Legislators hear message to put educators on the BESE

Carrying petitions signed by nearly 5,000 people who support adding educators to the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Arlington Public Schools speech and language specialist Mary Cummings told legislators that it’s difficult to fully understand the profession of teaching “unless you’re in it.”

“Our public schools are the best in the country,” and that’s because of the efforts of public school educators, said Cummings as she testified before the Joint Committee on Education on Wednesday, September 9, in support of legislation that would designate two seats on the BESE for educators.

House 375 and Senate 269 stipulate that the governor would choose one BESE member from a list of three candidates submitted by the MTA, and one from a list provided by the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts.

Under current law, actively employed educators are prohibited from serving on the 11-member board, which sets policy for all public schools in the state. The appointed board does have seats designated especially to represent other interests, such as parents, students and business, however.

Responding to questions from legislators after testifying in support of the bills, MTA President Barbara Madeloni told the Education Committee that the existing BESE seat designated for a labor representative is not the same as having active educators on the board.

“The labor designee looks at broad issues of working conditions, and that’s different from what a teacher or a paraprofessional will be looking at,” Madeloni said. “An educator will look at what regulations mean to the 5-year-olds or to the 15-year-olds once those regulations enter the classroom.”

Representative Sean Garballey (D-Arlington), lead sponsor of the House version of the bill, recalled that when he was a school committee member, he considered it vital to know the views of classroom teachers when the committee was debating policy.

“It’s a perspective missing on the Board of Education, and it’s important to add that perspective,” Garballey said. “It’s not about creating tension, but to strengthen the board.”

Senator Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington), sponsor of the Senate bill, said that a board with so much influence over a profession needs input from those in the field.

“I was a firefighter, and a lot of people know about fires. But not many people have been in a burning building.”
— Senator Ken Donnelly

“I was a firefighter, and a lot of people know about fires. But not many people have been in a burning building,” he said.

MTA leaders, members and staff also testified in support of a bill to shift the cost of national background checks from employees to the state and a bill that would reverse the course of a 2014 Supreme Judicial Court ruling that drastically alters the application of “just cause” in terminations of educators with Professional Teacher Status.

Speaking in support of Senate Bill 350, which would restore the ability of an arbitrator to determine whether an educator was justly terminated for a job infraction, Madeloni said that the SJC disregarded the Legislature’s intent, which was spelled out in the Education Reform Act of 1993.

“This is a dangerous decision that overturned 20 years of case history and now leaves educators’ right to a fair dismissal process in shambles,” she said.

Madeloni also spoke in support of House Bill 494, which would make the state responsible for the costs of national background checks for all current and future public school employees with any direct access to students. Licensed educators who have already paid would be able to deduct the $55 fee from their next license renewal, and non-licensed employees would be reimbursed the $35 fee if they have already paid it.

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