Keeping Classrooms Functioning

Having already lost $6 million in funds and between 140 and 150 teachers--and facing the prospect of losing another $6 million next year--the Cambridge public schools' primary dilemma is how to keep the school system functioning.

Members of the School Committee and the school administration have warned that unless the city finds some way of overriding the spending cap imposed by Proposition 2 1/2, schools may not be able to open next September for lack of teachers. Cambridge mayor and school committee chairman Francis H. Duehay '55 says that the system will have to work with the state legislature to modify Prop. 2 1/2 and at the same time find other sources of revenue. Otherwise, the anticipated cuts might "destroy the school system," Duehay adds. Superintendent of schools William C. Lannon, has made much the same forecast for the coming year, explaining that if the school sustain further funding cuts, the system will not have enough teachers to fill the classrooms.

All these dire predictions of the consequences of additional teacher layoffs come at a time when the school committee is trying--under a voluntary desegregation plan--to assemble a teaching staff in which the percentage of minority teachers reflects the number of minority students in the system as a whole. Ten years ago the school committee said it hoped to raise the percentage of minority students in the system at the same time. Minority students now comprise 38 per cent of the system's students, according to Lannon, but the percentage of minority teachers has yet to reach the initial 20 per cent goal.

In 1979, the school committee voted into official city policy its desire to bring the percentage of minority teachers in the system in line with the percentage of minority students. And last spring, as part of the final phase of the citywide desegregation scheme, the school board said the minority teachers could not be fired if their dismissal would drop the percentage of minority teachers below the level of minority students.

But then the Cambridge Teachers Association (CTA) stepped in, taking issue with the school board's commitment to minority teachers. Charging the school committee with violating the teacher's union contracts, the CTA contended that regardless of their ethnic group or race, teachers could be dismissed only on the basis of seniority. The dispute currently stands in Boston's Federal District Court, Judge Joseph Tauro is hearing arguments from both sides before deciding if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. CTA President Roland E. LaChance says Tauro plans to announce his ruling around the end of November.


Candidates for seats on the next school committee disagree among themselves about at sharply on the issue of how to dismiss teachers as the current school administration and the CTA. The Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) currently holds five seats on the seven member school board, and the five seats of the seven member school board, and the five candidates the progressive-oriented slate is fielding in tomorrow's election support affirmative action and disagree with strict seniority-based dismissal guidelines. The more conservative Independent candidates tend to back the stance of the teacher's union against preserving a minority teacher quota.

Independent candidate Roxanne Leary, a former teacher in the Cambridge public schools, said that the hiring and firing of teachers is "a" contract issue" and should be conducted strictly according to seniority. She accused the present school committee of changing its interpretation of specific contractual language in order to prevent the loss of minority teachers, and new teacher in "pet programs they put into effect during their term in office."

Leary and the CTA contend that the CCA majority's re-interpretation has allowed the current school committee to bas the dismissal of teachers on criteria other than the two factors they consider significant--certification by state and seniority. The present school committee's policy takes into account, among other things, how long a teacher has been working in the system, what subject areas the state has certified him to teach, his racial or ethnic background, and how long he has been teaching in a particular subject area.

Mary Blessington, former headmaster of several schools in the Cambridge system and a candidate for school committee, said the disagress with the CTA's position the everyone who holds state certification is "qualified" to teach but also does not support the notion the older teachers in the Cambridge system are not capable of teaching in alternative programs.

According to Glenn S. Koocher '71, an incumbent CCA board member, which faction--the CCA or the Independents--controls the most seats on the school committee will entire desegregation plan. Koocher says that if the Independents came to hold a decisive majority on the new school committee, additional teacher dismissals would likely be based on straight seniority criteria: The last to be hired would be the first to be fired.

The effects of stragiht seniority firing will likely extend far beyond the ruination of the desegregation plan, according to CCA members. If young teachers are largely eliminated from the school system many alternative educational programs would suffer, forcing many students out of the public schools. "Anyone with two dimes to rub together would put their children in private schools," one CCA leader said recently.

Another frightening possibility, Koocher said, is that CCA members would hold only a 4-3 majority on the new school committee, which--under school hoard guidelines--would not be enough to dismiss a tenured teacher. In this case, Koocher said, he committee would have a policy of minority teachers in the system but would have no way to dismiss other personnel, leaving the system with more teachers on its payroll than it would have funds to pay.

In spite of the may problems, the school committee must struggle to keep the schools open. The teachers' contract some up for renewal at the end of this school year are schedueld to start shortly, "will be quite difficult" if the CCA continues to dominate the school committee.

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