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The Boston Globe

Metro

Contract impasse costs Boston teachers $9.4m bonus grant

Boston lost out on a $9.4 million federal grant for teacher bonuses Monday because the School Department and the Boston Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement on the issue in time, said a spokesman for the state education department.

The two sides had until the end of March to file the necessary paperwork with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is administering the federal grant locally. The agency’s commissioner, Mitchell Chester, then extended the deadline to Monday morning, but no agreement materialized between the city and the union.

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The funding loss is the first major casualty since the union and the School Department declared an impasse last Tuesday in their 21 months of negotiations on a new contract.

The union has insisted that negotiations over the bonuses, which would be distributed under the federal grant program, must be settled as part of a new contract. The School Department wanted to negotiate it separately.

“The commissioner was holding out hope that the school and union leadership would come to an agreement,’’ JC Considine, a state education department spokesman, said. “He is disappointed they were not able to. . . . The commissioner has to move on now and look at other options.’’

Both sides blame each other for losing the grant.

“We must say that it is disappointing to us that our teachers will miss the opportunity to access these funds,’’ Matthew Wilder, a School Department spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We wanted to make this work, but we’re not willing to agree to a contract that does not bring real reform to our classrooms. As you know, the [union] insisted that the grant be tied to the entire contract negotiations.’’

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in an interview: “It’s regrettable we lost the $9 million. It didn’t have to be. Unfortunately, the district didn’t take its obligation seriously.’’

But some education advocates said that fault lies with both parties.

“It could have been a boon for the city, and I’m incredibly dismayed adults could not come to agreement for the sake of the kids,’’ said Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, which has been pushing for performance-based bonuses for teachers. “The kids are the ones who are going to suffer because of this.’’

Educators and advocates nationwide consider the five-year federal grant to be a golden opportunity to attract and retain high-quality teachers and administrators to low-achieving schools.

Under the Teacher Incentive Fund program, teachers and administrators could earn thousands of dollars in bonuses if their students demonstrated notable progress. Massachusetts learned in September 2010 that it would receive $26.8 million from the program. Springfield is receiving $12.6 million; the rest is going to the state education department to administer the grant.

Springfield school and union leaders reached an initial agreement relatively quickly, and both parties signed another letter of commitment in December 2011, Considine said.

So far, Springfield has spent $328,000, mostly to train administrators on a new way to evaluate teachers. Teachers are expected to receive their first bonuses in fall 2013.

But the failure of Boston school leaders and the teachers union to reach an agreement was jeopardizing the state’s entire grant application, Considine said.

The commissioner intends to give Boston’s portion of the money to another district, he said.

Despite the impasse, the School Department and the union continued to negotiate over the weekend. Stutman said the two sides did reach an agreement in principle on how to distribute bonuses under the federal grant program, but still needed to hammer out other aspects of the overall contract.

Outstanding issues include annual pay raises, compensation for extending the school day by 30 minutes, and an overhaul of the teacher evaluation system.

Stutman said the two sides could have settled the contract if the School Department’s negotiating team was fully engaged. He said only half of the team showed up over the weekend and that they took a three-hour break Saturday and were four hours late Sunday.

Wilder disputed the characterization. He said that two members left early because they were sick and that Superintendent Carol R. Johnson took part both days. Johnson has rarely shown up for negotiations.

“This is totally frustrating,’’ said Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a watchdog funded by business and nonprofits.

Working out the grant detail “never should have been tied to the collective bargaining agreement,’’ he added.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeVaznis.
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