Why are Brookline teachers still working without a contract?
How long have Brookline educators been without a contract?
Brookline educators have now been working without a contract for over 200 days. While this number is the technical length of time that we’ve been without a contract, the reality is that we have been attempting to negotiate a fair, long-term contract with the School Committee since the spring of 2014. With the prospect of a budget override looming, educators agreed to a one-year bridge contract that would allow the School Committee to provide voters with finalized budget numbers, and with the understanding that we would continue negotiating around working and learning conditions, not just money.
Throughout this school year, as teachers have begun to take action, School Committee negotiations chair Rebecca Stone has released statements noting that the School Committee has met with the BEU many times to negotiate, and thus the School Committee has indeed been negotiating “in good faith.” While it is true that the School Committee has met with BEU negotiators many times, the idea of bargaining in good faith does not simply mean that you go to the table, it means that you go there with proposals that show an understanding of the needs of educators, and that help to support them in the classroom. What has actually happened, however, is that the School Committee has emphatically rejected every proposal that the teachers have made with regard to workload. They have absolutely refused to make any proposals or counter-proposals of their own that seriously address these vital concerns. Their refrain has been a steady and repetitive one of “trust us to make things better” and we want control over all “managerial functions.”
What are teachers asking for?
As teachers, we work tirelessly for our students. With the continued rise in enrollment across the district and in the face of an ever-increasing number of local and state mandates, we feel overburdened by demands on our time that remove us from the classroom or take away from lesson planning. The things we’re asking for reflect a desire to be present in the classroom and teach well, and they are our way of advocating for our students and the conditions that we feel are necessary to do our very best work. We want to:
- Prioritize individual attention for every child
- Assess specialists’ workloads, limit caseloads & reduce number of students so we can meet the needs of all learners
- Guarantee every educator the time to prepare to teach every day
- Limit non-instructional tasks (data entry & paperwork, meeting time)
- Create a public Workload Oversight Committee (WOC). The WOC would review new district initiatives and changes to workload, including paperwork, to ensure that all staff have a place to go with concerns about workload. The committee would have a mechanism for addressing those concerns, and teachers would be given assurances that no workload or paperwork will be increased unless approved by the WOC. Meetings would be open to the public, so that they will be transparent.
- Enhance the safety of our students and staff.
- Introduce “special populations” caseload review
- Assign more than one educator to rooms (libraries and music classes) with 65 or more children
- Increase classroom safety with appropriate staffing & equipment
- Respect the professionalism of our educators.
- Reserve time in staff meetings to discuss educator concerns
- Guarantee fair compensation for all, including a living wage & fair scheduling for Paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals are tasked with supporting the most vulnerable members of our school population, and yet the average paraprofessional takes home less than $400 per week. This is far less than anything that could be considered a living wage, and most paraprofessionals are forced to work two, or even three jobs to make ends meet.
Teachers gave many hours of presentations to the School Committee detailing the extra burdens that are being placed upon us, how it impacts our ability to provide quality instruction for each and every one of our students, and why educators believe that our proposals are a critical component of maintaining the high-quality education that residents of Brookline have come to expect, and that each and every one of our students deserves. Unfortunately these presentations seem to have fallen on deaf ears, as none of our requests for help, support, and true collaboration have been granted.
Why is the School Committee responding this way?
In a word: TRUST. The School Committee has, in many ways, forgotten to trust its teachers. Something in Brookline has shifted and, instead of trusting teachers to do their job, the School Committee has instituted a culture of top-down management and data collection. Much of this data collection falls on the shoulders of teachers. In fact, the School Committee has publicly acknowledged that new administrators have been hired with the override money in order to manage and increase said data. Teachers feel this intense burden, and see very little impact of this data collection on our ability to support children in the classroom. Rather, we lose precious hours of quality instructional time, and turn in endless spreadsheets filled with data about our students that does not directly benefit teaching and learning in our classrooms and schools. This is happening at all grade levels, beginning in Pre-K and Kindergarten.
While we of course understand that there are monetary implications associated with negotiations, what we have NOT heard from the School Committee is: “We are dedicated to supporting Brookline teachers in any way we can, we value your input and expertise, and will work with you as a team to agree on binding contract language that really changes working and learning conditions for the better.” What we have heard about contract language, very simply, is “No.”
Educator morale across the district is at an all-time low. We feel disrespected, devalued, and unheard by the members of the School Committee who were elected to support our schools. To us, respect for educators means that we are asked about what is happening on the ground, in our classrooms, and that our voices are heard and valued. If you want to know what’s happening in the classroom, ask a teacher!
We are highly educated professionals who understand deeply the challenges and needs of our school communities. We have dedicated our careers and lives to this profession that we feel so passionately about, and put our hearts and souls into meeting the needs of every child that sets foot in our schools every day. In the end, this negotiation is really about our quality of work life, which in turn really are the learning conditions of Brookline students.
Misinformation about “work to rule”
In a February 29th statement from the School Committee, Ms. Stone referenced the idea of work to rule. Work to rule means that teachers do only what is specifically stated in their contract. Brookline teachers are not working to rule now, and we hope that we will not have to. While teachers have indeed begun to take action to open up time to teach, and in hopes of drawing attention to our cause, we have taken great pains to ensure that our actions do not affect the learning conditions of our students. Ms. Stone was also very clear that “such actions do not change the nature or status of negotiations.” Teachers have found this to be very true, and after over a year of negotiating in hopes that our voices would be heard, we are now reaching out to the larger Brookline community and asking for your support.
As more and more administrators and teachers continue to leave Brookline, educators know that our district is at a critical crossroads. We view these negotiations to be about a vision for our schools, one that will ensure that Brookline continues to serve as a beacon for excellence in education that draws families from all over the world to our town; one that encourages innovation in teaching, respects the voices of its dedicated professionals, and gives them the time and support that they need to do their very best work.
We thank you for your time, consideration, and support of the schools, students, and teachers of Brookline,
The Brookline Educators Union