Teaching the district a lesson

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on


We’ve seen this movie all too many times. There was the kerfluffle when the Boston Teachers Union opposed allowing Teach for America fellows into the Boston Public Schools. More recently, there was the story about teachers in Bridgewater and Raynham who opposed letting volunteers staff the libraries so they could keep them open. Those were two that made the papers. Often stories of union pressure don’t. The pressure tactics go under the radar screen… except when they get especially egregious.

Fast-forward to a report a couple of weeks ago by Brian McGrory entitled Teachers Need a Lesson.

After the usual throat-clearing about teachers (“I’m a huge fan of teachers, and fully understand that most public school teachers are conscientious, hard-working people who are woefully underpaid for the outsized influence they have on society.”), McGrory told the story of King Philip Regional High School.

I recently spent at King Philip Regional High School, a stunning new facility in Wrentham that also serves Norfolk and Plainville, where teachers and the school committee are locked in a dispute that has left students smack in the middle.

… In September, [teachers] unilaterally canceled all independent study courses that had been agreed upon last year, leaving kids scrambling. The teachers are also refusing to enter grades in an online system that allows parents to keep up from home. And worst of all, students and parents say that teachers are refusing to write personalized recommendations for kids applying to college, instead offering mere form letters.

… The teachers union began negotiations seeking a 28 percent raise over three years, Robeson said. That’s right — 2-8, no decimal point in the middle — a number that makes the Boston firefighters seem charitable in comparison. That request has since fallen.

Last I heard it was 14 percent over three years, not including step increases, which should amount to an additional 3-4 percent. I understand the moral outrage McGrory closed with:

I can’t help but wonder if the teaching profession, or at least the union leaders who exert too much influence over it, have completely lost their collective minds.

But the answer is no. They haven’t. This has been the reality in our school contract negotiations for a long time. And it is why the former president and later chancellor of Boston University, John Silber, used to note with some frequency back when BU was the guiding hand in the Chelsea Public Schools that any administrator must be willing to take a strike—otherwise the unions will walk all over you.

The unions, not the teachers. There are lots of teachers in the King Philip Regional High School who are downright sick over this chest-thumping by their unions bosses. They have spent years with these kids, and know the kids are losing respect for them, and know that the kids are getting a raw deal. So what now?

The King Philips’ school committee filed a Strike Investigation Petition on October 4, 2010 with the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relation’s Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (CERB),

alleging that teachers in the school district were refusing to perform certain duties which they had done in the past, namely, refusing to serve as advisors on Independent Study classes; refusing to write individualized letters of recommendations for high school seniors applying to colleges; and, refusing to use the I-Pass system in order to keep parents updated on their child’s academic progress.

A hearing was held and a day after McGrory’s report, they laid out their findings. The CERB found that

teachers had withheld the services identified by the School Committee in its petition. The CERB further found, however, that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the duties in question were required duties under the law. Accordingly, the CERB dismissed the Committee’s petition.

So even though teachers were serving as advisors, writing letters of recommendation, and keeping parents informed of school progress before, and even though anybody in his or her right mind knows that’s part of the job, they don’t have to do it. Takeaways?

  1. The CERB, stacked with pro-union members, basically is stating that teachers everywhere can justifiably do a “contract lockdown” – work to the contract and nothing more. It’s an old AFL-CIO, manufacturing sharp elbows tactic.
  2. The district is back to square one, except that the school committee now knows that they have no option but to cave to the union. Parents will now direct their calls of complaint against the school committee because parents want short-term things (letters of recommendation) and resolution of this dispute is a long-term prospect (waiting for them to strike), which will not happen.
  3. Bummer for all those seniors applying to colleges.
  4. The district is going to look a lot worse after this year because the college admission rate is going to be a lot lower.

Congratulations to the unions and to the pro-union CERB. You have shown what your political clout can achieve.