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The Boston Globe

Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Teachers union nod? No thanks

Mayoral candidate John Connolly.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Mayoral candidate John Connolly.

Does Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, actually think he’s hurting John Connolly’s mayoral chances by knocking him?

Earlier this week, Stutman told the Boston Herald that though he didn’t know which mayoral candidate the union would endorse, in all likelihood it wouldn’t be Connolly.

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If I were Connolly, I’d look skyward and utter a heartfelt “thank you.” After all, given the way the teachers’ union has behaved under Stutman’s stewardship, receiving its imprimatur is akin to having a highly visible vampire bite on one’s neck.

Why? Well, join me on a stroll down memory lane.

One of Stutman’s first big moves after becoming union chief was to block the creation of more pilot schools, which were meant as the Boston Public Schools’ flexible, innovative, longer-day alternative to charter schools. Nor did Stutman drop his opposition after exacting more contract concessions from Mayor Menino. Instead, he merely took his anti-pilot efforts underground, quietly lobbying school faculties to vote against proposed pilots.

So resistant was Stutman to needed change that lawmakers crafting the 2010 education-reform law — which raised the charter-school cap and established a turnaround process for poorly performing schools — joked that it should be called “the Richard Stutman Act.” (No, that wasn’t meant as a compliment.)

But Stutman, who can rely on the union’s old guard for seemingly endless reelection, is oblivious to real-world concerns. Despite the obvious need for a longer Boston school day, two-plus years of negotiations resulted in no extra learning time in the current contract. In large part, that’s because the teachers’ union insisted that, on top of yearly raises, its members also had to be paid their hourly rate for any additional time. That, even though Boston’s well-paid teachers work one of the shortest days of any urban district in the nation.

And now, despite two rigorous new studies showing strong results at Boston charter schools — and two recent polls demonstrating broad support for charters — Stutman’s union will rally next week to block a charter-cap lift.

So what has Connolly done to put himself on the outs with Stutman?

If you credit Stutman’s silly statement, Connolly doesn’t care about the Boston Public Schools. But let’s call that what it is: complete and utter codswallop. In the recent tight budget years, Connolly, whose daughter is a Boston Public Schools student, worked to protect those schools from staffing cuts. Over the last few years, I’ve been impressed by the dedicated support he has from Boston parents with kids in the school system.

But in advocating on their behalf, he has clearly run afoul of the union. For example, he came to the State House to testify in support of the aforementioned 2010 reform legislation. He also pushed for a council endorsement of state legislation to make teacher performance, rather than seniority, the principal criterion in school staffing decisions.

During the most recent contract negotiations, he held a first-of-its-kind hearing to give Boston families an opportunity to say what they wanted from the schools. When that contract didn’t deliver a longer day, Connolly cast the sole vote against it. With Boston now bumping against the charter-school cap, he supports another cap lift.

Connolly isn’t interested in a war of words with Stutman, but neither is he cowed by him.

“If we are really going to transform public education, we are going to have to make tough decisions and take on tough battles,” he says. “I hope teachers understand that I know how hard they work. But it is just unconscionable to me that kids in Boston get one of the shortest school days and lose some great teachers from the classroom because of archaic rules in the contract.”

This week’s dustup underscores a couple important points.

For starters, no one should be fooled by Stutman’s comments.

Rather, Bostonians should want mayoral and City Council candidates who, like Connolly, put the interests of students and their families above those of the teachers’ union.

Finally, voters should look skeptically at whichever candidate ends up with the union’s backing. Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, that endorsement should be taken as a sign that the candidate in question isn’t strong enough on education reform.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.
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