EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 24, 2013

Editorial: Teachers union’s stalling won’t help kids

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Under his plan to revive Lawrence’s moribund school system, Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley wants to give all city teachers a raise, allow the best and most experienced teachers to earn as much as $100,000 per year and plans to invite the top 100 teachers to serve in a “teacher leader cabinet” to advise him on the turnaround plan.

Yet, in spite of this effort to reward teachers for performance and bring them in to the turnaround process, the Lawrence Teachers Union finds itself aggrieved. The union contends Riley’s actions violate collective bargaining law. The union has filed three unfair labor practice complaints with the state Labor Relations Board in an effort to block Riley’s reforms.

Riley is justifiably frustrated with what he sees as the union’s stalling tactics.

“The union acts as if we are not in state receivership and that it’s business as usual,” Riley told reporter Mark E. Vogler.

“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.

The teachers union, along with the School Committee and inept city management, can each claim a share of the blame for the school system’s miserable failure of Lawrence’s students. The teachers union, if its members truly want to help the city’s children and not just themselves, should be helping, not hindering, the reforms Riley has proposed.

The union, led by President Frank McLaughlin, notes in its complaint that talks ended on 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.

The union wants the Department of Labor Relations to order the Lawrence Public Schools 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 ...”

The state declared in 2011 that Lawrence’s schools were “chronically underperforming” leading to the appointment of Riley as receiver early in 2012. State law gives the receiver final authority to run the school system as he sees fit. 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.

Change is needed, desperately, in the operations of Lawrence schools. Union leadership, clinging to its old prerogatives, is standing in the way of that change. The union needs to lead, follow, or get out of the way.