Wednesday, August 27, 2014
MTA takes Level 5 fight to court ... By Laura Barrett
The MTA has filed complaints in Middlesex Superior Court contending that the state’s takeover plans for the two Level 5 schools represented by the association unlawfully cut members’ pay and undermine teachers’ rights while also failing to demonstrate how the changes set forth will improve student achievement.
The first lawsuit, challenging the plan for the Parker Elementary School, was filed on July 18 on behalf of the New Bedford Educators Association.
The second, challenging the plan for the Morgan Full Service Community School, was filed on July 23 on behalf of the Holyoke Teachers Association.
“I’m thrilled that the MTA has filed these lawsuits,” said Lou St. John, president of the NBEA. “The commissioner of education has acted like a rogue and is doing whatever he wants. I don’t think he is following the intent of the law. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education basically rubber-stamped whatever the commissioner wanted. I feel that a court will be more likely to make a decision based on the facts.”
The lawsuits also contend that Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester failed to follow legally required procedures in establishing the turnaround plans and that the BESE erred when it refused to require him to send revised plans back to the stakeholder groups for further review.
“State law creates a highly collaborative process for turning around underperforming schools that requires the input of numerous stakeholders, including teachers and their unions,” said Sandra Quinn, the MTA attorney who prepared and filed the Morgan complaint on behalf of the HTA. “The commissioner flouted legislative intent by creating a punitive process that will discourage the recruitment and retention of teachers.”
Chester designated the schools in New Bedford and Holyoke, along with two in Boston, as Level 5 — or “chronically underperforming” — under the Achievement Gap Act of 2010. The law entitles the commissioner to develop turnaround plans and name a receiver for each Level 5 school.
In Holyoke, Texas-based Project GRAD USA was named the receiver of Morgan. In New Bedford, School Superintendent Pia Durkin was named the receiver for Parker.
In both schools, all teachers were required to reapply for their jobs. Most chose not to reapply, citing working conditions in the schools and their frustration that many of their ideas about how to help their high-need students were not heeded.
The law also requires the commissioner to develop the turnaround plans with input from local stakeholder groups.
Despite differences in local conditions and recommendations from the stakeholders, all of the Level 5 plans were very similar, reflecting Chester’s support for a longer day for students and teachers even if there are not enough funds available to provide pay commensurate with the time required.
As a result, teachers at Morgan have to work 395 more hours each year — or 30 percent more time — for about 5 percent more pay. At Parker, they have to work 392 hours more for about 7 percent more pay.
The lawsuits state that these changes amount to an unlawful salary cut because they reduce a teacher’s rate of pay.
In addition, both plans abolish collectively bargained salary schedules and replace them with performance-based pay systems, under which teachers move up to the next level based on their evaluations, not on their years of service. Chester has been vocal in his support of moving the state to a more performance-based pay system.
The plans also eliminate the normal grievance procedures and arbitration before a neutral third party and instead give “substantial deference” to the receiver and final say to the commissioner in disputes with management.
The Morgan complaint contends that these changes “bear no rational relationship to the central statutory purpose of maximizing rapid student achievement.”
“We are at the initial stages of litigation and look forward to receiving a response to the complaint from the board and the commissioner,” said MTA attorney Laurie Houle, who prepared and filed the Parker complaint on behalf of the NBEA. “Our hope is that this process will result in an improved turnaround plan that will better lead to the rapid academic achievement of students in these schools.”
Posted by NBEA