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Bargaining/At the Negotiations Table

At the Negotiations Table: Session #8: 03/19/2023

by Elizabeth Ross Del Porto and Mike Zilles


Your negotiations team met again with representatives from NPS and the School Committee on Thursday, March 16th, and what a difference the mood going into the meeting was, thanks to the sea of blue-shirted union support that clapped and cheered us into the meeting! The message to your NTA team was loud and clear - we are with you in solidarity. The message to NPS and School Committee was also loud and clear - we are organized and ready to fight for a fair contract. As the standout team so aptly cheered, “When we unite, we win!”


So how did the meeting go? The deliberations were once again collaborative, though there were subtle shifts in tone and substance that we will talk about below.


We spent some time at the beginning of our session sharing our disappointment over the outcome of the vote on the operating override. The School Committee and administration told us how much they appreciated the strong support we gave to the override campaign. And of course, there is reason to celebrate the passage of the debt exclusions, allowing the Countryside and Franklin building projects to proceed, which is so exciting for those communities.


Yet, while the consequences of the “no” vote will reverberate throughout NPS, the outcome was particularly awful for everyone in the Horace Mann community. They have been fighting for a long time for the renovations they need, and this vote really stung.


The city must find a way to fund the Horace Mann project within the current timeline. Anything short of that is unacceptable.


Superintendent Kathy Smith, Newton School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski and Vice Chair Kathy Shields all noted that as they campaigned in every building and every school community across Newton, they heard nothing but enthusiastic and unequivocal support for educators. If the override vote was a referendum on the way the city and schools are currently operating, it was certainly not a referendum on the work that you all do. If, in some quarters of the community, there are questions whether “excellence” retains the pride of place it has always held in the Newton Public schools, there is no question regarding the excellent work that educators do every day in these schools.


From there it was back to the business of negotiations. We had wondered if the school committee would come with a counter to our own financial proposal, but they did not, letting us know they were working on it and would bring it to our next meeting on April 4.


First, the School Committee offered us revised versions of three of their proposals. Then, we went through all the proposals made thus far by both sides to establish where we stand, and, in some cases, to gain clarity on the rationale of each sides proposals. It mostly felt collegial and efficient.


We have arrived at tentative agreements on several proposals:


They have agreed to withdraw their proposal to require members to use two of their personal days in order to take one personal day off during May or June, in conjunction with our agreement to withdraw our proposal to increase the total number of personal days to three.


They have withdrawn their proposal to require Stride educators to work during the summer.


We have agreed on creating district wide “Green Team Captain” stipends, to be paid at the rate of a high school group B stipend, which is currently $869.


We have agreed to drop the bottom step from the Unit E salary schedules, increasing starting salaries in that unit.


To our proposal that members be allowed to use any of their personal sick days if these are needed to care for a family member or dear friend, they have countered that the number that can be so used increase from the current maximum of eleven to fourteen. We have countered that it increase to fifteen. So we are very close to a TA on this proposal.


And yet, as we went through everything, it became clear that the School Committee still stands firm on most of their most contentious proposals.


They still propose to eliminate the Elementary, Middle, and High School Time and Learning Agreements, which govern schedules, the length of the school day, teaching responsibilities, duties, meeting times, and preparation time, among other things.


They still propose to have students return before Labor Day, have staff return as early as the Monday before Labor day, and require one more day of meetings during that week, bringing the total number of meeting days to three. And they still propose to add up to two more full day release days during the school year, which would extend the school year for students and staff, effectively beginning the school year three days earlier, and ending it on the same schedule it currently ends in June.


They still propose to limit access to the sick leave bank for all employees and limit the number of sick days for new employees.


Since we last reported, they proposed, in January, to increase co-pays, deductibles, and out of pocket maximums for health insurance.


They still propose to weaken the benefit that allows NTA members who live outside Newton to enroll their children in the NPS. They propose revising our current contractual benefit by:

  • Charging parents a fee for each child, based on a percentage of the district’s current per pupil expenditures. This would be approximately $2,000 per year per child now, so that, if one factors in the rising cost of per pupil expenditures, to send one child to school from kindergarten through twelfth grade would cost approximately $33,000.

