The Brookline school district and its teachers appear close to a contract settlement just days before school starts on Thursday, Sept. 1, potentially avoiding an escalation of tension between the two sides that simmered over the past school year.
“We have made substantial progress on the important issue of workload and pay. Three more mediation sessions are scheduled for September,” read a joint statement issued Tuesday by the School Committee and Brookline Educators Union.
The statement came after a marathon negotiating session that lasted well past 1 a.m., according to representatives of both sides who have been working with a mediator since April.
The union was prepared to escalate its fight for a new contract as classes began after speaking out at several School Committee meetings, holding many public demonstrations, and staging job actions over the course of last school year.
An “action plan” was formulated prior to Monday’s negotiating session asking teachers to “back away from business as usual” with the administration. Specifically, teachers were prepared to stop participating in any administrator-led meetings and would refuse to give up any contractually guaranteed “duty-free lunches” or “unassigned” prep periods.
After the progress during the latest negotiations, however, union president Jessica Wender-Shubow said the union won’t initiation any action right away as planned, hoping progress toward an agreement continues.
The plan is in place, however, and could be launched if negotiations stall.
Neither Wender-Shubow nor Ben Lummis, special assistant to the superintendent for strategy and performance, would comment on specifics of the negotiations beyond the statement.
The two sides had been far apart for months as teachers demanded relief from what they described as an overwhelming amount of paperwork, which they said left little time for creative lesson planning and individualized attention to students.
On the other side, the School Committee maintained it had made fair financial offers, and that “Brookline is still one of the best places in Massachusetts to be an educator,” according to an update posted on the Public Schools of Brookline website.
The contract breakthrough comes as a new administration team takes over the system.
School Superintendent Andrew Bott, the former principal at Lincoln School, will oversee his first opening day as the district’s top administrator, along with three new deputy superintendents. The remaining two members of the administration’s leadership team were hired last year.
In addition, Brookline High School’s interim headmaster, Anthony Meyer, will begin the year along with four new administrators at that school. And there are other new principals in town.
“I’m really excited for the start of the new school year. We’ve had a productive summer bringing on board some new principals and a new senior leadership team,” Bott wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “This year we’re going to focus on rebuilding a spirit of collaboration and make sure we work closely with teachers and our staff to identify clear priorities and support all of our students.”
In a letter to teachers Bott released to the Globe, he focused on trying to address a few specific areas of contention that teachers illuminated over the past year. Those include looking into streamlining and simplifying the progress report for kindergarten through fifth grade, to save teachers time while still accurately reporting grade level achievement in all subjects. He said the district would also suspend “for now” the roll out of any new curriculum initiatives.
Bott takes over a school system struggling though an enrollment spike that school officials say has created overcrowding in classrooms throughout the town and a need for a ninth elementary school and more high school classrooms.
Exactly what those new projects will look like is still in the planning stages, although the School Committee and Board of Selectmen are inching closer to deciding a final location for the ninth school.
In July architects outlined preliminary plans for schools at three different locations across town. One plan would put a second school at the Baker School campus in South Brookline, and another would locate a school at the Baldwin School site in Chestnut Hill.
The third option would be for the town to purchase the Stop & Shop lot and adjacent property in Brookline Village to build a mixed-use grocery store and elementary school complex.
A final site decision is planned during a joint meeting on Oct. 13, with several meetings scheduled throughout September for residents’ input.
Officials are simultaneously looking at options to increase high school space, which could include renovating and expanding the current building, or building a second high school.
There has not yet been a price tag publicly attached to any of the plans. Town officials have ruled out applying for state funding for either of the elementary or high school projects.Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.