Of the 31 initiatives put forth for the fall ballot, only four both have enough signatures and have been certified by state Attorney General Martha Coakley in order to make it on the ballot by the July 3 deadline. And of those four, one has just been resolved by state lawmakers.
That initiative was called "An Act Promoting Excellence in Public Schools." Backed by Stand for Children Massachusetts, it involved retaining and promoting teachers based on performance reviews and test scores rather than seniority.
The effort also came at the same time many school boards and teachers' unions, including in Peabody, were still working toward agreements on the new state-imposed teacher evaluation system, which in theory seeks the same end goals.
Proponents of the ballot measure said it would raise teaching standards and make it easier for schools to fire ineffective teachers. But opponents, which include the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said such evaluations are highly subjective. Furthermore, they said, the emphasis on test scores could deter teachers from taking on special-needs or more challenging students.
The battle looked like it was headed to the ballot box in November until earlier in June, when both sides reached a compromise that would save them a costly fight in the fall. It would promote teacher accountability by creating a data-reporting system and provide $13 million to school districts for teacher and administrator training. In return, teachers would relinquish some of their seniority rights.
The modified bill, which Gov. Deval Patrick supported, was approved by the legislature and signed into law by Patrick on June 29. House Speaker Robert DeLeo likewise supported the revamped legislation.
“I celebrate and congratulate MTA and Stand for Children, but they have cut a deal that requires somebody else to come up with the money, and we’re trying to figure out how to do that right now,” Patrick said at the time, according to the Boston Globe.
The MTA says that under the new law, school boards and city and town unions have until the 2016-2017 school year to negotiate contract changes that ensure teacher performance plays a more significant role than seniority in layoffs and transfers.
Stand for Children agreed to eliminate 29 of 31 provisions from its ballot initiative in order to retain the following in the new law:
- Contracts must reflect that performance, students' best interests and district needs are foremost factors in layoff decisions involving teachers with professional status. Seniority can be the deciding factor between two equally qualified teachers and negotiations will determine how layoffs are enacted.
- The new law will also require superintendents and principals to talk "in good faith" when reassigning teacher involuntarily from one school to another. Performance must be a primary consideration and the superintendent will have final say.
Some of the more controversial provisions that were removed, according to the MTA, would have stripped teachers of the right to bargain on criteria and processes in personnel appointments, assignments and layoffs, part-time teachers could never attain professional status, teachers with PTS could still be laid off before those in provisional assignments without PTS and districts could impose the state's model evaluation system if both sides could not come to an agreement otherwise.
The other three initiatives likely to make the November ballot include:
- A Law for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana: This intiative seeks to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana as a medical drug. It calls for no penalities for "qualifying patients, physicians and health care professionals, personal caregivers for patients, or medical marijuana treatment center agents for the medical use of marijuana."
- An Act Relative to Death with Dignity: This initiative would allow physicians to prescribe medication to terminally ill patients that would end their lives. The act would require that patients are mentally capable of making this decision and orally communicating it to a doctor on two occasions 15 days apart. Participation by a doctor or health care facility would be voluntary.
- An Act to Protect Motor Vehicle Owners and Small Businesses in Repairing Motor Vehicles: This initiative would require all car manufacturers to provide – on an equitable fair-market value subscription basis – all diagnostic and repair information for model years beginning in 2015 to owners or an owner’s designated in-state independent repair facility (not affiliated with a manufacturer or its authorized dealers). The law would also make available for purchase information for model years 2002 through 2014.