  • Giving themselves wide discretion to refuse a student admission or send them back to their home district if their presence gives rise to additional costs for the district.

  • Eliminating the union’s right to grieve the district’s decisions on these issues.


First of all, for those of you who currently utilize this benefit, or plan on utilizing it in the future, we think it is important to say: you’re safe. We aren’t trying to alarm you. A proposal is just a proposal. Our current language remains in place, as do the protections it provides you, unless we agree to change it. And we have not.


But our discussion of this proposal was very revealing, and very concerning, for its tone.


Of first concern was the attitude they expressed about what it means to include this “benefit” in the contract. They spoke as if a “benefit” were something the School Committee was bestowing upon our members. Why, they seemed to wonder, would we be concerned about handing so much discretion to the district? Why are we objecting to giving up the right to grieve their decisions? Benefits, they seem to think, are not a part of our “working conditions”; they are something the district is “giving” us.


Of second concern was that, in explaining their proposal, they continually referred to “their (Newton) students” as distinct from “NPS employee’s students,” creating the impression that they really do not consider “our (NTA employees’) students” to be full members of the Newton Public Schools community.


Whether this is a benefit that you will ever make use of or not, we think you will hear a patrician tone that was quite unsettling.


This tone carried over into their presentation of their rationale for rejecting our proposal to allow parental leave to be taken in two separate chunks of time. They explained, curtly and matter of factly, that it “isn’t good for kids” and is “too disruptive for students” and “difficult to plan for.” All true. But we believe that an NTA member’s children are also important, and the planning and logistics around caring for them are also challenging. And sometimes, having to take the whole of one’s parental leave rather than splitting it into two parts can be disruptive for “our” children.


This doesn’t vitiate their concerns for “their” children. But there was no balance in tone for the concerns for “our” children.


We also heard the expression “given the current budget constraints” several times throughout the meeting to explain why the School Committee could not agree with aspects of our proposals.


Of course, the district has budgetary constraints, even more so now that the override did not pass.


But there was an element of: thank you so much for fighting with, indeed, giving your all, for the override. But now we are going to have to get serious about what we can and cannot do.


Does this mean that from here forward, we are going to hear that the SC cannot propose fair COLAs, or agree to improved benefits, or agree, contractually, to provide the supports we need to do best by our NPS students? Because, as I said midweek, that would effectively be asking us to subsidize the override loss or the budget gap out of our pockets. And that we cannot do. Moreover, we are going to keep insisting that the city of Newton remain responsible for its students.


We currently have a proposal on the table that would require the district to provide a social worker for every building, because we know that our students social and emotional needs do not go away on the one or two days a week a social worker isn’t present in a school building. Every school building has at least one nurse present every day, because physical illness doesn’t happen on a part time schedule. Nor do mental health crises.


We currently have proposals on the table that would require the district to improve coverage, because we know that uncovered absences not only make our work immensely more difficult, but also also because they hurt children and alarm their families.


We currently have proposals on the table that will increase Educational Support Professional starting salaries, because we know that we right now these are too low to attract enough qualified candidates for all the positions the district needs to fill.


We currently have proposals on the table that will require the district to schedule more planning time for elementary teachers, because we know this will allow them to be more effective educators for their students.


In fighting for this contract, we are fighting for better schools.


And fighting for better schools does not mean sacrificing our own needs. We need fair COLAs. We need the step increase to return to September 1. We need enhanced paid parental leave. We need to reschedule high school meetings to Tuesday morning. And we cannot give up more of our time, especially without compensation.


The citizens of Newton rejected an operating override. In doing so, they did not say: “take it out of your educators’ hides instead of ours.” (Well, maybe some did.) They said: we think the money is there, and the city must find better ways to prioritize the schools.


We think it is the school committee’s job to make that happen.


One thing is crystal clear: We have a dedicated, galvanized membership that is ready to fight with us for the fair contact we, and our students, deserve.


Click here to line the halls!


