THE TENTATIVE contract agreement with the Boston Teachers Union “will take our schools to new heights,” declared Mayor Menino. The reality is more tempered. Faced with a stalemate on potentially far-reaching reforms, Menino chose a good financial deal over continued head-pounding negotiations. The result is a relief for taxpayers, a contract for teachers that values job protection over economic gain, and an understandable — but not entirely unexpected — sense of letdown for reformers.
More than two years of bitter negotiations yielded only limited reforms in teacher evaluations and nothing in the way of a longer school day. The best that can be said is that the pay increase — 12 percent over six years — is commensurate with such marginal reforms.
Any hope that the contract would go a long way toward getting bad teachers out of the classroom dissolved when the city agreed to relatively weak state contract language that gives the union the ability to impose timelines and other impediments. Theoretically, bad teachers can be jettisoned in 30 days. In reality, the process will be cumbersome.
Similarly, the contract rightly puts the brakes on pay increases for teachers with unsatisfactory ratings. But the prohibition, it turns out, applies only to new hires. Principals will gain more flexibility in teacher transfers, making it easier to establish a successful school culture. But permanent teachers can still be assigned to schools based on seniority, not talent. “The incremental change in this contract,” said Samuel Tyler of the independent Boston Municipal Research Bureau, “raises the question whether real school reform can be achieved through collective bargaining.’’
The school department might have gotten stricter terms by pushing the issue through a state labor fact-finding process. Instead, Menino stepped in to end the fight. And City Hall is clearly pleased that the powerful teachers’ union accepted pay raises on a par with the city’s less-commanding clerk and laborer unions. That is the message Menino wants to send to the hard-nosed police and fire unions.
The 27-month labor saga is over, contingent on various approvals. But the outcome is only a small step forward. Reformers should concentrate instead on using the money saved in this contract to beef up after-school enrichment programs, helping the system’s 58,000 students compete with those in charter schools and suburban systems that already offer longer days. Boston kids deserve nothing less.