New year bright for Boston public schools

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

No teachers strike. No antibusing disruptions. Resumption of classes today after the holidays ushers in a ''new era of achievement in public school education,'' says Robert B. Spillane, Boston's superintendent of schools. That's good news for the 56,000 students.

''Our schools will provide a quality education that prepares high school graduates for an entry-level job in local industry or for enrollment in college or other advanced education,'' Dr. Spillane pledges.

Needed is an extra $15 million a year to make promised improvements and to pay teachers a 5 percent salary increase for three years. That will be a challenge for incoming public officials.

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Tough negotiations have transformed the city's public school system from one of tension - teachers had threatened to strike ever since school opened last September - to one of expectation. The Boston School Committee and the Boston Teachers Union signed a three-year contract just before the 10-day Christmas break.

When students return to classes today, their school system, this nation's oldest, will undergo significant changes. These include:

* A populist city government. The new regime will spotlight a new school committee with both district and citywide representation. With more black and Hispanic members (4 of 13), the committee is expected to be more sympathetic to school needs as viewed by parents. And incoming Mayor Raymond Flynn has pledged his support to improve schools.

* Settlement of crucial labor-management issues. The teachers union demand for seniority rights has been tempered with concessions that permit affirmative action, administrative managerial controls (teacher assignments, qualifications, maternity leaves). Teachers retain fringe benefits with some revisions. Classroom sizes are limited at each school level.

* Expected withdrawal of US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity from control of city schools. Judge Garrity has watched over the system since the 1974-75 school year, a period of turbulence and racial disturbances, and has expressed a desire to return responsibility to local school officials within a year.

* Stronger affirmative action. Under federal desegregation orders Boston must increase the percentage of minorities hired as teachers and administrators. This is designed to comply with the orders and yet maintain the basic union seniority policies.

* Basic standards for promotion and for high school graduation. The schools are involved in programs with industry, cultural institutions, and colleges and universities. The programs are designed to meet this goal.

Financial commitment to these changes has yet to be authorized. The outgoing City Council refused to act at a meeting Dec. 29. And Mayor Kevin H. White took no definitive stand. Newly installed city officials will have to find the $45 million needed to pay the teachers' raises and make the curriculum changes.

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