State Intervening In Boston Schools Dispute

The state Department of Labor Relations will step in and break an impasse between the Boston Teachers Union and the city over implementing the state’s new teacher evaluation system passed by the Legislature this spring.

Erica Crystal, the director of the Department of Labor Relations, wrote a letter Monday to the Boston School Committee and the Boston Teachers Union saying the department “finds that mediation has failed to resolve the impasse.” The Department of Labor will launch a fact-finding process, an unusual step that could take several months.

Mayor Thomas Menino asked the state to get involved in the contract negotiations, saying the union has delayed creating a new evaluation system that weighs student test scores and performance more heavily than teacher tenure.

The teacher evaluation legislation (S 2315) was a compromise forged between the Legislature and the Massachusetts Teachers Association in order to avoid a November ballot question. The controversial proposal to diminish the role teacher seniority plays in personnel decisions was first offered by Stand for Children, which dropped their ballot initiative when Gov. Deval Patrick signed the bill at the end of June.

The teacher evaluation system is not the only sticking point between the Boston School Department and the teachers union. The union is heading into its third year without a contract.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said the union does not have a problem with the changes to the teacher evaluation system. But they want a better notification process for underperforming teachers and time to improve, he said.

“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.”

Stutman said the school department has refused to negotiate on those three points.

“We think all three are crucial for a robust evaluation system,” he said.

A spokesman for the Boston Public Schools called the teacher’s union argument “a real distraction” from implementing 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.

The Boston School Department plans to move forward in implementing the teacher evaluation process, Wilder said, 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.”

School districts must submit their teacher evaluation systems to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education sometime during the 2012-2013 school year. There is no fixed deadline for submitting plans, and outside of Boston, many school districts are moving forward with creating new evaluation systems, according to J.C. Considine, a spokesman for DESE. The department plans to ask superintendents to provide an update on where their districts stand. School districts that decide to revise or adapt the state’s model teacher evaluation plan need to submit their plans to the DESE for review.

In her letter, Crystal outlined a list of seven fact finders and directed the parties to strike no more than three and return the list with a ranking of the remaining fact finders. The individuals listed are James Litton, Michael Ryan, Gary Altman, John Cochran, Richard Higgins, Arnold Zack and Lawrence Holden Jr. The department will attempt to match the preference of each party. Within ten days of the fact finder’s report, the department requires that each party submit written notice stating what action it will take regarding each of the fact finder’s recommendations.

This article was originally published on August 28, 2012.

This program aired on August 28, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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