the school department is refusing to even negotiate on these points.

By contrast, a spokesman for BPS said that the union’s argument was merely a distraction in their campaign to delay the new evaluations:

“The teachers union thinks it’s acceptable that a teacher who receives an unsatisfactory job performance should be able to stay in a classroom without any changes for an entire school year. We fundamentally disagree. We think our students deserve better,” said Matthew Wilder, a spokesman for Boston schools.

Crystal’s letter to the two parties gave a list of seven potential fact finders: James Litton, Michael Ryan, Gary Altman, John Cochran, Richard Higgins, Arnold Zack and Lawrence Holden Jr. Each side is allowed to strike up to three names and rank the rest in order of preference. Once a fact finder is chosen and has completed his report, each side has ten days to submit written notice regarding what action it will take to comply with the recommendations.

In the meantime, Wilder suggests that the school department may seek to move forward without agreement from the union:

“It is mandated by law, and we are going to move forward,” Wilder said. “We still want to collaborate with them, but they need to be willing partners.”

The union is entering its third year without a contract.