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Boston teachers offer concessions on pay, evaluations

The Boston Teachers Union proposed a deal Thursday to break deadlocked negotiations for a new contract, making major concessions on wages and a new teacher-evaluation system that would speed the dismissal of those deemed ineffective.

Wages and evaluations have been the biggest stumbling blocks in 27 months of contentious negotiations, and the union gave the School Department until the close of business Sept. 4 to accept the proposal, or it would be rescinded.

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Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, proposed the deal during a press conference at union headquarters in Dorchester without first sending the proposal to school officials, who have not yet decided whether they will accept it.

“Our proposal is designed to settle both [issues] as well as all outstanding items so that our children and staff can begin the new school year with a fresh start, and educators can focus on providing quality instruction in every classroom with a goal of providing a great teacher in every classroom,” said Stutman, flanked by several other union leaders.

Under the deal, the union would accept the city’s offer for pay raises in a six-year contract, which would provide no increase the first year, a 1 percent increase the second, a 2 percent increase the third, and a 3 percent increase for each of the final three years of the contract.

The union’s previous offer differed from the city’s position only in the first two years of the contract, requesting a 1 percent increase in the first year and a 2 percent increase in the second.

In exchange for the wage concession, the union is asking the School Department to adopt a prototype of a teacher-evaluation system developed by the state — long criticized by the School Department as too cumbersome — and to accept four union proposals the School Department has previously rejected, as well as other conditions.

As of Thursday, the School Department had not received a formal proposal from the union, prompting Deputy Superintendent Michael Goar to send a letter to Stutman, requesting one.

Stutman said the union’s attorney was supposed to send a letter to school officials outlining the plan Thursday, but got tied up in court. He said a letter would be sent Friday. The union went to the media first, he said, because school officials have said they no longer want to talk.

The announcement came three days after the state Department of Labor Relations decided, at the request of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, to appoint a “fact-finder” to investigate the contract stalemate and recommend a resolution.

Adding to pressure for a quick resolution: a state deadline for Boston to implement a new teacher-evaluation system for this school year. A failure to implement a new system could cause Boston to lose some federal funding for overhauling schools.

The evaluation rules would speed up the process for dismissing ineffective teachers and eventually make student test scores a key part of judging a teacher’s performance.

In revising the regulations last year, the state developed a prototype system that school districts could adopt wholesale or modify. The Boston School Department was attempting to streamline the state’s process, while the union was trying to insert more deadlines and also lengthen some timelines.

The School Department is smart to wait for a formal proposal from the union before making a decision, said Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a government watchdog funded by nonprofits and businesses.

“I would want everything in writing, and I would ask a lot of questions to better understand this process and deal before agreeing to it,” Tyler said. “If there are not enough answers, I would say go ahead with fact-finding. Whatever offers the city the best chance for fundamental reform in the contract — the union deal or fact finding — they should take it.”

Other parts of the union’s plan call for the School Department to accept four union proposals it already has rejected: hiring six “floating” nurses, who would fill in for absent colleagues; creating eight social workers for schools in greatest need; finding substitutes for special education aides who are absent; and reducing maximum class sizes by 1 student in grade 6 to a total of 27 students, and in grade 9 to a total of 30 students.

“The cost of those items is far less than the salary increase we would be giving up,” said Stutman, referring to the union’s wage-proposal concession. “And none of this puts money in our members’ pockets. Adding social workers and nurses help schools and students. We chose items that contribute to a better school environment.”

The proposal also would retain tentative agreements already reached between the two sides, but they have disagreed in the past on what actually has constituted a tentative agreement. All other outstanding issues would be subject to face-to-face negotiations during a 30-day period. If an agreement cannot be reached on an item, then both parties would drop it, and the contract would be settled.

One outstanding issue that could be at risk is a School Department proposal to base pay raises on performance, instead of the current system of automatic annual increases, Tyler said.

Boston United for Students, a grassroots coalition of students, parents, and education advocates pushing for changes in the teachers contract, said it is pleased that the union has offered a proposal. But the group will examine the plan for teachers evaluations before making a recommendation.

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