BOSTON — The Boston teachers contract dispute erupted onto the stage of a national education conference being held in Boston Tuesday. Ironically, the conference was taking up an issue that has turned out to be one of the main obstacles in the contract dispute: the length of the school day.
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson opened Tuesday’s National Expanded Learning Time Conference saying that one fact about the city’s schools that she’s not proud of is the average length of the school day.
“We have among the shortest work days in the commonwealth, the shortest work days in the nation,” Johnson said. “I’ve worked in other districts where teachers worked a 7 and 3/4 hours day. I don’t think it’s unusual for people to work more than six hours a day.”
Six hours is the average length of the day in Boston elementary and middle schools. It’s six and a half hours in the city’s high schools.
In many charter schools, the days are longer — sometimes by as much as three hours. And, as Johnson pointed out, Boston teachers are paid about $20,000 more each year than the average charter school teacher.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers Union, the national parent of the Boston Teachers Union, criticized Johnson for criticizing teachers. She said Boston teachers agree that longer days would boost student achievement, but teachers must be paid more for that.
“Rather than the superintendent actually engaging in a problem-solving process to make this work, she’d rather go out in a public forum and trash the amazing teachers that she has,” Weingarten said.
Johnson’s office calls that a mischaracterization of her remarks. But Johnson does say the entire school day needs to be restructured, including how teachers are paid. For example, reconsidering hourly rates for teachers. Johnson said the district cannot afford to pay an average $41 an hour for each hour worked beyond the traditional school day.
“Teachers and paraprofessionals, other support staff, everybody would have to be compensated. Also, if we prorated the amount of what teachers are making, it certainly would be $41 million,” Johnson said.
“Maybe the superintendent should go back to school and learn some simple arithmetic,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union.
“The extended school day that her negotiating team has proposed would cost $11 million, not $41 million,” Stutman said.
In the almost two dozen Massachusetts schools with longer days, the teachers are compensated for their time. One school often mentioned as an extended day success story is the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown. About 600 students are in school from 7 .a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, students have a half day and teachers have professional development the rest of the day.
‘We have turned our school around. We were the lowest-performing middle school in the city. We were about to get shut down, said Amrita Sahni, director of instruction at Edwards. She said a state grant pays $1,300 per student per year for the extra time which the school added six years ago.
“Now we have one of the highest growths in achievement levels in the city. We’re proud of that. We believe the time — and how we’ve used the time — is how we’ve been able to get those results,” Sahni said.
The teachers at Edwards say they helped design the extended day, they can choose whether they’ll stay beyond the contract-mandated 1:40 p.m., and they get paid extra if they do stay.
For the new teacher contract, the Boston school district is proposing 5 percent teacher salary increases over four years. The teachers union is requesting 10 percent salary increases over three years.
The teachers contract expired 14 months ago and new talks are scheduled.