Hundreds of teachers blew horns, rang bells, and chanted “Talk to Teachers’’ at a rally last night at Boston School Department headquarters, in hopes of speeding up protracted negotiations over a new contract.
“What do we want?’’ a female teacher yelled to the crowd.
“A contract,’’ teachers cheered.
“When do we want it?’’ the female teacher yelled.
“Now,’’ teachers responded loudly.
Many teachers expressed frustration in interviews that negotiations have dragged on for 20 months, saying they were disappointed that school district administrators have often cast teachers in a negative light as they push to change the way they are evaluated and paid under a new contract.
“Teachers work very hard, and we are deserving of our wages,’’ said Adeline Dajuste, a teacher at the Kenny Elementary in Dorchester. “We come in early, stay late, work through our lunch, tutor children after school, and correct papers at home. We have gone above and beyond what we are asked to do. At least give us a cost of living increase.’’
Michael Lally, a teacher at the Eliot School in the North End, said: “Sometimes we get the message that teachers are not doing a great job. It can be demoralizing.’’
The teachers rallied just before the School Committee met behind closed doors to discuss collective bargaining strategies related to the contract negotiations.
“We want to wrap this [contract] up, but it’s hard to wrap it up ourselves,’’ Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in an interview before the rally. “We need cooperation on the other side.’’
The teachers have been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2010, when their old agreement expired, making it one of the longest periods that teachers have worked without a contract.
School officials blame the teacher union’s leadership for the delays, arguing they are pushing a proposal, which includes a range of salary increases, that the city cannot afford.
“We look forward to sitting down with the BTU to work out the critical issues,’’ said Michael Goar, deputy superintendent. “It’s time for the BTU to join us . . . and realize $116 million is unreasonable in this economy.’’
Goar was referring to the cost of proposed salary increases the union is requesting, according to calculations by the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. The School Department, on the other hand, is offering $32 million in pay raises, including one year without a raise.
Union leadership has rejected the $32 million proposal. Stutman said the union is waiting for the School Department to present a revised proposal.
It is unclear when both sides will agree on a contract. Negotiation sessions are scheduled through early March, and several other contentious issues remain unresolved, such as extending the school day by a half hour and tying teacher evaluation to the performance of their students in the classroom.
Stutman indicated in a letter to members recently that talks are moving in the “wrong direction,’’ based on the district’s latest offer made on Dec. 15. That offer, according to the letter, calls for having teachers work an additional three hours a day - on top of extending the school day by a half hour - at the discretion of school building administrators.
“That issue is driving people crazy,’’ Stutman said.
As a drum-up to last night’s rally, the union rented a truck to carry a billboard that says “Talk to Teachers,’’ which has been traveling around the city since last Thursday.
The rally featured brief remarks from three city councilors: Felix Arroyo, Frank Baker, and Charles Yancey.
“I want you to keep up the fight to make Boston public schools the best in America,’’ Yancey said.
Stutman spoke last and accused school district administrators of negotiating in bad faith.
“Our school system has myriad problems,’’ he said. “Buses that are late. Special education services that are delayed, an ELL program that is under scrutiny from the Department of Justice, schools that are closed only to open the next year - and now we are in our second year without a contract for 7,000 hard working and productive employees.’’
The teachers then marched around the building as the school committee reopened its meeting to the public. The whistles, bells, and chanting could be heard inside. The chairman informed attendees that he asked school police to quiet the crowd.