Watch what they do, not what they say, runs one piece of cautionary advice.
The American Federation of Teachers and the Boston Teachers Union, its local affiliate, have now demonstrated why they should be viewed through those skeptical spectacles.
Last September, the BTU’s two favored mayoral candidates, Felix Arroyo and Rob Consalvo, finished an underwhelming fifth and seventh in the mayoral preliminary. After that, the BTU more or less fell silent. But on election morning — which is to say, too late for their action to become a results-influencing story — the BTU leadership urged its members to back Marty Walsh.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers, the BTU’s parent, was clandestinely scheming to elect Walsh and defeat John Connolly, a pointed BTU critic. Using a political front group here and a shell in New Jersey to conceal the true source of the funding, the AFT funneled almost half a million dollars into a pro-Walsh ad that ran in the campaign’s closing days.
Yes, this is the same union whose president, Randi Weingarten, has publicly decried donors who hide their identities while flooding campaigns with money. The same union that, in a resolution criticizing the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, included this clause: “Resolved, that until such time as there is full public financing of elections, the AFT supports public disclosure of campaign donors.”
Ah, hypocrisy. The AFT, of course, could have been upfront about its own pro-Walsh spending. Instead, the union engaged in a shadowy effort to influence the Boston mayoral race while keeping its involvement secret until it was too late for that information to have any electoral effect.
Walsh shouldn’t be blamed for the AFT’s electoral subterfuge. Still, those union machinations will bring heightened scrutiny to the new mayor’s actions. During his campaign, Walsh portrayed himself as intent on bringing change to the Boston schools. A founding board member of Dorchester’s Neighborhood House Charter School, he repeatedly said he favored lifting the charter-school cap. He also spoke forcefully about reopening the BTU contract in pursuit of a longer school day and said he wanted more power to intervene in mediocre Boston schools.
Nothing has changed as a result of the AFT’s spending, Walsh averred on Tuesday.
“They are probably not going to get what they want from me,” said Walsh. “I am going to sit down with [BTU President] Richard Stutman, and we are going to have a conversation about the schools.” If he can’t get his desired changes from the BTU, then “I will take it to the next step and go to the Legislature,” Walsh added.
Two other educational tests will come early for the incoming mayor.
At school system headquarters, interim Superintendent John McDonough is moving forward with a plan that, by changing the responsibilities or pay that comes with a teaching position, will allow principals to post teaching jobs openly and consider all qualified applicants, not just BTU members, from the very start of the process.
The BTU has filed a grievance over that effort. Walsh, however, spoke favorably of the idea behind it. “I am certainly in support of having the best qualified teachers available for a position,” he said. “I think that is important.”
On Beacon Hill, meanwhile, long delayed education-reform legislation is expected to be unveiled sometime this month. In May, Walsh testified in favor of lifting the charter-school cap, so I was interested in whether he would now declare that he hoped to see a cap lift for Boston, at least, as part of that legislation.
There, the mayor-elect demurred, saying he wanted to see the legislation before commenting.
Problem: This is an area where a strong public stand could make a big difference. Alice Peisch, House chairwoman of the Legislature’s education committee, says the details have not yet been worked out. Because only a few cities are up against the current charter cap, many legislators don’t see a cap-lift as a burning issue right now.
But it should be for Boston, which is one of those cities. So would it help legislative efforts to have a strong statement from the incoming mayor in favor of a charter cap-lift for his city?
“I would think so,” says Peisch.
There will be no better time for Walsh to send that message than in Monday’s inaugural address, when all eyes (and ears) will be upon Boston’s new mayor.