Brookline educators have been working without a contract since September 1. Why is this? you might ask. Good question. According to the School Committee, it’s because of forces they can’t control. School Committee members recently told Brookline’s state legislators that “every year we discuss the growing pressure on our budget, our administrators, and our educators from federal and state mandates to implement new curriculum, programs or services.” They “now have become issues for us in collective bargaining as teachers seek relief from the additional pressures on their time.” The BEU is glad that the School Committee has grasped our point about time pressure. However, we strongly disagree that the lack of a contract is beyond the School Committee’s control. We think the School Committee entirely should take responsibility for the lack of a contract. Consider this:
Teachers and other BEU educators made comprehensive presentations and submitted corresponding proposals to the School Committee concerning 1) the effects of worsening student-educator ratios (which calculation of average class size obscures); 2) the loss of still more personal attention for students due to increasing amounts of paperwork and data collection; 3) the need to do more to ensure the safety of children and staff; and 4) increasingly top-down management that is harming efforts to tap teacher expertise, to achieve equity, and to “foster interaction among diverse viewpoints” (PSB Strategic Plan).
The chair of the School Committee’s bargaining team acknowledged to legislators that the current approach that imposes increasing numbers of top-down mandates is not working. “We have in fact in Brookline stalled on closing the achievement gap in the last few years,“ she said. Still, while district leaders stressed that an initiative that is good in principle can falter when it is imposed from above and combined with too many others, the School Committee seems to have turned a blind eye to how they are doing the same thing to teachers in the schools and at the bargaining table.
We designed bargaining proposals specifically to address what we thought were mutual concerns about possible erosion of the high quality education that BEU educators were delivering, and for which Brookline is known. Yet, in spite of the fact that we made these proposals over a year and a half ago, to date we have received no significant counter proposals—none! Management instead has dug in their heels and refused to address our concerns with any contract language at all. “Trust us,” they said, implying that say what we wish, we will ultimately be expected do what they say.
BEU proposals include changes in scheduling and staffing that make possible serious commitments to inclusion and equity and a respect for diversity. Our proposals are practical approaches that defend against such commitments being reduced to formulaic exercises. They ensure that teachers’ professional judgment will be honored, and that educators will have time to support each and every student in expressing themselves in creative and culturally sensitive ways, which fosters a love of learning.
We have negotiations scheduled for January 28, February 1, and February 22. New conditions make it easier to reach an agreement. Brookline voters, by a large margin, supported an increase in school funding, and Congress has loosened its grip on state and local education policy. However, in this promising climate that invites creative solutions, we are still waiting for the School Committee to engage constructively at the bargaining table with the BEU.
We ask that members of the community join us in calling on the School Committee to come to an agreement concerning the many important problems we have addressed. With the support of our membership and those in the community who are supportive of our goals, we hope to see the School Committee move toward an agreement in these upcoming bargaining sessions.
Prioritize individual attention for every child:
- Limit to 4 the number of class sections per teacher in grades 6-12 to open up time for meeting the targeted needs of specific children.
- Support co-teaching with necessary prep time.
- Limit non-instructional tasks such as data collection & paperwork.
- Eliminate non-instructional duties for teachers.
- Guarantee every educator sufficient and equitable time to prepare to teach every day.
Enhance the safety of our students and staff:
- Assess specialists’ caseloads according to the intensity of needs.
- Require building aides who can step in where needed.
- Assign more than one educator to rooms with 65 or more children.
- Increase classroom safety with appropriate staffing and equipment.
Respect the professionalism of our educators:
- Reserve time in staff meetings to discuss educators’ individual or collective concerns.
- Strengthen the voice of teachers in the evaluation system.
- Agree to prep periods and paid lunch for paraprofessionals.
- Guarantee fair compensation for all, including a living wage & fair scheduling for paraprofessionals.