News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective
10th July 2010

Nutter’s attack on me simplistic, lacking facts

posted in Education, Local Politics, school committee |

If it wasn’t such a serious and complex issue, it would be laughable: The idea that I am too pro-union to act in the best interests of our children’s education. That seems to be the general rant in Gerry Nutter’s blog against me, in particular, as well as other members of the Lowell School Committee. I speak for myself here and I’m going to do it carefully because we are under rules to keep details of union negotiations confidential—not my rules, mind you, but state law requires both parties agree to negotiation terms, and our terms are that negotiations are confidential.

Here are some facts I can address: I have voted on two new teacher contracts since joining the school committee in 2004. (We are currently without a new contract.) During my first term, I was the lone vote against the teachers’ contract. (Regina Faticanti, former school committee member, also voted no initially and then changed her vote.) I voted no because I didn’t think we could afford the wage adjustments, and sure enough, during our next budget year, then-City Manager John Cox recommended the council not fund the amount required over the three-year contract despite the fact that his representative and the mayor had voted for it. At that time, I argued successfully to the city council that we would not have had that contract if it had not been for the city’s support, which included votes from then-mayor Armand Mercier and T.J. McCarthy, former assistant city manager. The council ultimately provided the funds.

 During my second round with the teachers’ union, I supported the contract we negotiated after about 18 months of meetings and mediation, including one marathon, eight-hour session that lasted until 3 a.m. I supported the contract along with my colleagues, including then-Mayor Bill Martin, because the wage increases were moderate—the last one percent increase went into effect June 2009—and because we got adjustments in school start/stop times that enabled us to save a quarter of a million dollars on transportation and another parent-teacher meeting, which we desperately needed.

Mr. Nutter and other folks who comment on his blog can’t possibly know about the hours and hours of frustrating negotiation meetings because, as I mentioned earlier, they are not privy to those details. What they should know, however, is that generous benefits were put into the contracts decades ago. To simply demand the committee “stand tough against the union” is simplistic and completely lacks understanding of labor law in this state, the mindset of union leadership, and the impact poor labor relations has on student learning. The union will not give up these benefits easily, and we do not have the resources to take them back.

I do my best to “stand tough” with our unions while looking to find consensus around our shared goals and investment in student achievement. I support our good teachers because they are the backbone of what we do, but my allegiance always is to the students and their parents who elect me to do my best to make sure our children get a good education: That means I work with the unions not for them, and at the end of the day, every vote I take is measured against its impact on our students.

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