Amid contentious contract negotiations, Boston School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson is accusing the teachers union of using the possible loss of $9 million in federal grant money to force the district to agree to a new teacher contract it cannot afford.
The Teacher Incentive Fund provides federal grant money to public school districts to create programs to reward teachers who turn around failing schools. The Boston School Department has until March 30 to submit a plan to the state, outlining how it would spend the $9 million.
The Boston Teachers Union has balked at the district’s request to negotiate a plan to distribute the money separately from the ongoing contract negotiations. But school officials say combining those talks effectively forces an unrealistic March 30 deadline for a completed contract, and that the price for not meeting it is losing the grant money.
“We believe the leadership of the BTU is using the state’s TIF grant deadline as pressure,’’ Johnson wrote in a letter sent yesterday to the leaders of 11 underperforming schools. “They want to force us to settle the teacher’s contract in an unaffordable manner that sacrifices critical reforms, and they are willing to risk the TIF grant to do it.’’
Johnson’s letter is the latest salvo issued in protracted contract talks that started 21 months ago. Last month, hundreds of Boston public school teachers rallied outside school department headquarters, to press for a speedy resolution.
The teachers union has proposed $116 million in pay raises. The city has said it can only afford $32 million. Other unresolved issues include the length of the school day and teacher evaluation methods. The next bargaining session is scheduled for March 2.
Richard Stutman, president of the union, yesterday dismissed Johnson’s letter. “This is a convenient ploy by the department to shift blame, to try to get the headmasters at these schools, to tell the staff, that the BTU has been negligent during these talks, when, in fact, it’s the opposite that’s true.’’
He said the school district notified the union in January the grant money is available. “The appropriate thing to do is to discuss everything as part of one package,’’ he said. “When you open up a subject to negotiations, it should be done concurrent with negotiations that are underway. It is permitted under the law.’’
School officials have proposed payments of up to $4,000 for teachers, who, individually or working as a team, improve their school’s performance. Boston has 11 schools, ranging from elementary to high school, categorized as underperforming by the state education department.
“We think we have a unique opportunity to provide additional recognition and compensation for our teachers working at our 11 turnaround schools,’’ Deputy Superintendent Michael Goar said yesterday in an interview. “We feel the TIF grant is not an item that we need to connect to the main [contract] talks.’’
Johnson’s letter notes that in a meeting last week with school and union officials, state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester told both sides the “grant is in immediate jeopardy unless we are able to meet immediate resolution with the BTU on recognizing teachers’ success.’’
School officials said the March 30 deadline requires swift action. “The TIF is a separate opportunity that we have received from the state and federal government. We have a pretty short time frame to turn around’’ a plan to determine how it will be used, Goar said.
Stutman said the union has offered to meet Friday to discuss the incentive fund grant, and other contract issues. “We have a bunch of issues we are concerned with,’’ he said. “The TIF is no more important than any of our other proposals.’’
Goar said he received an e-mail from the union, asking for a meeting this Friday, but said anything other than the incentive fund grant will be off limits. “We’ll sit down with them, but we don’t want this [grant] connected to any other issue,’’ Goar said.