Thursday, May 23, 2024

Richard Harding is inaugurated Jan. 4 as a member of the Cambridge School Committee. Since joining he has become a force for action and momentum on the committee, including pushing for a permanent vote for Marc McGovern as vice chairman at Tuesday’s meeting. (Photo: Marc Levy)

In addition to hearing public comment Tuesday on middle schools, the School Committee approved an educators contract; appointed a leader to serve with whoever becomes mayor; and considered an approach to solidify goals and communication on some 10 districtwide issues, starting with how to group students.

The contract, covering teachers and administrators through August 2012, was handled quickly and passed unanimously by the full board. (Contracts covering this period for the three other collective bargaining units — clerical, substitutes and paraprofessionals — were passed already.) City Manager Robert W. Healy is considered a member of the committee for contract votes; Personnel Director Michael Gardner announced Healy’s vote to approve the contract. Teachers and administrators had already voted to approve it.

Members in the Cambridge Teachers Association units will get a 2.5 percent raise in the coming fiscal year, a 3 percent raise in the next year and no raise in the final year of the contract.

“People would say it seems odd to be giving any kind of a raise [now], but I think the teachers in this contract have recognized the very difficult financial circumstances we have, and as a result the financial package we’ve laid out is quite different than it’s been in the past,” committee member Patty Nolan said.

“The zero percent is really helpful to us for budget planning and keeping us from going too far in the hole,” said Marc McGovern, a committee representative to the contract talks with Nancy Tauber. “It’s hard for people to agree to a zero percent raise, and it showed good will on the CTA’s part. It couldn’t have been easy for them to do.”

“The district in return was willing to accept a lot of recommendations of the CTA,” he said.

Those include a look at how teachers are evaluated and caseloads in special education, Nolan said.

The committee also took action in light of the City Council’s delay in electing a mayor from within its ranks. The council’s senior member, Ken Reeves, is serving as mayor and committee member until there is a five-vote council majority, and there has been no vice chair on the committee since the start of the year. Tauber suggested the committee’s senior member, Fred Fantini, serve in that role temporarily.

Fantini, however, threw the temporary chairmanship back in the lap of McGovern, who was vice chairman last year under mayor Denise Simmons. “I think he should just continue in that role,” Fantini said.

Then Richard Harding — in an example of no-nonsense forcefulness that is coming to define Harding as a committee member — suggested McGovern simply be appointed vice chairman for the remainder of the year. “I think there is unanimous support for that, I don’t know that whoever the mayor is is going to change that, and I’d rather call the roll just to get this over with,” Harding said. “We have important business to attend to, and I don’t know that it necessarily matters who’s the mayor at this point.”

As Harding expected, the committee re-appointed McGovern unanimously.

Also, returning committee member Alice Turkel had an exhaustive proposal for consideration:

… That the School Committee schedule a roundtable on student grouping practices K-12. Further, that the roundtable review practices such as leveled and unleveled math and reading groups in elementary school classrooms, inclusion, the Intensive Studies Program, the co-teaching model, high school honors, college prep and advanced placement classes; and further, that these and other grouping practices be looked at with the goal of understanding which students are and which students are not benefiting from the practices in our district; and further that following this roundtable, the superintendent bring the committee a recommendation for a districtwide K-12 policy on grouping practices.

Other members, however, hesitated to even schedule such a project while the budget, middle schools and controlled-choice issues already faced them and Superintendent Jeffrey Young — even after Turkel noted she had consulted with Young before putting the item on the committee’s agenda and that the roundtable wouldn’t be held for several months.

“I’m really concerned about losing focus,” Nolan said, “even though I agree with every element in it.”

Tauber called the proposal “quite encompassing — it seems you could have a roundtable on many of these issues [individually].”

The committee voted to table the proposal.

A retreat “to discuss goals and communication” proposed by Tauber — inspired, perhaps, by a rocky and at times tense previous meeting — was scheduled for Tuesday.

Note: This story was revised to correct the names of committee representatives to contract negotiations. One had been identified incorrectly.