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Baker criticizes teachers' union for objecting to library volunteers

Posted October 12, 2010 02:32 PM

Governor's candidate Charlie Baker held a press conference in Bridgewater today to voice his outrage over a planned grievance by the Bridgewater-Raynham teachers' union that attempts to stop the use of volunteers in the school district's libraries.

"The teacher's union knows if I'm elected, it won't be business as usual on Beacon Hill," he said.

"There are many examples of teachers unions making decisions based on the interests of adults rather than the kids," Baker continued. "I hope the teachers here will go up against the union leadership and say 'this is the wrong answer.'"

Baker said elected officials have to push back and say no to the unions, particularly in today’s economic climate. "It's outrageous that the union leadership is trying to block the students from the library; putting their own interests ahead of the kids."

The teachers’ union in Bridgewater and Raynham is planning to file a labor grievance that could block volunteers from keeping the school district’s libraries open.

Librarian positions were cut from the middle schools in both towns this year and their salaries channeled into hiring teachers to address bulging class sizes. Volunteer organizations stepped in to pick up the slack.

Anita Newman, president of the Bridgewater Raynham Education Association, last week confirmed the union’s plan to file a grievance with school principals. All schools whose libraries are being kept open by volunteers would be part of the grievance, she said.

“You’re putting unqualified people into the library who are not certified,’’ Newman said, calling it the basis of the planned grievance. “We don’t want to ruffle feathers, but you’re responsible for the children. We don’t use volunteers for recess or lunch either.’’

Newman said today that she is moving forward with the grievance process. “We’re in the fact-finding stage now, and I’ve already discussed it with the superintendent,” Newman said. “I love volunteers, but when they take the place of a teacher – and a librarian is a teacher – that’s a violation of the contract.”

Newman went on to say the school committee should have realized that using volunteers to fill in for professionals in the system was not allowed.

“The school committee doesn’t even know the contract,” Newman said. “This is a multi-million dollar operation being run by volunteers, since that’s what school committee members are.”

Some parents, who attended the Baker event, predict an outcry from residents in both Bridgewater and Raynham over the union's action. Among them was Bridgewater resident Merry Boegner, who had turned out with her two pre-schoolers.

"I think it's disgraceful," Boegner said. "We're in economic times where we need to be creative. We do the same at home with our families. Here, you have people willing to help out, and you don't want it."

Bridgewater resident Bill Rivers also has two preschoolers. “This matters to me as someone who will have children in school,” Rivers said. “The teachers have taken a very short-sighting stance.”

One Bridgewater former selectwoman predicted this latest action by the union may change some minds. “This will finally make the parents wake up to see how they are being used by the teachers,” said Marybeth Lawton.

Both Bridgewater and Raynham passed overrides last Spring that benefited the regional school district. Voters were told “it was for the kids,” noted Lawton. “They got their money,” Lawton said. “Now if this is really about the kids, let it be for the kids.”

Newman, meanwhile, expressed surprise at the attention the union’s planned grievance has drawn. “I was hoping this wouldn’t become a tempest in a teapot, but it did.”

Regional school superintendent Jacqueline Forbes plans to continue with volunteers in the libraries while trying to settle the matter with teachers. “Volunteers are essential to assist and help us,” Forbes said.

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