Boston teachers contract lays groundwork for success

Union chief cites five reasons deal holds real promise

RECENTLY, MEMBERS of the Boston Teachers Union reached an important milestone on the path toward building the schools our students and communities deserve. Together, we overwhelmingly ratified a new three-year agreement with Boston Public Schools that represents significant progress for students and families, educators, democratically elected local leaders, local administrators, and community allies — all of whom had a voice in formulating the new pact and informing the innovative solutions that pact contains.

Boston educators have been intentional about including a broad range of voices in our process, and in addition to creating key and collaborative solutions in this agreement, we have all worked hard to keep Boston Public Schools within local control – and not letting the system be rolled up into failed state receivership schemes.

Here are five reasons the new deal between Boston Public Schools and frontline educators holds a lot of promise for Boston’s kids and families.

First, this agreement takes key steps to further prioritize the learning experiences and needs of students with disabilities and English learners, because we know that when fully supported and staffed, all students benefit from classrooms that are inclusive and equitable.

It helps improve special education with targeted reductions in class sizes – committing funding for more supports and staff, and a better process for ensuring the needs of English Learners and students with individualized education plans are met by prioritizing staffing for both ESL educators and special education.

As advocated for by the union, the agreement helps us do more to ensure that the one in five BPS students with a disability are educated in the least-restrictive environment with specially designed instruction, so they have more of the support they need to meet their goals.

It also commits to funding for an Inclusive Education Liaison, who will play a critical role in implementing the shared vision of an inclusive district. It contains more funding for staff training around inclusion policies and best practices, along with training for school leaders, special and general education teachers, related service providers, and who are all critical to creating inclusive school cultures.

Second, it takes intentional steps advocated by the union to address teacher and staffing shortages by ushering in policies that will attract and retain highly qualified educators, including educators of color. This includes supports for additional licensure, more time for planning, and a historic new parental leave policy that provides paid leave for educators who also want to start their own families.

Third, the agreement makes progress on providing more of the mental health supports that are critical to addressing student needs, especially as students and families continue to grapple with the impacts of the pandemic. We simply cannot recover from the impacts of the pandemic without social-emotional learning interventions, and what we’ve agreed to with BPS promises we’re not going to lose any of our school psychologists, social workers, or guidance counselors. Much more is still needed, but through this agreement we are safeguarding important social-emotional support resources already in place.

Fourth, both within and beyond the contract, we have worked to secure key investment that we need to start modernizing our school facilities. We’ve gained more transparency from the school district around facility requests like when critical service is needed for classroom, common area, and other parts of the buildings. We’ve also worked with the Wu administration to begin rolling out the Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools, which will invest $2 billion and begin with long-overdue maintenance and renovations to deteriorating school buildings, and construction of 14 new buildings. These steps are important because we know that keeping students and staff healthy means making sure classrooms are well-ventilated and temperature-controlled, adequately furnished, and that schools have space for other services such as counseling, speech therapy, and nursing needs.

Fifth, this agreement recognizes that housing conditions are learning conditions and invests an unprecedented $50 million to begin shoring up more of the affordable housing that Boston students and families need. Across the US and here in Boston, far too many children and youth are unhoused, and this crisis disproportionately impacts students with disabilities, English Learners, and others who faced additional challenges and barriers during the pandemic. The affordable housing investments and provisions secured within our contract includes expanding a pilot program to accommodate the families of up to 4,000 homeless students. The goal of this investment is to eliminate homelessness for our students’ families in five years.

We appreciate the commitment to working on issues like those mentioned above that was reflected by Mayor Wu and by the Boston Public Schools in reaching this agreement.

Throughout the process, our members have been laser focused on improving student outcomes and building a more equitable public education system in Boston. They see this contract as providing the resources and tools to deliver on that vision. As families start settling into this year’s school routine, I hope they’ll join us in taking note of the many ways this contract lays the groundwork for a brighter future for BPS students and their families.

This new agreement is truly the result of educators, families, community allies, and our city and school district leaders uniting to challenge conventional assumptions and make sure everyone’s voices are heard, and then harnessing our collective strength to give all of Boston’s children, families, and communities more hope and the tools to build the schools they deserve.

Jessica Tang is president of the Boston Teachers Union, which represents more than 10,000 teachers and other professionals including school nurses, psychologists, guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, and substitute teachers.