At the Negotiations Table: Session #6: 02/26/2023

by Mike Zilles, NTA President


Your NTA negotiations team met again with NPS administration and School Committee representatives on Monday, February 13th. We continue to be cautiously optimistic about the tenor of the meetings; this was another collaborative meeting where we were able to arrive at several tentative agreements on smaller items of the respective proposals.


For those who have never been part of negotiations and wonder what it looks like, at this point, each side--NPS and NTA--has presented most of their proposals. The bargaining norms we agreed to do not set a cut off date for the submission of new proposals, so each side may continue to present new proposals. Currently, we are systematically going through the existing proposals, and recording each other's responses: “we have no response yet,” “we reject that,” “we accept that,” or “we partially accept that,” "we counter-propose," "we will agree to your proposal X if you agree to our proposal Y," "We will withdraw our proposal Z if you withdraw your proposal W," etc. Questions and conversations arise as each side seeks clarity on the other’s ideas. Each side can request time to caucus, or talk privately with their team without the other side present. And slowly we arrive at an increasing number of proposals on which we have tentative agreements.


Of course, the override looms large over the conversation, making it hard to move forward with the bargaining over issues with financial implications until we know the results of the election. So there are large areas where we as yet have no responses to each other's proposals.

Our next bargaining session is scheduled for March 16, two days after the override vote. Fingers crossed.

At the Negotiations Table: Session #5: 01/29/2023

by Elizabeth Del Porto, NTA 1st Vice President; and Mike Zilles, NTA President

Your NTA Negotiations Team met again last week with School Committee and NPS representatives. Generally, the trajectory of negotiations involves proposals and counter proposals, acceptances, rejections, and trade-offs. There will be hard won successes and moments when we regretfully have to concede points we had hoped to win. This give and take is a staple of the bargaining journey.


This week we felt, for the first time, like we were mutually took the first steps of that journey--like we were really bargaining.


As you know, negotiations had a rocky start. On Wednesday there was a noticeable shift--an improved tone, and a collaborative atmosphere--that had not been there before. For instance, we felt heard when we described that, far from teaching returning to normal this year after the pandemic, the challenges posed by the social-emotional needs and behavioral challenges of our students have, if anything, grown.


The School Committee and NPS administration came with responses to several of our prior proposals. And while they were not yet prepared to respond to most of our major financial proposals, such as COLA and returning step increases to September, there WAS an acknowledgement that, as they wrestle with their own budget calculations, the costs of our contract IS part of their deliberations. Moreover, they have said the same thing publicly. At the budget presentation at Monday's School Committee meeting, Kathy Smith and Liam Hurley said that there are funds built into their preliminary budget to account for the costs of a new contract. This is a major shift from our sense before that they would be scrambling to cobble budgetary leftovers together to offer extremely low COLAs.


Here are some highlights from the meeting:

  • We have reached agreement to increase the pay for entry level Unit E members.

  • We are close to an agreement to increase the number of personal sick days that members can use for illnesses of family members or dear friends - currently we can use up to eleven sick days per year.

  • We have reached agreement to increase the maximum amount of tuition reimbursement individuals may receive (but still have not agreed about how much will be allocated to the overall pool of funds for reimbursement).

  • We are awaiting a more comprehensive School Committee and NPS administration retirement incentive proposal in response to our proposal to increase retirement sick days buy-back.


Though there is a long way to go to reach a full agreement, these are important first steps. One key example: the willingness to increase the number of sick days that can be used to care for family members. By agreeing to increase this allocation, the district acknowledges that, just as we care, day in, day out, for the children of Newton, we too have our own family members to care for, and need district support to do this. Different tone; different atmosphere.


There are several dates on the calendar for continued negotiations. We are cautiously optimistic and look forward to getting back into it. The override looms large over our discussion. There are reasons, financial and political, for why the School Committee must wait until the vote is over to put forward a full financial proposal.


Winning the override will jumpstart the process of addressing the chronic underfunding of the schools. The NTA is firmly and staunchly in support of this override. And we are firmly and staunchly in support of sustained city support for the schools in the years after the override. We must end yearly budget gaps, budget freezes, budget cuts, and.....protracted contract negotiations!

