Teachers Union Sues To Block Ballot Question
By Paul Tuthill
Springfield, MA – The largest teacher's union in Massachusetts filed a lawsuit this week in an attempt to bar a question from appearing on the state's November general election ballot. The question goes to the thorny issues of teacher evaluations and job protection. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The suit by the Massachusetts Teachers Association claims the ballot initiative should not have been certified as constitutional by the Massachusetts Attorney General. MTA president Paul Toner says the initiative interferes with the power of the courts in arbitration cases and with local collective bargaining rights.
The question, sponsored by an education advocacy group called Stand For Children, would establish uniform statewide standards for evaluating teachers and would make job performance, not seniority, the determining factor in lay offs.
Christian Price is the Massachusetts political director of Stand For Children.
But MTA president Toner says the initiative undercuts regulations approved only last June by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that tie student learning outcomes to teacher performance.
The new regulations for teacher evaluations were written after more than year of negotiations that involved teachers, administrators, the Patrick administration, and organizations representing parents and local school committees.
The regulations leave it up to local school districts to determine the standards for student learning outcomes that will be used to measure teacher job performance. Timothy Collins, who is president the Springfield Education Association says there will be a massive change in how teachers in the state's second largest school district are evaluated.
The lawsuit filed by the MTA asks the courts to nullify Attorney General Martha Coakley's certification of the ballot question and bar the Massachusetts Secretary of State from placing it on the November ballot. A spokesperson for the attorney general said Coakley would not comment because she's named as a defendant in the litigation.
Coakley's office certified nearly two dozen proposed ballot initiatives last summer, but sponsors of only four succeeded in advancing their causes toward a possible voter referendum. The Massachusetts Secretary of State's office certified earlier this month that four initiatives, including the one sponsored by Stand By Children, had collected the required 69 thousand signatures of registered voters.
Under Massachusetts law, the state legislature now has until May to turn the initiatives into bills, or sponsors can collect an additional ten thousand signatures to put the questions on the ballots.