Mayor Thomas Menino announces the school union contract agreement with school board members and union officials. (Photo courtesy of City of Boston)
There is a lot of conversation about teachers unions and contract negotiations – from political posturing to the strike in Chicago. I can imagine how difficult it is to separate the substance from the noise.
I believe it becomes clear when you ask a parent and student how they feel about their school, how they feel about their teacher and how they feel about the quality of the education they are receiving.
For the first time, under contract terms agreed to by the negotiating teams for the Boston Teachers Union and the Boston Public Schools, our teacher evaluation process will do just that.
Some on the extremes will say the contract doesn’t give us much, we didn’t fight hard enough and we didn’t take it to the streets.
I say this contract has cleared the road blocks we once had to evaluating poor-performing teachers, ridding us of the bureaucracies that stifled principals from hiring the right teacher for the job and freeing our system from the constraints of having to give pay increases to teachers who have been found to be unsatisfactory. This contract does give us reform.
And this contract removes old baggage without breaking the bank for the taxpayers. Negotiating a contract is not like starting with a blank slate. There are decades of past deals and obtuse language that is outdated and in need of change.
Getting these changes to the contract at a cost we can afford allows us to continue to invest in the other educational needs of students, like technology, arts, sports and music.
I am proud of the contract we settled, and I anticipate its ratification by the union and its approval by the School Committee, but that doesn’t mean I am satisfied. This deal is not the end of reforming our schools; rather, it is another step in reforming our entire educational system.
I am committed to continuing to fight for reforms that benefit our students in the State Legislature and in Congress. We still need more time and the flexibility to keep students in the classroom longer without it costing taxpayers a premium — and we will get it.
I will continue to fight for our students in Washington. We still need funding for more innovation in our classrooms — we can make that happen.
I will advocate for our students in our neighborhoods and among our many city partners. We still need more after school opportunities that are tailored to the school curriculum and tightly linked with classroom teachers — we can do that together.
I will work with our students and their families. We still need more parents to be more involved in their children’s education — if we support them properly, they can do that.
We must have more flexibility. We must have equality in our system, making all schools places where progress and change can happen.
We can accomplish this through a package of reform, not just through one track or the other. That’s why the education reform law that passed in the legislature in 2010 was so important. That’s why our district charter work is so crucial. That’s why more change in our own student assignment process is essential.
And that’s why I am not done pushing for new rules, new flexibilities, and new ways. In Boston, we recognize that public education is a bond we all share regardless of race, religion or culture, and that we all expect the very best of what it can and should provide. I remain confident in our fight.
Thomas M. Menino is Mayor of the City of Boston.