Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 27, 2014

Rushed teacher contract a disservice

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

The unnecessarily rushed negotiating by the Andover School Committee of a new contract with the Andover teachers union is the most irresponsible act of the School Committee in the 29 years my family has lived in Andover. Contrary to the empty rationale given by the chairman of the School Committee (he said it was to save on legal fees), there was no need to railroad through the most important, as well as most expensive, town contract (a contract that is going to cost taxpayers approximately $180 million).

Besides ignoring the exploding cost structures of the current teachers union contract, this severely abbreviated negotiation ignored addressing the quality of education in Andover, ignored rectifying material shortcomings in reviewing the performance of teachers and ignored adding needed educational goals and incentives for teachers to measurably improve the quality of education being delivered to the town’s children. It merely stuffs more money in the pockets of members of the teachers union.

Having served on a school committee, the three most important responsibilities that a school committee has are the hiring/firing of a school superintendent, the setting of measurable educational goals and school system policies, and the negotiating of the contract with the teachers union.

The reason negotiating a contract with the teachers union is one of a school committee’s most important responsibilities is that these contracts control almost everything that gets done in the schools. School systems have ceded so much control of the educational process to teachers unions over the years that today the only way a school committee can exert any influence on what is to be achieved in a school system is via explicit provisions in the contract with the union. A school system superintendent, for instance, cannot even make changes in the structure of the school day that will improve the quality of education if it has not been previously negotiated into the contract.

That’s why preparing for and negotiating a teachers union contract should be a task on which a school committee spends most, not the least, of its time since it’s the primary mechanism by which a school system’s educational goals and objectives get translated into action and what gets done in the classroom.

So this rushed negotiating of the single most important contract in town represents an abdication by those members of the School Committee who pushed for and supported this short-circuited negotiation of one of their most important responsibilities. It merely saddles town residents with a contract that carries a $180 million price tag that fails to move the quality-of-education needle one bit and fails to rein in a school system compensation/benefits structure that has spiraled out of control.

Bob Pokress

3 Cherrywood Circle