Hundreds of Boston teachers — shaking noise makers, beating plastic buckets, and carrying signs demanding a fair contract — marched around the perimeter of School Department Headquarters in Roxbury Wednesday evening in hopes of jump-starting stalled contract talks with the city.
“We’ve been negotiating for 15 months and have not made much progress,” Robin Pelletier, a teacher at the Muniz Academy in Jamaica Plain, said in an interview just before the rally began. “Other professions that started to negotiate after us have their contracts already. It doesn’t seem fair or right.”
She held a sign that said “BTU workforce 76% women: equity = fair contract.” Other city unions with settled agreements, like the patrolman’s union, have mostly male memberships.
The rally unfolded just before the School Committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to vote on a proposed $1 billion budget for the next school year.
During the meeting, School Superintendent Tommy Chang and Michael O’Neill, the committee chairman, said they were committed to settling a contract and had enormous respect for teachers.
“We don’t succeed with our students without our teachers,” O’Neill said. “We have more shared areas of interest than differences.”
The proposed budget, however, dominated the meeting. The budget represents a 2.8 percent increase over the current spending levels. The budget was approved 5 to 2.
Committee members Miren Uriarte and Regina Robinson voted against.
Committee member Michael Loconto said he liked that the budget provided money to expand prekindergarten classes, lengthen school days, and increase services for homeless students.
“It’s well funded,” Loconto said.
Uriarte agreed there was enough money, but questioned if enough was going directly to schools, especially after previous years of budget cutting.
“When I hear there are still schools not able to recover a librarian or a school nurse in a year of plenty it hurts,” said Uriarte.
Most schools would gain more funding. But several that are experiencing declining enrollment, and are under state pressure to boost student performance, could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Nearly three dozen students, parents, and teachers urged the committee to reject the budget.
“Schools need more money and support for students,” said Kalea Samuel, 17, a senior at Excel High School in South Boston.
City Councilor Tito Jackson, who is running against Mayor Martin J. Walsh in his reelection bid, blamed Walsh for the cuts.
“The mayor simply did not give you enough money,” Jackson said. “He should be ashamed of himself.”
The rally and meeting came as the school department and teachers union prepare to return to the bargaining table on Thursday for the first time in over a month.
“We decided quiet negotiations were not going to work and we needed to up the ante a little,” said Richard Stutman, the union’s president. “We want to show the superintendent the members feel the same way as the negotiating team.”
The rally drew a big-name union leader Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which includes the Boston Teachers Union. She told the Boston teachers, guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, and other educators that they are fighting for the right issues and that other teacher unions should be pushing the same ones.
“You are fighting to ensure a future for every single student who comes to the Boston Public Schools,” she said to rousing cheers.
Weingarten was originally planning to be in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday but decided “to be here with my peeps.”
As they marched, the teachers garnered support from rush-hour drivers who honked their horns as they drove by.
Throughout the march, organizers yelled into megaphones, “What do we want?” “A contract,” the teachers responded. The organizers then yelled, “When do we want it?” “Now,” the teachers answered.
Erik Berg, a teacher at the Philbrick Elementary School in Roslindale who also serves on the contract negotiating team, said he was disappointed an agreement has been elusive.
“I worked hard for the district for many years,” he said. “I sent my kids to the schools. We deserve better and our students deserve better.”
The teachers union and school system have been negotiating a new contract for the last 15 months to replace an agreement that expired last August. The union is aiming to have contract talks wrap up before Stutman retires at the end of June.