Boston Teachers Union says it will block new evaluation system

The Boston Teachers Union notified the School Department today that it intends to block a unilateral implementation of a new teacher-evaluation system for this school year, the latest flashpoint in the increasingly contentious negotiations over a new contract.

In a letter to the School Department, the union’s attorney Matthew E. Dwyer said school officials lacked the legal authority to impose the new system on Sept. 4 without reaching an agreement with the union.

“We are dismayed that BPS is abandoning the statutory process in favor of unilateral action,” Dwyer wrote.

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Dwyer cited a state law that requires school districts to negotiate changes in workplace conditions, such as new procedures for job reviews, with the union. If the School Department proceeds, he said, the union intends to raise the issue with the state Department of Labor Relations as part of a complaint it filed that accuses the city of using unfair labor practices in the contract talks.

The letter comes two weeks after Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced that the School Department would unilaterally implement a new teacher evaluation system for this fall, having failed to reach agreement with the union on the issue.

The School Department quickly responded today to the union’s objections, firing off a letter of its own. The department said that a Supreme Judicial Court ruling in 1983 enables public employers to unilaterally implement a change in working conditions after the parties have reached an impasse on a contract.

The School Department says it must implement a new evaluation system based on changes to state regulations last year for this school year.

“The School Department remains committed to implementing the regulations with a process that is consistent with the regulations, easy to understand and that does not compromise the evaluator’s authority to determine the content and duration of an educator’s plan” for improvement, wrote Brendan M. Greene, a School Department attorney.

The union and the city have been negotiating a new contract for two years. The talks have gone so badly that the Department of Labor Relations announced Monday that it would investigate the dispute and recommend a resolution – honoring a request made by Menino.