Springfield vacancies climb to 270 as exodus continues

The Springfield Finance Control Board has informed the Springfield Education Association that there are now 270 teacher vacancies to be filled next year. SEA President Timothy Collins said this mass exodus is a result of the two-year pay freeze and lack of a contract for four years, both of which have created frustration and uncertainty that have destabilized the school system.

"The situation has gone from a crisis to a catastrophe," said Collins, who added that the number of vacancies could climb much higher before September since 41 percent  of Springfield's teachers report they have submitted their résumés to other districts.

FCB Executive Director Phil Puccia and School Superintendent Joseph Burke told Collins about the vacancies on Tuesday and said that the city would like to pay new teachers hired to fill those vacancies under the FCB's proposed new compensation system, a proposal that is still being negotiated in contract talks. Under this plan, new teachers would be paid more than some of their veteran colleagues, while pay for experienced teachers who have stayed in the district would continue to be frozen.

Collins said that this proposal should be put before the mediator at the next mediation session, which is scheduled for July 20. He added that the SEA would fight any attempt by the district to impose a unilateral change in compensation. Such an action would violate the state's collective bargaining laws, he said.

"Paying new teachers on a different scale from veteran teachers would be confusing, divisive and disrespectful," said Collins. "It would also hasten the departure of even more veteran teachers from the district."

Collins said these issues affect the 2,500 Springfield educators and their students, not just the 270 who have already decided to leave.

"We are willing to discuss all issues in bargaining, but we urge the Finance Control Board to seriously consider the education reform proposals we have put on the table," he continued. "Our proposals will attract teachers to the district by treating them with respect and giving them more say in designing curricula to improve student learning across the seven major subject areas, while the board's actions and proposals are simply driving good teachers from the system. It's students who suffer the most when excellent teachers leave Springfield for greener, more welcoming, pastures."

Collins also announced that the SEA is filing for binding arbitration over a separate but related issue: teacher performance standards.

One of the FCB's proposals would, for the first time, base teacher evaluations and, eventually, compensation on student performance, utilizing a standardized test to be determined in the future. Collins said that this form of compensation has been tried in several communities across the country and then has been abandoned. "There are no data to indicate that it would have any positive effect on student performance," he added.
SEA members, like the vast majority of teachers across the country, object to such systems because teachers have no control over the skills and abilities that a particular group of students bring to their classrooms each year, or over their students' home and community environments.

"If you are going to pay teachers based on student test scores, what does that mean for the excellent teacher who has a large number of special needs students in his or her class, or another faced with a mid-year influx of students from other countries who are not native English speakers?" Collins said. "It is a terrible disincentive for teaching our poorest students with the greatest needs."

Under the state's Education Reform Act of 1993, either the union or the school committee in a district may petition the Commissioner of Education requesting binding arbitration to resolve disputes over teacher performance standards (though not over pay and other issues subject to collective bargaining). Once either side has made such a request, the commissioner must submit to both sides the names of three impartial arbitrators, from which one will be selected. Both sides must abide by the arbitrator's decision.

"We are opposed to the FCB's proposal on teacher performance standards," said Collins. "However, in the interest of moving negotiations forward, we are willing to live with whatever decision is reached by an impartial arbitrator and we expect the Finance Control Board to do the same.

"The FCB's recent practices and proposals have been driving excellent teachers from the district," he added. "We're in a tailspin. It's time to get these contract issues resolved, start paying teachers what they deserve and move our schools forward."