At the Negotiations Table Session #4: 01/02/2023
by Elizabeth Del Porto, NTA 1st Vice President; Chris Walsh, NTA Treasurer; and Mike Zilles, NTA President

Your NTA Negotiations team met with the School Committee Negotiations Team on Wednesday, December 21. 

I apologize to all of you that this update on that session comes now, at the beginning of this new year, but it took us some time to digest the ramifications of that session. And we needed a vacation too.

The news is not good. I know this is hardly what you had hoped to hear as we begin a new year, but there is no way to soften it.

Here is a quick summary of negotiations to date. NPS: 

  • has asked us to do more without more pay;

  • wants to reduce and restrict our contractual sick and personal days;

  • as yet, has made no response to any of our proposals, including our COLA proposal, other than to let us know how costly they will be.


And in this most recent session, they:

  • have  proposed completely eliminating the elementary, middle and high school Time and Learning Agreements (more on just what this means below); 

  • still have not presented their promised “proposal to come” for changes to health insurance, nor their “proposal to come” on extending the school year for employees who work in the Stride Programs;

  • have been too busy to schedule more than one additional bargaining session, leaving us with only one two hour session per month over the next four months. They have, effectively, ruled out progress until after the override vote and the presentation of the school budget.


You might say, “same as it ever was,” and in a sense, you would be right. 

We can expect them to repeat what they always say in every negotiation: “We don’t have any money.” Whether our negotiations follow a recession or a successful override campaign, they never have any money—at least for our contracts. We have come to expect that, in this regard, every negotiation is difficult. Same as it ever was.

But in a sense you would be very, very wrong. 

First, in our initial negotiations session, the Newton School Committee Negotiations Team said they would like to avoid protracted negotiations and fast track a settlement on a new contract by February. They seemed earnest. So you have to wonder, after hearing their proposals: “What are they thinking”?

Second, the times themselves are very different. The Newton School Committee seems to have failed completely to recognize these differences:

  • We are still not recovered from a pandemic that has hit educators and students especially hard, and Newton has not been spared.

  • Inflation is quickly eclipsing short lived gains in wages made by labor nationwide, and Newton has not been spared.

  • Morale amongst educators is at historic lows nationwide, and Newton has not been spared.

  • Educators are leaving the profession at historic rates, positions across the nation remain unfilled, and Newton has not been spared. 

  • Unlike after the great recession of 2008, during and after this pandemic, the federal government has provided ample financial resources to weather the pandemic’s economic consequences. Newton too has been granted generous financial support, though it should not be spared scrutiny for its use of those funds. 

  • Across the state, the MTA and local educator associations have been flexing their muscles in unprecedented ways. This is not the conciliatory and concessionary period that followed the great recession of 2008. We have seen a surge in labor activism, including an historic victory on the Fair Share Amendment and strikes in Dedham, Brookline, Malden, and Haverhill. Does Newton hope to be spared this surge in activism?

  • School districts across the state are agreeing to three year contracts that offer upwards of 10 or 12% COLAs over the course of the contract, they are agreeing to higher starting salaries for ESPs, and they are agreeing to improved sick and parental leave benefits, among other benefits. Does Newton really think it can settle while offering less than this?


Third, this School Committee is asking for unprecedented givebacks and concessions even as  the trend statewide is for districts to settle negotiations with generous contracts.

So what are they thinking?

What were they thinking when, in the first substantive session on November 21, they presented a financial forecast that showed they would have no money left over for COLAs next year, and very little the following two years?

What were they thinking when they proposed a Labor Management Committee to examine the elementary school day, yet they could not or would not state specifically what they thought needed to be examined about the elementary school day?

What were they thinking when they proposed extending the work year for educators by two and one half days with no corresponding increase in compensation?

What were they thinking when they proposed limiting sick days and access to the sick leave bank for new employees and eliminating use of the sick leave bank for all employees for catastrophic illness—as if this punitive approach were any kind of solution to the chronic problems they have with coverage?

