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Teachers union concedes some seniority rights

The state’s largest teachers union has struck a deal in which it would give up significant seniority rights for members in exchange for a commitment from an education reform group to withdraw a far more sweeping ballot initiative proposal.

Paul Toner, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, confirmed Thursday his group has been meeting with Beacon Hill legislative leaders to brief them on the deal and present them with a draft bill that would curb the influence of seniority in the placement of teachers.

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The MTA’s move comes after weeks of negotiations with a group called Stand for Children/ Massachusetts, which is collecting voter signatures in an effort to get its reform plan on the November ballot.

The proposed legislation would measure performance and evaluations over seniority and experience, and would empower principals and superintendents in the staffing of schools. By contrast, the ballot initiative would require that principals and teachers agree on the placement.

“All along we have been trying to avoid a divisive ballot initiative,’’ said Toner. “We don’t think broad complex issues that are included in the initiative should be decided by a yes or no vote at the ballot box. A long, complicated ballot question is not something a voter should have to digest in a matter of moments in the voting booth.’’

Both Toner and the head of state’s chapter of Stand for Children/Massachusetts, Jason Williams, met with Senate President Therese Murray earlier this week and won her backing for the compromise, a Murray spokesman confirmed today. The two were set to present their case to House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo this afternoon.

“I feel strongly that this accomplishes the key policy objective laid out in our petition,’’ Williams said just before the meeting with DeLeo. “The key themes that say job performance and the quality of a person’s work is what we should be looking at in staffing decisions remains.’’

Williams noted however that if the legislation does not make it to the governor’s desk by July 3 -- the final date by which his group is required to submit its signatures to the Secretary of State’s office -- the measure will make the ballot and be put before the voters this fall.

The compromise meets the needs of both sides. Each can avoid an expensive ballot initiative campaign this fall, which would likely cost of each them an estimated $3 million to $6 million. It also works in favor of the Democrats -- who count the teachers unions as a key interest group - by avoiding a highly contentious public debate.

That battle would potentially drive greater numbers of anti-union, conservative voters to the polls, a bloc of the electorate that would likely oppose US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren in her battle to unseat Republican Scott Brown.

The strongest opposition to the legislative compromise will likely come from the MTA’s rival, the American Federal of Teachers/Massachusetts, a union with far few members. The Federation represents mostly urban school teachers, including those in Boston.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com
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