BPS to replace a fifth of teachers

Most schools have autonomy to hire whomever they want

The Boston Public School system is about to launch a dramatic overhaul of its teaching staff, replacing a fifth of its 4,500 teachers.

The unprecedented teacher turnover headed into the 2014-2015 school year is way above normal and comes at a time when the interim superintendent, John McDonough, is exploiting a little-used provision in the teachers’ union contract to give the system’s principals the same freedom that the heads of charter and turnaround schools enjoy to fill job openings with whomever they want.

Nearly half of the 905 job postings for teachers in the Boston Public Schools are coming about because of the release of 573 so-called provisional teachers, educators with less than three years of experience who have not gained tenure status. The rest of the postings are due to retirements, dismissals, and turnover caused by turnaround efforts at four troubled schools where all the teaching jobs are being posted.

Ross Wilson, one of McDonough’s top aides, said the teacher jobs will be posted shortly and all hiring is expected to be completed by April. Meeting that deadline in itself would be a major accomplishment. In the past, a cumbersome hiring process that gave preference to displaced teachers within the system led to bureaucratic wrangling that often delayed hiring until the summer, when the best teachers were already scooped up by other school systems. Last year, 92 percent of Boston teacher hires took place in July, August, and September.

Wilson said the school system is already advertising for teachers on the MBTA and applications are beginning to flow in. He said the school budget for the coming year is very lean, but the new approach on hiring is generating excitement within the system. “Our principals see this as an incredible opportunity to build their teams,” Wilson said.

Principals are being given hiring autonomy using a provision in the teachers’ contract that lets principals hire whomever they want as long as the new teacher is paid a $1,250 stipend. The stipend has been used sparingly in the past to attract science and special education teachers who are in short supply, but McDonough intends to use the stipend on every hire. The Boston Teachers Union has filed a grievance against the process. Only a handful of schools are being denied hiring autonomy because they failed to complete their teacher evaluations on time.

The big risk with McDonough’s hiring initiative is that some teachers who are owed jobs in the coming school year under the union contract may end up without teaching jobs once the hiring process is completed. School officials say the so-called excess pool is expected to contain 500 teachers who are owed a job within the system but don’t have one currently lined up.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Some of the teachers in the excess pool are on leaves and are expected to remain on leave next year. Many of the other teachers in the excess pool are expected to be hired by other Boston schools. “We think a large number of them will be gobbled up pretty quick,” Wilson said.

But McDonough will have to find jobs for those that aren’t hired by other schools. In an earlier CommonWealth story on McDonough’s new hiring philosophy, the superintendent acknowledged his new policy is a big risk that comes with potentially significant up-front costs. He said stranded teachers will be assigned useful work and not left sitting around doing nothing. “We’re a labor intensive organization,” he said. “There are tons of uses for valuable employees in a whole bunch of areas.’