EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 25, 2013

'Teacher Leader Cabinet' plan riles Lawrence Teachers Union

Group files complaints against superintendent/receiver

By Mark E. Vogler

---- — LAWRENCE — Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley plans to create a “teacher leader cabinet” to reward top educators in the city with a $5,000 honorarium and empower them in the ongoing turnaround of Lawrence Public Schools.

Under the proposal, Riley would take “the best” 100 teachers in the district and form two advisory groups that would each serve six month stints, beginning in August. Cabinet members would meet with him for monthly briefings on the continuing vision and progress of the turnaround plan and upcoming initiatives.

“They’ll provide me with their own thoughts and perspective from their schools and classrooms: what they see working, what the challenges are and the potential solutions,” Riley said in an interview yesterday.

“It’s the all-too-rare chance to have regular, unfiltered discussions between me and our best teachers on how to keep the turnaround on course,” he added.

But Lawrence Teachers Union President Frank McLaughlin said Riley violated state labor law by posting an announcement for the stipend position without first bargaining with the union.

Riley’s proposed teacher leader cabinet and his alleged dealings with the union — leaders accuse him of failing to bargain in good faith — are the subject of two recent unfair labor practice complaints filed with the state Labor Relations Board.

In a two-page complaint, the union requested that the announcement be rescinded and that the superintendent/receiver be “ordered to bargain in good faith over the terms of the stipend position. In another 10-page complaint, the union seeks to stop Riley from implementing terms and conditions of employment without violating collective bargaining laws.

“The Lawrence schools are struggling, but silencing teachers and weakening their ability to advocate for kids is not the way to go,” McLaughlin said a recent statement.

“The receiver is attempting to negate the very essence of collective bargaining, which exists to give teachers a voice in decision-making. Rather than collaborating with teachers, families and the community, he is unilaterally imposing an untested, unproven plan, which in the end will hurt the kids in our classrooms,” he said.

In addressing the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this week, McLaughlin denounced the way Riley is proceeding with the turnaround plan as “simply wrong.”

“What’s happening in Lawrence now feels more and more like old-fashioned teacher exploitation and union-busting under the banner of ‘educational reform,’ “ he told the board.

Lawrence Teachers Union members, who have been working without a contract for three years, voted at their April 3 meeting to file the complaints with the state Labor Relations Board.

But Riley and state education officials questioned the union complaints, noting that the state take-over of the city’s schools gives him the power to limit or suspend collective bargaining rights.

“Regardless of our differences with union leadership right now, I believe in the teaching talent we have in this city and the importance of their contribution to the turnaround,” Riley said.

“That’s why it’s particularly disappointing to see the Teacher Leader Cabinet singled out for legal attack. It’s almost inconceivable that the teachers union would seek to limit the voices of their membership and prevent them from earning additional compensation,” Riley said.

“The focus should be on empowering our teachers to make the biggest possible contribution to the turnaround and rewarding them for it — the sooner the better — and instead local and Mass AFT leadership’s first move is litigation,” he said.