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2 Mass. unions drop opposition to teachers bill

By Bob Salsberg
Associated Press / June 20, 2012
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BOSTON—Two key labor unions said Wednesday they would no longer fight passage of compromise legislation that would revamp the state's teacher evaluation system and place performance before seniority in determining any future layoffs.

The announcements by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers could boost prospects for the bill, which if approved by lawmakers would likely head off a proposed statewide ballot question in November.

The child advocacy group Stand for Children, sponsor of the ballot initiative, reached the compromise earlier this month with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union.

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the state's largest labor union, and AFT Massachusetts had previously vowed to oppose the compromise. But the unions indicated in separate statements issued on Wednesday that they considered the proposed bill to be preferable to the language in the original ballot initiative.

"The Massachusetts AFL-CIO will no longer oppose legislation proposed by Stand for Children and the Massachusetts Teachers Association should it come up for a vote," the union said in a statement posted on its website. "However, we remain opposed to the tactics utilized by Stand for Children that was the genesis for the bill."

The union said the "far-reaching policy changes" proposed in the ballot question would have set dangerous precedents for education policy in Massachusetts.

AFT Massachusetts said in its statement that it would neither support nor oppose the bill going forward. The union said while it had "deep reservations" about the bill, it judged the compromise to be "far less harmful to our Commonwealth's first-in-the-nation schools than the misguided ballot question."

Stand for Children has said the compromise would guarantee that every public school in Massachusetts gives priority to a teacher's effectiveness rather than seniority when deciding who to place and keep in the classroom.

The group also said the compromise bill creates a data reporting system to ensure accountability in the new evaluation system and provides $13 million to school districts to ensure administrators and teachers are properly trained in the new system.

The Massachusetts Association of Teachers said in announcing the compromise June 7 that the agreement would avoid what was anticipated to be a "divisive and costly" fight over the ballot question. The union also said the compromise bill would retain greater collective bargaining rights for teachers in layoffs than under the ballot initiative.

The compromise has the backing of top lawmakers, but the Legislature still faces a tight window to act on the bill.

Stand for Children could still opt to place its original question on the November ballot by gathering at least 11,485 additional signatures by July 3.

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