MTA-backed alternative to ballot initiative approved

An MTA-backed alternative to Stand for Children’s ballot initiative was signed into law June 29 by Governor Deval Patrick, ending Stand’s bid to have the controversial initiative appear on November’s ballot.

Under the new law, school committees and local associations are required to negotiate contract changes by school year 2016-17 to ensure that teacher performance plays a more significant role than seniority in layoff and transfer decisions.

“The MTA has advocated for excellent teachers for all students since our founding, and we continue that tradition in our support for this new law,” said MTA President Paul Toner. “The alternative plan is vastly superior to the Stand initiative, and it mirrors the views expressed by a majority of our members.”

Toner continued, “Fighting this on the ballot would have been extremely expensive and divisive. It would have distracted us from pursuing other important priorities that are good for students and fair to educators.”

The MTA Board of Directors voted to support the alternative plan in May after Stand agreed to eliminate 29 of the 31 provisions in the ballot initiative. The two remaining provisions require the following changes beginning in September 2016:

  • Layoffs: Local contracts must reflect that “indicators of performance, best interests of the students and needs of the district” are the primary factors in layoff decisions involving teachers with Professional Teacher Status. Teachers without PTS must be laid off before those with PTS, as under current law. Seniority can be a tie-breaker between two equally qualified teachers. The criteria and processes governing layoffs will be determined through negotiations.
  • Reassignments: The new law will require “good faith consultation” between superintendents and principals when a teacher is being involuntarily reassigned from one school to another. As in layoffs, performance must be a primary consideration. The superintendent will have final say over teacher assignment.

Provisions that Stand agreed to drop and that are not part of the new law include the following:

  • Teachers would have lost the right to bargain over criteria and processes in all personnel actions relating to appointments, assignments and layoffs.
  • Part-time teachers could never attain PTS.
  • Teachers with PTS could be laid off before provisional teachers without PTS.
  • Districts would have right to impose the state’s “model” evaluation system on teachers if the parties were unable to reach agreement.

Under the new law, districts must inform the state when they plan to train teachers and administrators in the new evaluation system and how they intend to fund that training.

AFT Massachusetts and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO initially opposed the alternative, but on June 20 they announced they would neither support it nor oppose it.

MTA Vice President Tim Sullivan said, “I would have preferred that those changes were made through collective bargaining. However, in the end it was clear to me that the alternative was much better than the ballot question, which would have made many disruptive and unnecessary changes to current laws and silenced the voice of teachers in making many important decisions about their schools.”