The Back to School signs are everywhere — above the notebooks, the clothes, the backpacks. Parents and students are on that late summer cusp, when denial is still an option.
But for the Boston Public Schools — for the teachers, administrators, and staff — denial is never an option. The school system faces a new year of — if not crisis — at the very least, multiple uncertainties.
The current student assignment plan appears to have resulted in the resegregation of some schools. The issue of adjusting school start times remains unresolved. Laura Perille, the former head of an education nonprofit, was named interim superintendent at the end of June, ending the turbulent tenure of Tommy Chang but leaving unresolved the issue of a permanent replacement.
Oh, and the department’s contract with the Boston Teachers Union expires at the end of the month, with no one anticipating an on-time resolution.
And yet much of what happens in the classroom — the kinds of reforms principals will be able to implement in their schools, the number of students in classrooms, how those rather contentious new start times might be implemented — hinges on a collective bargaining process that is currently on-going.
It was just a year ago that city officials agreed to a contract with the BTU that was 18 months late, cost taxpayers $42.6 million, and offered precious little in the way of real reforms or even a way to deal with the issue of “excessed” or “unassigned” teachers who remain on the payroll. It was signed, we should note, in the throes of the last mayoral election race.
At a meeting in late June with Globe editors and reporters, Mayor Marty Walsh promised that the new contract “would be based on concessions.” He was no more specific than that. Nor is his office now, issuing a statement saying, “We are encouraged by the ongoing negotiations and hope to continue to make progress. As with all contract negotiations, deliberations are between the parties.”
Which is unfortunate, because the public and parents in particular ought to at least have some inkling about the school department’s priorities, no? Aren’t they “parties”?
The BTU, on the other hand, is not shy about its “aspirational vision” as outlined on its website — all 10 pages of it. And who would deny them a vision of schools that are “bright, beautiful, safe, well maintained, and rodent free.” The fact that “rodent free” has to be added speaks volumes about working conditions in some schools.
But the union is also pushing for “fully staffed” inclusion programs, reportedly seeking two full-time teachers for each inclusionary classroom (those that include students with special learning needs).
That’s an enormously expensive item in a budget that already tops $1 billion a year. The union also wants a full-time nurse in every school (current contract language authorizes a half-time nurse) and a licensed ESL (English as a second language) teacher in addition to a regular teacher for all English learners.
The job of the BTU is, of course, to grow its ranks and to protect its members. The job of the school department is to get a contract that allows the kind of flexibility that improves learning while protecting the taxpayers.
How unfortunate that city officials won’t share their vision with the parents — and students —
who will be affected by that contract and the educational improvements it should help usher in.