In recent weeks, many hundreds of Brookline educators have filled school sidewalks, the entrance to Town Meeting, and the center of Coolidge Corner. Teachers, Paraprofessionals, Specialists and administrators have held signs proclaiming their collective bargaining proposals. What are the educators saying; and why have they taken their message to the streets?
Their signs say, “Time to Teach!” “Class Size Matters!” “Respect Paraprofessionals!” and “We need safer classrooms!” In April 2104, the union negotiating team proposed contract language pressing issues at the heart of teaching and learning in Brookline today. These proposals came from surveys of, and meetings with, its union members. As negotiations began a year and a half ago, the team reported to the School Committee that yes, educators sent us in to convey that childcare, housing, and college costs were pressing in on educators and their families. And yet, their greatest emphasis was on the threats in Brookline to the excellence of the education our educators want to deliver.
Our members sent us to the table demanding that we fight to reverse damage being done to quality teaching by top-down mandates and initiatives, excessive workloads, and understaffing. Right now, there are much needed paraprofessional positions that are unfilled. BEU negotiators made sure that there would be no ground rules that would get in the way of discussion of the ideas on the table with parents and other members of the interested Brookline public. BEU members have now, 18 months after initially making these proposals, turned to the public for support, as we have not yet received from the School Committee one counterproposal addressing these vital concerns.
BEU educators are experts on what it takes to teach in our buildings and with our growing enrollment. Our proposals are designed to work effectively in our current schools. Many of the proposals, such as a trouble-shooting building Para who can step in during emergencies, are very affordable or cost nothing at all (safety protocols that will lessen the growing number of injuries to educators in some of our programs, caseload review that assesses the intensity of cases; time in meetings for teacher concerns; elimination of paperwork or data collection equivalent to the amount added). Many of the proposals do not need extra building space (a second educator in rooms with 65 or more children), and none require extending the length of the school day.
We have been waiting for the School Committee to show us that they take our proposals seriously by addressing specifically and with contract language the many matters we have brought up in bargaining. Unfortunately, they have not yet done so. So we are now asking the community to call the members of the school committee and demand that they settle a fair contract.