Editor, Townsman:

While there are several unresolved issues related to a new teachers' contract, the primary sticking point is the high school schedule. The School Committee has been clear since negotiations began 18 months ago that the current schedule, in which teachers teach three courses in one semester and only two in the other, is not fiscally sustainable. Equally important is the need to provide opportunities for more year-long continuity in subject areas such as English, social studies, and world languages than currently exist in our schedule.

The core issue is simple: Andover High School teachers spend substantially less time teaching in the classroom than their peers in other high-performing Massachusetts school districts. We have reviewed the contracts and schedules of more than 60 high schools - including all 16 of the peer communities to which Andover has historically compared itself, and every community that ranks higher than Andover in the most recent Boston Magazine high school rankings. This comparison reveals the following:

Of these 60+ school districts, only four (Cambridge, Groton-Dunstable, Cohasset, and Holliston) have a semesterized four-block high school schedule like ours. In every one of these schools, the faculty teaches three classes each semester, rather than three in one semester and two in the other like the teachers at Andover High. This means Andover employs six high school teachers for every five that the other school districts employ to run an identical schedule (a total of 14 to 16 additional teachers). This is not financially sustainable.

The vast majority of the remaining high schools use some variation of a year-long, 7-period schedule with teaching blocks of different lengths depending on the schedule. Teachers in these schools typically teach 5 periods, have a teaching load of 120-125 students at any given time, and have one 45-minute planning period and one 45-minute duty period daily all year. By comparison, teachers at Andover High have between 50 and 90 students per semester, have one 82- minute planning period daily throughout the year, and one 82-minute duty period daily during one semester.

In other words, our high school teachers are teaching fewer students and spending less time teaching in the classroom than their peers in other high-performing districts.

Our high school teaching staff does an excellent job within their current schedule. However, with resources tighter than ever, we have a responsibility to the community to consider alternatives for delivering the superior education our students deserve. In mediation, the School Committee has not taken any position on what high school schedule represents the best option; however, understanding that every top-performing high school in Massachusetts has a different — and less costly — schedule, we have proposed two alternatives to the AEA. Under either alternative, a committee of union members, administrators and parent representation would jointly recommend a new high school schedule that is good for students and fiscally sustainable.

The School Committee stands ready to immediately approve a new collective bargaining agreement with either Option A or Option B as presented in mediation.

We acknowledge that cost savings from any new high school schedule derive from the fact that we would need to employ fewer teachers. However, staffing decisions under any new schedule would be determined by the administrative Leadership Team, not the School Committee, and would take into account the new schedule, the goal of reducing class sizes, and students' academic needs. To the greatest extent possible, any staffing reductions would be accomplished through retirements and attrition.

Our town cannot afford a schedule that has our high school teachers spending much less time instructing students in the classroom than their peers in other Massachusetts towns. There is no question we have an outstanding faculty; it is among the very best in the state. We need a contract that has them in the classroom.

Andover School Committee

Annie Gilbert, Chairwoman

Paula Colby-Clements

David Birnbach

Richard Collins

Dennis Forgue

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