By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley said he is moving forward with key provisions of the Turnaround Plan for Lawrence Public Schools without the backing of the Lawrence Teachers Union.
Frustrated by what he sees as “stalling tactics” by the union to block new policies aimed at improving the city’s education system, Riley said he decided to use his authority to institute new rules affecting teachers after three months of negotiations failed to produce an agreement.
“The union acts as if we are not in state receivership and that it’s business as usual,” Riley said in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune.
“They simply want to maintain the status quo in Lawrence. As someone who is responsible to the taxpayers, parents, teachers and most importantly children, I cannot allow for ideology to get in the way of making the progress we need to turn around the district. The law requires that we take decisive action to fix the district quickly,” he said.
But the union contends Riley’s actions are illegal and filed an unfair labor practice complaint last week with the state Labor Relations Board, alleging he violated state labor law by failing to bargain in good faith. This is the third complaint filed by the union in the last three months accusing Riley of violating collective bargaining laws.
The recent two page complaint noted that talks ended on Sunday, June 30 when Riley “issued an ultimatum, either the Union reached agreement with the Employer that day or it would no longer meet with the Union and would implement.”
“The parties were unable to reach agreement in part because the Employer continued to refuse to make most terms and conditions of employment in the contract enforceable, refused to agree to stability of contract terms, refused to agree to enforceability of its own evaluation system, and refused to agree to abide by its own professional compensation system,” the complaint alleged.
“Wherefore, the Union requests that the Department of Labor Relations order the Employer to rescind its unilaterally imposed terms and conditions of employment and cease and desist from implementing these terms and conditions of employment without complying with its bargaining obligations ...”
Riley defended his actions, saying that state law gives him final authority to run the school system as he sees fit. Under his state appointment, he has unprecedented power to make additional changes to collective bargaining agreements that he determines are necessary.
“I don’t know how many times we have to say this for LTU leadership to understand: Lawrence is a Level 5 district, the only one in the state, and the status quo simply is no longer an option,” Riley said.
“Things can’t be done the old way and in fact it’s my job to make sure they change,” he said.
Lawrence Teachers Union President Frank McLaughlin has been highly critical of the state’s plan for turning around the city’s failing school system, which was declared “chronically underperforming” by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in November 2011.
While the state law that led to Lawrence’s designation as a “Level 5” school district gives Riley the authority to act as superintendent and School Committee, it does not give him the authority to eliminate teachers’ collective bargaining rights, McLaughlin argued.
“We do not believe that Mr. Riley and his team have engaged in goodfaith collective bargaining, and the unilateral implementation of the attached document is a testament to that,” McLaughlin wrote in an email to union members last week, referring Riley’s July 10 letter to educators, noting key provisions of Turnaround Plan he has implemented.
“This document is not a collective bargaining agreement and, therefore, nothing in its pages is grievable or arbitrable. You will also note that, throughout the pages, after virtually every important section this type of sentence appears: ‘The Superintendent retains final authority and his determination shall be final’,” McLaughlin wrote.
The union’s last collective bargaining agreement expired on Aug. 27, 2010. In March, Riley’s negotiating team presented the union with a new package of proposals, which it said were not subject to negotiations.
McLaughlin said the teachers union bargaining team did not agree to the plan Riley is implementing for several reasons:
Management’s insistence that it can change any provision of the “agreement” after 10 days’ notice to the union.
Lack of contract enforceability: Management has rejected all language which would allow teachers to enforce their working conditions, thereby refusing to be held accountable for its policies.
Management insistence on language saying that a principal can establish an alternative model of schoolbased decisionmaking without the consent of teachers at the school or the union. This proposal “makes a mockery out of management’s oft repeated promise to empower teachers and honor teacher voice.”
“Atwill” compensation: Management insists that the Receiver can ignore the salary schedule and pay certain teachers whatever amount he desires.
No real cap on teacher hours: Management says it will establish a cap on total teacher hours of 1,825 per year, but wants that cap to “exclude functions outside the normal school day, such as parent meetings, afterschool functions, and other similar activities.”
“Meager pay” for extended learning time: Teachers can earn a maximum of $4,000 on top of base salary for working up to 1,825 hours per year. The union says that less than minimum wage for the additional hours.
Educator evaluation: Management refuses to negotiate evaluation procedures and put them into the contract so they can be enforced. That deviates from the practices employed by every other Massachusetts school district that is implementing the state’s new evaluation system.
Reductions in force and displacements: Management refuses to bargain the criteria and rules that will guide teacher layoffs and displacements, insisting that the Receiver must have total discretion over such matters.
During his 18 months on the job, Riley said he has “demonstrated over and over my support of our teachers and my willingness to work with the union.”
“Though I had the right to make all teachers reapply for their jobs in this district due to its low performance, I did not do so,” Riley said.
“Instead, I looked at the bottom 5 to 10 percent of the teaching force and took action, believing that the vast majority of our teachers are great, good or working hard to improve. This in comparison to the nearly 40 percent of administrators I replaced and the 25 percent downsizing we have done at central office,” he said.
Riley noted that 100 percent of the city’s teachers will receive pay raises next year for the first time in three years.
“Teachers working extended day will also get an additional stipend for their efforts,” Riley said.
“Finally, over the truly bizarre objection of the union, I am activating the Teacher Leader cabinet I have proposed. This cabinet will allow 100 teachers to attain additional compensation to work with me to shape the district going forward,” Riley said.