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Mass. Union, Advocacy Group Strike Seniority Deal

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, a National Education Association affiliate, and the state chapter of the Stand for Children advocacy group have struck a deal on teacher seniority in the Bay State. Under the compromise, the union will support a legislative proposal weakening the place of seniority in layoff and transfer decisions, and Stand for Children will drop an aggressive ballot initiative that would have gone even further into areas like due process.

The union protested that Stand for Children's ballot initiative was far too complicated, while Stand for Children said it was necessary to make good on a teacher-evaluation law and regulations passed in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Under the terms of the compromise, nontenured teachers would still be dismissed before tenured teachers, during layoffs, but in all other cases performance would have to carry more weight in layoff decisions than seniority. The compromise allows for districts and unions to bargain the exact details. The compromise also permits districts to maintain some ability to transfer teachers; the ballot initiative would have required all transfers to be approved by principals. Also of interest: The proposal would shield individual teachers' performance ratings from public disclosures, though aggregate reporting would be required.

In addition, the changes would need to be bargained by 2016, whereas the ballot initiative's changes would have taken place in 2013.

Gov. Deval Patrick supports the proposal, though he also seems a little miffed about being asked to come up with the cash to pay for the new training for evaluators.

Some commentators are decrying the move and taking MTA to task for its willingness to compromise with Stand for Children. And it's not just limited to the blogs. The state's American Federation of Teachers affiliate, as well as its Boston Teachers Union local, are opposed to the compromise language and are threatening to amend it in the Statehouse. (The AFL-CIO, of which the AFT is a member, also opposes the compromise.)

Though AFT's affiliates are often described as more willing to cut deals on things like performance-based pay than the NEA's, it's worth noting that AFT hasn't budged much on issues like seniority or salary comparability—possibly because there tends to be more teacher turnover, transfers, and other situations in which seniority comes into play in AFT's urban locals vs. NEA's suburban and rural ones.

If a final bill isn't completed before July 3, Stand intends to proceed with the ballot initiative.

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