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Fact-finder considered in teacher talks

Mayor frustrated over negotiations

The state Department of ­Labor Relations said Tuesday that it would consider Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s request to investigate and recommend a resolution of the stalled negotiations over a teachers union contract, but rejected his ­request to make the process public.

In a letter to the mayor, ­Erica F. Crystal, the agency’s ­director, said she expects to make her decision by Aug. 31. She said she would consult with the state mediator who has been helping the School Depart­ment and the teachers union find common ground in the talks for the last few months.

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That mediator merely guides the talks, but does not ­issue resolutions, unlike a fact-finder, which Menino is request­ing.

“I understand the city’s frustration and assure you that the mediator is reviewing the case on an ongoing basis to determine what process will best serve the parties in reaching agreement,” Crystal wrote.

Crystal said she could not make the fact-finding process public because it would violate state law.

She said the recommendations would become public, however, if the two parties remained at an impasse 10 days after the recommendations were issued.

Dot Joyce, a Menino spokeswoman, said the mayor is appre­ciative of the state’s quick response to his request.

“We are very interested in moving this process forward for the sake of the kids,” Joyce said.

Frustrated that teacher contract talks have dragged on for more than two years, Menino made the fact-finding request last Thursday, as he blasted union officials for what he said were delay tactics and broken promises.

Talks officially broke down in March when the two sides declared an impasse, an act that moved the process under the oversight of the state Labor Relations Department, which appointed a mediator.

Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, said he ­believes it is premature to begin fact finding because the two sides have met with the state mediator less than a dozen times.

He said the School Depart­ment has refused to nego­tiate face-to-face with union officials for the last three sessions, forcing the mediator to bounce ­between each party’s room.

“It takes two parties to negotiate and to manage and to ­improve the schools,” Stutman said. “You don’t say ‘We don’t want to talk to you.’ It’s a childish thing to do.”

He also chided Superintendent Carol R. Johnson for skipping the most recent mediation session on Monday to attend a back-to-school shopping event at Target, sponsored by Red Sox player Adrian Gonzalez and his wife, who gave more than 200 students $125 to spend.

“We think she should put more attention into running the schools than being a glad-hander,” said Stutman, who added that Johnson has rarely shown up for negotiations.

Matthew Wilder, a School Department spokesman, fired back, accusing Stutman of trying to divert attention from what Wilder described as “what’s best for kids,” saying that is why the contract ­remains unresolved.

“We need to be very clear: We are where we are today because the Boston Teachers Union thinks that a teacher who receives an unsatisfactory job performance should be able to sit in a classroom for an ­entire school year before any changes are made,” Wilder said. “We fundamentally disagree. That is not going to change if the superintendent is at every negotiation session or not.”

Wilder said he was surprised Stutman would criticize the super­intendent for spending time with students at Target.

“This was not a photo opp,” Wilder said. “We would have liked to have a contract negotiated right now, and we don’t. The superintendent isn’t going to ignore her other responsibilities.”

Another session was scheduled for Friday, but the mediator cancelled it.

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