Boston Teachers Union, School Dept. reach tentative deal

The Boston Teachers Union and the School Department reached a tentative agreement early this morning on a new contract after 27 months of contentious negotiations, city and union officials said today.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, flanked by leaders of the school system and the union at a City Hall news conference, said the agreement “will take our schools to new heights. Change is hard and often hard-fought,” Menino said.

The new agreement is expected to bring sweeping changes to the way the School Department evaluates the performance of its roughly 5,000 teachers by relying on the use of student test scores. Teachers with an overall rating of unsatisfactory will be unable to receive a pay raise and could face a more speedy termination than in previous years.

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The city’s approximately 125 schools also will have greater flexibility to hire teachers transferring from another school.

Previously, schools for the most part could only interview the three teachers with the most seniority who applied for the position.

Under the deal, teachers would received salary increases over the life of the six-year contract: a 1 percent increase the second year, 2 percent the third, then 3 percent over the remaining three years. The raises will cost the city an estimated $136.5 million.

“We think this is a great day for the children of Boston,” said Superintendent Carol R. Johnson.

Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, said he was pleased to have reached a tentative agreement.

“We wanted a contract that is good for students, fair to members, and affordable for the city,” Stutman said.

The two sides met late Tuesday afternoon, and the talks reportedly continued into early this morning. It was the first time the two sides met face-to-face since talks broke down last month, and the talks took place against the backdrop the teachers strike in Chicago that hinged on several of the same issues.

The tentative agreement — should it be approved by the union’s membership and the School Committee — would end the need for the state Department of Labor Relations to formulate a resolution to break what had been a tense and bitter stalemate between the union and the School Department.

Throughout the talks, each side has made major concessions. In July, the School Department dropped its proposal to add 45 minutes to the day of most schools — a big stumbling block in the talks at that time — with the hope that the move would bring a resolution to the negotiations soon.

But a new stalemate emerged on teacher evaluations, prompting Mayor Thomas M. Menino to ask the state Department of Labor Relations to intervene and recommend a resolution. The agency agreed and was in the process of selecting a “fact-finder” to oversee the process.

That development persuaded the union in the last couple of weeks to offer a compromise.

It proposed accepting the city’s offer on wage increases if the School Department agreed to adopt a state prototype for teacher evaluations and a few other items of interest to the union, such as reducing class sizes in grades 6 and 9.

That proposal led to the exchange of additional proposals between the two sides that led to the meeting on Tuesday.

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