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For Teachers Contract Talks, Extended School Days Is An Issue

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.

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.

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  • TJohn76051

    When there are so many school districts in the country that have moved away from contentious negotiation cultures into a more wary, but productive set of mutually beneficial discussions that benefit all stakeholders, it is discouraging to witness the arcane, unproductive  negotiations currently occurring in Boston.
    What we expect, and hope for are in modern models of negotiations is are ”coalitions of competing interests” to seek agreements that are mature and thoughtful, a stark contrast to the realities reported out in today’s news. 
    Without parsing the inner mathematical workings of Boston’s teacher salary schedules to coax out the repeating annual cost of automatic step raises and degree attainment possibilities that benefit the compensation of collective bargaining members, and hopefully their students, a 10% raise over multiple years in this economy seems unrealistic, though a noble effort on the part of the union to improve the annual pay and pension base for its members. These raises cascade through the annual salaries of teachers forever and are not tied to any measures of accountability.
     The City fathers, on the other hand have increased the number of charter schools, which, I undersatand are drawing students and revenues from the city schools.
    Does anyone talk about the potential future ‘tipping point’ when the city schools can no longer support its class size policies because the charter schools now are drawing precious salary dollars away from an already strained tax revenue stream?
    I taught Economics at The English high School for almost a decade in the 1960/70s. I began my teaching at $ 20.00 a day, The Economic theories that I taught in my classes then are still operational today.  With limited resources available, ”Wants” must be seperated from “Needs” as resources are assigned in an economy.  It seems that the “Wants’ and ‘Needs’ in the current negotiations are somehow blended. Perhaps it would be useful for them to be isloated from each other by a non-involved third party and re-inserted into the negotiations in some stratified fashion.
    But then, there would be no controversy to report. What a conundrum.

    Dr.J

  • Kenny Jervis

    Its funny that the highest paid City employee and her PR cronies haven’t worked out this deal in 14 months at the negotiating table and now use this ploy to get attention. There are at least six different school models in Boston.Many schools do offer a longer day and those schools have not seen great improvements. Once again she has proposed a disruptive plan of relocating schools and programs. Our childrens classrooms are void of textbooks and modern technology. Before we use our tax dollars for new initiatives we need to focus on the essentials and provide our teachers with the proper tools to teach our children. Classrooms should be well prepared to educate our children and allow them to be the future leaders and workforce of our city. We need to stop following The PR and start looking at the reality of inequality and unequipped status of our City’s schools.

  • Colin

    As often, what is left out of the discussion:  the fact that most teachers work another few hours every day after the close of school.  It is simply part of the job– and is not directly compensated in any way.  So when teachers resist a lengthened school day, what they are also resisting is a TRUE work day that could then extend even further into their family time during the evening at home.  Most teachers I know regularly work 9-12 hours a day, all told, and then at least part of a weekend day at home.  Because only the publicized school day hours are mentioned in stories like this, the public gets a distorted picture of what seems to them coddled public employees griping about a cushy job.  Far from it.

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