Teachers against the Unified Facilities Plan: Final Reflection

The Unified Facilities Plan from the December 1979 Edition of the Boston Union Teacher.

Hello, I am a graduate student in the Public History Track of the History graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The topic chosen for a digital exhibit was the Unified Facilities Plan, an idea introduced during the then ongoing desegregation of Boston Public Schools. This topic touches on numerous aspects of the history of the Boston Teachers Union, including the unions response to desegregation, teacher seniority, affirmative action, racism within the union, the relationship between the city and the union, the relationships between teachers and students, and other aspects of the relationship between the union, the city of Boston, and the courts. The exhibit seeks to display the process of the BTU in disputing the necessity of school closures with the city, and the relationship between the union and the city. Other aspects of the exhibit touched upon are the effects of desegregation on the teachers in the BTU and students in the Boston Public School system.

Researching this topic largely involved reading relevant articles from the Boston Union Teacher newspaper, with the earliest relevant article coming from the December, 1979 issue of the paper. Available papers were then examined chronologically for relevant articles or cartoons pertaining to the UFP, which were readily found throughout issues of the Boston Union Teacher. Selecting the issue at which to stop and end the exhibit. The Unified Facilities Plan, school closures, desegregation, and teacher layoffs would continue throughout the 1980s, but as another exhibit was examining teacher layoffs and the impact of desegregation and racism on the inability of the union to protest this, the natural end of the Unified Facilities Plan exhibit was when the question of teacher layoffs became unavoidable as an aspect of the exhibit.

When developing the exhibit, the biggest issue centered around the expansive nature of the Unified Facilities Plan, which was related to numerous other exhibits. Focusing too much on one area would have made the exhibit too repetitive and similar to others. Therefore, I decided to focus on the teachers’ reactions to the plan as show in the Boston Union Teacher, whereas other exhibits delved more deeply into other issues such as layoffs, budget reductions, and desegregation. The Unified Facilities Plan exhibit would focus on these areas, but only as they were perceived and reacted to by the union, rather than an all-encompassing view. This would make the exhibit both unique and focused when dealing with such a variable topic.

Certain challenges were presented in this attempt, as much of the teachers’ professional grievances were surrounded news of legal actions and city plans that frequently interrupted union news in single articles. Although this legal news was necessary for understanding the nature of professional grievances, it would have necessitated quotes of extreme length or rendered succinct quotes uncontextualized. I attempted to include physical images of the articles that would enable a viewer to understand the whys and wherefores of the complaints, but the physical display made this method unusable. Fortunately, some articles contained wonderful photographs which I could utilize, although they still needed explanations. Context must be provided outside of the direct quotes in a succinct manner while article images are removed and replaced with the most relevant quotes to illustrate the grievances of the union.

Photograph Taken From the Special April-May, 1981 Edition of the Boston Union Teacher.

Along with the redesign of the articles and quotes for the exhibit, a deeper look into the Unified Facilities Plan, its purpose, intent, and how it was to be carried out is a clear necessity of the exhibit. A deeper look into accusations of the Boston Teachers Union of corruption regarding real estate taxes and investments would also be an area to further explore, as it connects to other budgetary concerns related to Proposition 2.5.

Any further ideas that could be explored in this exhibit have largely been explored in other exhibits, specifically those exhibits dealing with desegregation, the 1981 teacher layoffs, and disputes between the BTU and City of Boston regarding the budget and affirmative action. Although these are important topics to understand, both on their own and as context for the Unified Facilities Plan, they are best left as their own exhibits that are already linked to the UFP exhibit. However, if the time period was to be extended, 21st Century issues within the Boston Public School system could be related or directly connected to the UFP or precedents set by it. Unfortunately, this seems a massive deviation from the rest of the exhibit and connected exhibits which focus primarily on the 1970s and 1980s.

These connections to other exhibits are both expanding and limiting. As seen, they force the UFP exhibit to exist in a narrow area and to avoid delving deeply into some issues lest it become a repetition of already existing works. Instead, direct links to those other exhibits are provided in order to give the viewer a deeper understanding of the issues at play. This narrow area of focus does, however, enable a deeper look into the perspective of the Boston Teachers Union when compared to other exhibits, which took broader approaches. This exhibit is essentially a trade-off of broader understanding of an entire topic for deeper understanding of a small portion of a single topic. The topic of this exhibit, the Unified Facilities Plan, although ended, still has relevance to schools throughout the country today. The intended goal of the UFP when it was conceived was to reduce the expenses of the city by reducing the number of schools and therefore associated staff such as teachers, janitors, nurses, and others. Education is often on the chopping block whenever fiscal needs are considered, and the Unified Facilities Plan, by another name, returns to menace schools again. The response of the BTU, and its minor successes in delaying the plan but ultimate failure to stop it through a lack of solidarity due to the ongoing desegregation and the effect on racial attitudes in the BTU also provide meaning for the BTU today. By failing to come together due to racial prejudice, the BTU and Boston Public Schools endured more at the hands of the UFP than was likely necessary.

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