Nearly a hundred parents and educators joined together in a rally last Thursday outside Town Hall. The group then filed into the building to speak during the public comment portion of the scheduled School Committee meeting to urge the committee to settle its contract dispute with Brookline teachers. The Brookline Educators Union (BEU) and the School Committee signed a three-year contract in 2011.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, both parties agreed to extend their 2011-2014 contract through August 31, 2015. Since then, Brookline teachers have been working without a contract. Over 200 educators staged an informational picket in Coolidge Corner on December 12 to bring attention to their contract situation.

At the center of the conflict is the unions claim that demanding mandatory paperwork required of them doesn’t leave them much time to effectively give attention to each child in order to provide them with a quality education. The union contends a contract designed to bring this outcome does not exist.

This has become more standardized and computer-driven, and teachers don’t have time to really get to know the children they teach,” said Jessica Wender-Shubow, President of the Brookline Educators Union, who was at the rally. “Teachers should have some say over conditions of their work in an effort to give children the quality education that they deserve. We want to be respected as skilled professionals worthy of dignity on the job and good judgment. Required meetings, data entries, and paperwork take up too much of the teachers’ time. Clinicians, speech therapists, psychologists, social workers, and guidance counselors, who work in the public schools, are also facing challenges in providing children with quality services”.

BEU claims it has submitted proposals to modify the contract, and is currently waiting for the School Committee’s response. “BEU is asking for a contract that includes technical language that allows teachers class preparation time every day, and limits the children-teacher ratio in classes and sessions in order to make sure the special needs of children are met with quality services,” said Wender-Shubow. “Time should be reserved in every faculty meeting for teachers to individually or collectively present their ideas and concerns. We’re waiting for serious and respectful response to our proposal”.

Frustrated parents and teachers chanted outside Town Hall and held up signs like “To teach well, I need time to prepare, to provide feedback, to collaborate, to reflect” and “Fair Contract Now”. Protestors either wore a blue or yellow patch stickers; blue indicated teacher and yellow indicated parent. There were many who wore both.

The protestors then filed into the meeting ready to share their views with the committee. The public comment portion of the meeting had to be extended to approximately one hour. During the meeting, the group filled the room, sat on floors, stood at the back, took up every chair, and even listened from the hallway by the elevators.

One teacher commented during the meeting, “Brookline is no longer a stronger system, and I am no longer a stronger teacher.” Another commented, “We’re here to tell you what we need to help us do our job.”  More comments can be found here.

Parent Toby Raybould told the committee, “Every issue they [BEU] bring up gets stone-walled, and I feel frustrated that our teachers have to go through this, and I want the teachers to know that the parents support them, and I want the school committee to know that … just get it done now.”

After the meeting, spoke with Brookline teacher and parent Dominique Genyer, who held a sign at the rally that read “Support Brookline Teachers” in black all-capped letters over a white poster. “I want the School Committee to negotiate realistically with us. So far they are ignoring us,” Genyer said.

Rebecca Stone, chair of the Negotiations Subcommittee, disputed the union’s claim that it has been unresponsive and told those in attendance that the School Committee is in active negotiations with the BEU.

We have met multiple times and these negotiations started on July 8, 2015,” Stone said. “Please understand that everybody on this committee loves our teachers and we spend most of our time trying to support their work in support of our kids. There is no disagreement about the seriousness of the issues facing the Brookline schools. There is no disagreement about the seriousness of the issues that have been raised in contract negotiations. The only disagreement is on how best each issue is to be addressed, and that’s what negotiations are for.”

The next school committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 25.

Written by Vekonda Luangaphay