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Failed teacher contract negotiation requires state intervention

Boston is facing a state deadline to enact a new teacher evaluation system — that is, a reliable method to identify weak teachers and a timely process for terminating those who don’t respond to improvement plans. The Boston Teachers Union and city officials had been hinting for weeks that they had reached a basic agreement on such a tool. But now that agreement has collapsed.

The state Division of Labor Relations has the authority to appoint an independent fact-finder who, unlike a mediator, makes specific written recommendations on how to resolve the contract dispute. The Menino administration has requested such intervention. The Boston Teachers Union wants to continue negotiations. But there is no evidence that more time spent around the bargaining table will be fruitful. In fact, a mediator has canceled a negotiation session scheduled for Friday.

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These negotiations have been dragging on for more than two years with almost nothing to show for the effort. The sooner this entire matter is placed in the hands of a neutral decision-maker, the better for the city’s 56,000 schoolchildren.

The new contract needs to have provisions for a longer school day as well as a sound teacher evaluation process. Yet the extended day was the first casualty when the union demanded more money than the city could afford to add 45 minutes to the day. At least there are good ways around that impasse by hiring outside arts specialists, sports leaders, and tutors to provide afterschool enrichment programs — all for less money than the contractual hourly wage earned by teachers.

But there is no way to counter poor teaching other than an effective evaluation and remediation program for teachers. Minimally, Boston should adopt the state teacher evaluation model that allows an accelerated schedule to dismiss teachers who fail to improve. No child should be condemned to spend months on end with an ineffective teacher.

Clerks, technicians, and other municipal workers in Boston recently agreed to 12 percent raises over the terms of their 6-year contracts. But even such a modest raise would be hard to justify for teachers who continue to resist the kinds of reforms needed to improve student performance. If the union were to step up and become a reasonable partner in reforming the city’s public schools, it would be a different story.

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