Facing a series of impending school improvement deadlines from the state, Mayor Michelle Wu hammered out a new labor contract with the city’s teachers that they say will help resolve some of the district’s chronic challenges.
The contract includes a sizable pay increase at a time when Boston and other districts are grappling with labor shortages, especially among teachers, and calls for increasing the number of school staff working directly with students.
The tentative three-year agreement is the latest in a series of educational achievements scored by the mayor during her seven-month tenure.
“I am so excited about the ways in which this new agreement with the Boston Teacher’s Union clears the way for our school system to take meaningful steps to support our educators,” Wu said during the American Federation of Teachers’ national convention Thursday.
The agreement, among other things, will transform how Boston Public Schools places more students with special needs in general classroom settings. This was the main area of contention between the union and the city that held up agreements for months.
The contract includes funding for new positions to provide additional support for students with individualized learning plans, and for English learners. Boston Teachers Union president Jessica Tang said the deal lays out a framework to ensure that the process of inclusion is “done right” over the next few years.
“The goal is to be able to not only provide more opportunities for inclusion, but to ensure that there’s adequate staffing and resources of support for them and the other students in the classrooms,” Tang said, adding that there will “have to be a greater investment in the staffing so that everyone can get their needs and services met.”
Educating English learners and special education students was among the list of improvements required by Massachusetts education officials in a deal agreed to by the city to avoid a state takeover or being labeled underperforming. By Aug. 15, the district must demonstrate it has taken initial steps to improve special education services and ensure English learners, including those with disabilities, will get appropriate services.
“There’s still work to do,” Tang said. “But, again, it is a framework that’s really centered on making sure that educators have input into the planning, and that there is a really thoughtful process for how we figure out how to do inclusion better in the district.”
Additionally, the contract includes 2.5 percent wage increases each year (the first year is retroactive) and an additional 2 percent raise in overall wages spread over the next two years, or 9.5 percent over the life of the contract. That was a victory for the union, which was first offered raises of 1.5 percent over three years.
And for the first time, the agreement also offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave to all union members, regardless of the time they have been in their jobs. Previously, parental leave was only only offered to teachers and paraprofessionals in the second or third year of their careers because they hadn’t had enough years to accrue sick days.
Wu also announced Thursday that a city pilot program to find housing for BPS families without a permanent home will be launched through the contract agreement. Under the plan, those BPS students and their families will be given vouchers to assist them to secure housing within the city. Currently, students who are unhoused often get placed outside Boston.
The agreement ends months of negotiations as the teachers union had been without a contract since last summer. It also comes during a critical time after BPS recently hired a new leader and narrowly averted a state takeover.
An amicable union settlement could prove to be an important political asset for Wu as the city works to meet the extensive requirements of the state agreement, as well as fend off any potential new attacks. The celebratory announcement of the new contract underscores how Wu and Tang have rallied together before the state education board against receivership. A continued alliance among the union, BPS, and Wu could prove necessary as the threat of receivership still lingers, as at least one member of the state board has indicated Boston should face harsher consequences if it fails to meet the new edicts.
In her remarks Thursday, Tang sounded more like a strategic partner than a negotiating adversary.
“We were also able to get this work done because we have leaders in the city who believe in the power of labor,” Tang said. “That includes the fierce advocacy of our city’s Mayor Michelle Wu, who did not back down from a fight with the state . . . to say that this is our city and our schools and we have the solutions.”
The union will bring the contract to its members in September; if ratified, it will go to the School Committee for final approval.
“We’re putting children first by making sure the educators that are most responsible for their care and education have what they need,” said School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson. “But we’re going to also need everybody else’s help to get this done.”
The settlement follows another important contract win for BPS in May, when the Boston School Bus Drivers Union approved an agreement with Transdev, the district’s private transit contractor. That contract also was negotiated in partnership with BPS and Wu’s administration.
Among its major aims is to improve the on-time performance of buses by requiring drivers to practice their routes prior to the first day of school, and no longer allowing drivers to take off time without advance warning or permission.
The Great Divide is an investigative team that explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adria Watson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @adriarwatson.