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Some Boston Public Schools May Shift To Longer Day

BOSTON — For more than two years, Boston Public School teachers and Superintendent Carol Johnson have been fighting over how much teachers should be paid if the school day is lengthened, and how much longer the day should be. That’s been a major hurdle in contract negotiations. But now there may be a resolution.

The result would be a school day that’s two hours longer at a select number of yet-to-be-specified schools, plus possibly three hours on Saturday, and teachers would be paid the contractual hourly rate for the extra time they work. The change has come about suddenly as the result of a policy that Johnson says she’ll impose, as she has the right to do under a provision in the union’s current contract.

“It was created in 1986, and it allows the superintendent to designate schools and extend the day by two hours,” Johnson told WBUR All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer. “It also creates flexibility in staffing at these schools, and we think that this is a way for us to at least begin to address the issue of time. It’s not ideal, because we certainly had hoped that we would reach an agreement that would impact lots more students.”

Johnson had wanted all the schools in the district to have lengthened days. But the current contract lets her designate certain struggling schools as “Project Promise” schools and then lengthen the days there. Teachers who want to remain at those schools would basically have to apply for those jobs and be accepted. If they’re not accepted or don’t want to work the extended day, they may transfer — or be involuntarily transferred — to another school.

“She absolutely has the right to impose this provision, and that’s fine,” said Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman. He said the union is generally agreeable to Johnson’s new plan but doesn’t understand how it came about. During negotiations over the last two days, according to Stutman, the union proposed extending the day not by two hours at a smaller number of schools, but by one hour at twice as many schools.

“We don’t care one way or another whether she does it on our end,” Stutman said. “We think it makes more sense, however, to spread the wealth and involve twice as many students. We not only think our idea is better, we think she agrees with us. That’s why we are perplexed by her sudden shift, which unfortunately is no different than her other sudden shifts.”

According to Stutman, Johnson decided in June to reduce the extended day at two schools — Mario Umana Middle School Academy and James Timilty Middle School — from two hours to one. Johnson said she did that because the state stopped funding the longer day, but that by imposing the Project Promise plan at some schools the lengthier extended day will return.

“We will be reinstating the two hours at those two schools,” Johnson said. “I think that what we’ve learned is that just having the two hours isn’t enough. They have to be strategically used, and they have to be used in ways that focus on academic achievement for students.”

Johnson also said that, despite the union’s claim that extending the day for half as much time at twice as many schools would cost the same amount as her idea, it would actually cost more because the union wants more money under that proposal.

The district hasn’t yet determined how many schools might become “Project Promise” schools with a day extended by two hours. But it would take until at least the 2013-2014 school year to make the necessary staffing and transportation changes to roll out the program.

Read Johnson’s letter to the union here.

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