Teachers’ union opposes ballot question deal

The state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 22,000 public school employees, has forged an alliance with the AFL-CIO against a deal struck by the state’s largest teachers union on legislation aimed at averting a divisive ballot campaign over merit-based hiring and firing decisions in public schools.

The American Federation of Teachers announced Friday morning that the union was not on board with the deal struck Thursday between the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Stand for Children on legislation that would prioritize teacher evaluations in hiring, firing and tenure decisions.

“We do not support this extreme legislation that holds untested plans at a higher regard than the dedication, knowledge and experience of the nation’s leading educators,” said Tom Gosnell, president of AFT Massachusetts. “To achieve a bright future for Massachusetts students, we must collaborate with parents, community leaders, and we must respect the expertise of dedicated teachers who are committed to providing every student with a world-class education.”

The Massachusetts chapter of the AFL-CIO, the state’s largest organized labor group, issued a statement in support of the AFT, predicting a “fight” on Beacon Hill to defeat the bill should legislative leaders seek to advance it.

“We will stand strong with AFTMA in a shared fight to defeat the legislation and its attack on collective bargaining rights for teachers,” read the statement issued by the AFL-CIO, which is led by former state Sen. Steven Tolman. “We urge all legislators not to turn the clock back on the real progress made by our experienced, unionized teachers in Massachusetts public schools whose professionalism and experience gained through seniority deliver the top educational achievements in the country and the western world.”

The opposition of the two unions adds a new twist to the deal announced between the MTA and Stand for Children that, if accepted by the Legislature, would avoid having to ask voters to weigh in on a complicated policy change in the midst of what promises to be an expensive advertising onslaught.

Legislative leaders have expressed general support for finding a legislative solution to the issue to avoid a ballot campaign, but the opposing positions taken by organized labor creates another thorny issue for the Legislature to resolve under a tight timeframe as formal session wind to a close.

Under the compromise, union and school districts would be required to collectively bargain criteria for laying off teachers. Starting in 2016, that criteria based on teacher evaluations and other negotiated factors would take precedence over seniority and length of service. The deal also requires that principals and superintendents consult in “good faith” should the need arise to involuntarily transfer or reassign teachers with performance again counted as the primary determinant over seniority, and calls for the Legislature to appropriate $13.3 million over the next two years for evaluation system training.

MTA President Paul Toner on Thursday told the News Service that the compromise succeeded in protecting union bargaining rights over the criteria for how teacher evaluations are used in staffing decisions.

Toner and Stand for Children Executive Director Jason Williams pitched the compromise on Thursday to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Education Committee Co-Chairwoman Rep. Alice Peisch.

“While Speaker DeLeo has not had the opportunity to read or study the discussed legislation, he is encouraged that both sides appear to have reached an agreement on a contentious issue,” said the speaker’s spokesman, Seth Gitell.

A spokesman for Senate President Therese Murray said the Plymouth Democrat was supportive of the compromise, and Peisch told the News Service the deal seemed “reasonable.”

The MTA and Stand for Children had plans to meet with Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester on Friday to present the deal, and earlier in the week briefed Gov. Deval Patrick’s education secretary, Paul Reville. A spokeswoman for Reville said the administration was still reviewing the plan.

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Gov. Patrick’s position on the legislation could be critical, with both sides indicating that a bill would have to be signed by July 3 in order for Stand for Children to drop its initiative petition drive.

The AFL-CIO Massachusetts represents over 400,000 workers, while the MTA counts over 100,000 members.