MTA attacks Baker on testing

Union chief calls Commissioner Riley incompetent

THE MASSACHUSETTS Teachers Association went on the attack against Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday, calling the state education commissioner incompetent in delivering 200,000 rapid COVID-19 testing kits to schools and urging the governor to be more flexible around virtual learning from home.

“We are tired of Band-Aid approaches from Baker and [Education Commissioner Jeff] Riley when it comes to facing the biggest public health threat of our time,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy in a statement.

Baker, speaking after taking a ride on the nearly finished Green Line extension to Somerville, brushed aside the comments, insisting repeatedly that Massachusetts is one of the nation’s leaders on testing and vaccinations. He said his administration has purchased and distributed 2.1 million rapid test kits and secured a contract with a vendor that municipalities can use to buy more.

Baker and the Massachusetts Teachers Association have repeatedly tangled over the last two years over COVID policies, but Najimy’s comments on Thursday were unusually pointed. She said Baker and Riley have created a “logistical nightmare all the way from distribution to testing oversight, placing the burden on school staff — particularly school nurses, who are already stretched beyond their capacity.”

Najimy said “the commissioner’s incompetence” puts school districts in a difficult situation and called on Baker to create a much broader distribution mechanism for providing ongoing access to testing for students and school staff.

Reporters pressed Baker about the long lines of people waiting to purchase rapid test kits. The governor said lack of staffing makes it difficult to expand the rapid-test rollout and urged the public to be patient as the supply-demand imbalance on test kits plays out. His comments were similar to what he said earlier this month.

“Honestly, at this point in my time my message would be the same,” he said.

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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.

Najimy also broached the idea of returning to at-home learning as the case counts rise. “In this moment, there may be further instances when in-person learning is temporarily deemed too risky, and it is time for the department to show flexibility and leadership in this area,” Najimy said.

Baker stated emphatically that was not going to happen. “No, kids need to be in school,” he said. “If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic it’s that the damage that was done to kids should never be repeated. We have the tools and capabilities to keep people safe.”