What were they thinking when they proposed having elementary school Team Specialists evaluate Unit C members in their buildings, with apparently little thought given to the details of what this would look like, certainly none shared with us in their proposal.  

What were they thinking when they proposed changes to the placement of out-of-district children of NTA members in Newton that would, effectively, force the NTA to collude in discriminating against members’ children who have special needs?

And now, in their latest session, what are they thinking when they propose to eliminate the elementarymiddle, and high school Time and Learning Agreements from the Units A and B contracts? Because, beyond anything they have so far proposed, this just seems outrageous. 

These three agreements were originally negotiated in 1996-1997 to accommodate new DESE regulations on Time on Learning (990 structured learning hours for secondary schools and 900 structured learning hours for elementary schools). They became a part of the 1997-2000 contract, and for the 2000-2004 contract, the School Committee and the NTA agreed that they would become integral to the contract, to be changed only by mutual agreement of the parties. 

The Time and Learning Agreements are the most important part of the contract for determining our working conditions. They govern:

  • the length of the school day (elementary, middle and high) and, in the case of elementary school, the start and end time of the school day; the School Committee proposes retaining only a provision on the length of the day;

  • the amount of preparation time (elementary prep time on Wednesdays; middle and high overall) to be set aside; the School Committee proposes much reducing the amount of preparation time. 

  • the amount of contact time with students (middle) and/or the number of classes a teacher can teach (middle and high); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • how many and what kind of meetings can be scheduled, and how long they can be (elementary, middle), including how Wednesday (elementary, middle) afternoons will be used; the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • how many early release days there will be in the school year (elementary, middle, and high); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • the schedule that schools follow (high); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • when professional development will be offered (elementary); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • the number and kind of duties an educator can be assigned (middle, high); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;


When we asked the School Committee what specific changes covered by any area of the Time and Learning Agreements they would like to make, they could only give one specific example—this year they were only allowed to offer four early release days in middle school. Beyond that, nothing, nada.

Maybe they are just angry that we enforced the agreement on the number of middle school early release days? Maybe they just didn’t want to acknowledge that they had to negotiate an additional early release day? 

Whatever their real reasons, they have asked us to accept that they simply need more "flexibility," without indicating in any way how having the Time and Learning Agreements in place has stood in the way of any change they are envisaging. 

But let’s ask, concretely, what could they do if we agreed to give them their desired “flexibility”? 

  • They could schedule a faculty meeting every Wednesday afternoon in elementary schools, and eliminate PLCs and professional planning during that time;

  • they could eliminate some of the Wednesday elementary early release time altogether and add more instructional time;

  • they could stop offering elementary professional development during the school day on Thursdays, and try once again to offer it on Wednesday afternoons;

  • they could expand the scope of middle and high school duties, and require middle and high school teachers and counselors to provide coverage: lunch, hall, classes for absent colleagues;

  • they could require elementary school classroom, special education, and specialist teachers to provide coverage when they are not teaching;

  • they could reduce high school preparation time to three preps per week;

  • they could reduce middle school preparation time to one prep per day.

  • they could require all high school teachers to teach five blocks rather than four;

  • they could increase middle school teams to five sections;


Basically, with complete management prerogative, they could do pretty much anything they want. And it seems to us that this is what they really want. They call this "flexibility."

Bear in mind that all three of the Time and Learning Agreements have been renegotiated since 2000—the high school agreement and middle agreements to accommodate new schedules; elementary to accommodate the elimination of the Thursday afternoon program. In each case, the results were measurably better than they would have been had educator voices not been part of the decision making, assured that any changes would require their consent.

And bear in mind that, it is the Time and Learning Agreement that keep in place equity among the different schools.

So we must ask: Are we supposed to just trust them? Because we really do not know what they are thinking, only what they would like it to be possible to do without including educator voices. This is very unsettling. 

On our side, we’ve kept faith with the hope to settle quickly. In our first session (after the session on ground rules), the NTA Negotiations Team put a comprehensive package of proposals on the table. While there are still some minor proposals we will add, we presented all of the major issues we would like to address. And we have responded immediately and constructively to every proposal they put on the table prior to the last session.

