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Boston school, union leaders plan extra sessions for teacher contract

Leaders of the Boston Teachers Union and the School Department plan to schedule additional bargaining sessions in August in an effort to settle contract negotiations before the beginning of the school year.

The two sides were scheduled to meet twice for mediation sessions in the coming month, but both have agreed to additional meetings. The union and the School Department have struggled for two years to agree on a new contract for Boston’s public school teachers, but the union president said Friday night that he believes they can reach a compromise within weeks.

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“Realistically we can settle it by the third week in August,” said Richard Stutman, head of the teachers union.

In a letter to Stutman on Thursday, Michael Goar, deputy superintendent of Boston schools, said, “It is time to bring our negotiations to conclusion.”

“With that goal in mind we are available to meet with the BTU, in continuous bargaining sessions with or without state-appointed mediators, beginning immediately and continuing through the month of August until we have an agreement,” Goar wrote.

Stutman said he sent a similar request to Goar and other School Department leaders on Wednesday, and union members are willing to participate in extra meetings. Continuous sessions, he said, “would be as often as we could physically be there.” Boston’s students will begin classes on Sept. 6.

Matthew Wilder, a spokesman for Boston Public Schools, said Friday night that department representatives “are willing to meet around the clock.”

In early April, Boston school and union leaders failed to reach an agreement on a new contract after a nearly 16-hour negotiating session before the dispute was sent to a state mediator. One issue in the contract negotiations was effectively settled this week, however, Goar and Stutman said, when Superintendent Carol R. Johnson shifted her position on a proposal to extend school days in the city’s elementary, middle, and K-8 schools by 45 minutes. Johnson instead decided to tack on two hours at five to 10 locations using a decades-old provision that allows a superintendent to unilaterally create Project Promise schools.

Union and school leaders had previously fought over extended hours due to a disagreement about how the teachers would be compensated. At Project Promise schools, where superintendents can mandate that teachers work extra hours, they will be paid the contractual hourly rate for extra time.

Goar wrote in his letter that without debate about school day extensions, officials can focus on discussing other reforms such as educator evaluations and the post-transfer placement process. Wilder and Stutman each said their camps are ready to meet as soon as possible to reach a resolution, but the dates for additional sessions have not been set.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zachary.sampson@globe.com.
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