Failing district’s teachers union challenges state-imposed reforms

Apr 25, 2013 by

LAWRENCE, Mass. – The Lawrence Teachers Union recently filed two complaints with the Massachusetts Labor Relations Board in an effort to preserve employee “rights,” despite the obvious cost to student achievement.

The union contends receiver Jeffrey Riley, who was appointed by the state to run the failing school district, is exceeding the authority granted to him by a 2010 education reform law, which specifically allows him to nullify union contract provisions to “maximize the rapid academic achievement of students,” the Boston Globe reports.

State officials seized control of the school district in 2012 after years of dismal student academic performance, according to the news report. Riley is planning big changes for the 2013-14 school year, including a performance-based pay system for teachers and longer school days.

The teachers union doesn’t like the changes – particularly the performance-based pay scale – and insists that Riley lacks the power to implement them.

“There is a clear anti-union agenda here,” Lawrence Teachers Union President Frank McLaughlin told the news site.

The Globe says the union’s challenge to the state school takeover law is a first. If upheld, the challenge could have far-reaching implications in the debate over the role of teachers unions in reforming poor public schools, the newspaper reported.

State education commissioner Mitchell Chester told the news site the union’s objections to the changes in Lawrence were expected.

“I anticipated the changes we’re implementing in Lawrence would make many people uncomfortable, especially those with a vested interest in the status quo,” he said.

Riley said his authority to make the changes under state law is crystal clear. He said the law was designed for situations like the one in Lawrence, in which union officials refuse to help address academic failures.

“This became the first and still the only community in receivership because it failed too many students for too long, and dramatic new approaches are needed,” Riley said in a statement, according to the Globe.

“Not only did (union) leadership refuse to participate, they chose to litigate to preserve a failed system,” he said.

The oddest part is the teachers union seems to be more interested in preserving the traditional seniority-based pay scale than in gaining more compensation for its members.

The new pay system, for example, will increase compensation for all teachers by an average of $3,000 per year, but does away with the system that grants raises based on the number of years in the district.

Instead, teachers will receive reviews based on their actual performance with students.

“A new teacher could be at the top of the (pay) scale within five years” if they excel, Chester told the Globe.

There is no good reason for a failing school district to maintain a pay system that does nothing to encourage teachers to excel.

Students should always be the top priority, and if McLaughlin doesn’t understand that, then perhaps an “anti-union” mentality is exactly what’s necessary in the Lawrence school district.

via Failing district’s teachers union challenges state-imposed reforms – :: Education Research, Reporting, Analysis and Commentary.

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