BOSTON (State House News Service) – Teachers in the state’s struggling schools lack the same job security as their peers in high-achieving districts, labor leaders told lawmakers on Tuesday, seeking legislative action on a subject that is currently before the Appeals Court.
“School reforms work best when they are done with teachers not to them,” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni told the Committee on Public Service.
Madeloni said teachers with years of experience have been required to reapply for their jobs after the state took over their schools. She told the News Service, “Teachers who have been in schools for 20, 25 years are being told that they’re not good enough and they have to leave.”
In his State of the State address, Gov. Charlie Baker urged the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to use its ability to take over underperforming schools and districts, saying takeovers can “offer significant benefits to students, parents and teachers in schools that need our support.”
One of Baker’s appointments to the Supreme Judicial Court, Justice Kimberly Budd, last year as a Superior Court judge tossed a lawsuit brought by teachers unions in New Bedford, Holyoke and Boston. The suit challenged the state’s actions in takeovers of schools in the three cities.
Attorneys for the teachers in their brief to the Appeals Court said Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s plans for turning around the schools changed the teachers’ “wages, hours, and conditions of employment.” The union lawyers took issue with the procedures followed, but lawyers for the state argued the dismissal should be upheld.
“The Superior Court concluded that the Unions lacked standing to challenge the plans here, because their alleged injuries fall outside the Act’s area of concern, which is students, not teachers or unions,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Iraida Alvarez. “This decision was correct and should be affirmed.”
The Appeals Court heard oral arguments on the case last week.
On Tuesday, AFL-CIO Massachusetts President Steven Tolman, who testified alongside Madeloni and American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts President Thomas Gosnell, lit into the Republican governor.
“The guy in the Corner Office who refuses to raise any taxes, but he says it’s OK to screw public employees,” said Tolman, who voiced his support for a few bills before the committee. “Well together, we have to stand up against that, and stand up for justice for public employees.”
The labor leaders asked the Committee on Public Service to advance the bill (H 1364) filed by Cambridge Democrat Rep. Marjorie Decker that would roll back a provision of a 2010 education reform law, which was aimed at closing the achievement gap and unlocking federal education funds.
“The Legislature gave the Commissioner far-reaching powers” to provide for “rapid academic achievement,” Alvarez wrote in the Appeals Court brief, summarizing the statute.
Intended to mesh with the Obama administration’s educational goals, the 2010 law passed the Senate 23-12 and the House 97-47 with the backing of former Gov. Deval Patrick.
A committee summary of Decker’s bill, which has the backing of nine other Democrats including New Bedford Rep. Antonio Cabral, says it would eliminate a provision of the law allowing the education commissioner to “strip bargaining rights from school district employees” in a turnaround plan.
Tolman, who was in the Senate in 2010, said he didn’t support the legislation and claimed the Senate didn’t intend to infringe on collective bargaining rights – although labor rights were one of the controversial aspects of the legislation at the time.
“I’ve checked the journals because at no time did we ever intend to eliminate collective bargaining in our public debate in the Senate,” Tolman told the committee.