They know what we are bargaining for. And we know what they are bargaining against. Fair compensation; reasonable benefits; investments in coverage—and educator voices in how the NPS does business. That seems to be what they most would like to wrest from us. Our voices. To which we say: Careful what you wish for. To be continued…..

At the Negotiations Table: Session #3- 12/03/2022

by Elizabeth Del Porto, NTA 1st Vice President; Chris Walsh, NTA Treasurer; and Mike Zilles, NTA President


Your NTA Negotiations Team met again this week with the School Committee. Negotiations Team (SCNT). We are still in a period where we are seeking to clarify our respective positions. We are also waiting for the School Committee to put their full proposal on the table.


NTA Bargaining Proposal

NTA Bargaining Background Presentation

What we now know and understand regarding these proposals:


Work Day-Work Year:

  • The School Committee is proposing that they be able to schedule an additional professional day for educators before students return in late summer, bringing the total number of educator days they can schedule to three.

  • They are also proposing that they be able to schedule these days as early as the Monday of the week before Labor Day. This would allow the district to schedule students to return prior to Labor Day.

  • The School Committee is also proposing that they be allowed to schedule additional full day professional days during the school year, to be used either for parent conferences or PD.

  • These would be days that students would not come to school, and so, unlike professional half days, would not count towards the 180 days students are required to attend school. To add them would require that the school year for students end later.

  • Currently, the district is allowed to schedule educators for up to 182.5 days—180 school days plus 2.5 professional days. They are proposing increasing this to 185 days.

  • The 2 and 1/2 days would be added by bringing students back before Labor Day, while keeping school in session in June for the same number of days as now.

  • They are also proposing that Psychologists be required to work up to 190 days, with no additional compensation.


Sick Time and Use of Sick Bank Time

The School Committee is proposing limiting the allocation of sick days for employees in Units A, C, D and E as below:

Employee Year of Service- Sick Day Allocation

1st Year- 10 Days

2nd Year- 10 Days

3rd Year- 12 Days

4th Year and Beyond- 15 Days


They are also proposing limiting access to the sick leave bank to employees who have worked a minimum of two years in the NPS, and limiting the maximum allocation of sick days from the sick leave bank to 60 days. These restrictions would apply to all units. When asked, the SCNT confirmed that they had not disaggregated the use of sick leave and sick leave bank days for new employees to see if their usage was appreciably different than that of their more veteran colleagues, and so they could not say, except anecdotally, how they had determined that these proposed policy change would have any impact on overall absenteeism.


Health Insurance

The SCNT has not yet finalized their proposal on changes to health insurance, but we expect that they will be proposing increasing deductibles and co-pays, and perhaps that employees pay a higher percentage of insurance premiums.


Out-of District Placement for Children of Employees

The SCNT presented a proposal on changing the policy for out of district placement in the NPS for children of employees that included charging materials fees for students (not clear how much) and restricting access to special education services. We will be sharing this proposal with MTA legal counsel this week, as we suspect it likely would put the district in violation federal IDEA regulations.

NTA Salaries

The SCNT has still not offered a proposal on COLAs. They did spend time in the session comparing NPS salaries in Units A and C to those in a list of about 25 other school districts in the area, in order to show us that Newton had made appreciable progress over the last three years in elevating its status among those districts, especially regarding starting salaries. We had a number of observations, some of which we had time to share during the session, some of which we have not yet shared:

  • When we presented our case for why COLAs are so important in this contract, we did not argue this based on comparing salaries in Newton to those in other districts; we argued for the need based on the real loss of buying power NTA members have suffered because of inflation.

  • If the SC would like to do a comparison of NTA salaries to those in other districts, it is a common practice to first negotiate and agree upon a list of comparable districts, and then make the comparison. The SCNT made their selections unilaterally. They included many school districts that are obviously not comparable—Framingham, Bedford, Waltham, Natick, Arlington, Dedham, Watertown—and this biased their comparison, as salaries in these districts were almost uniformly lower than those in Newton.


NTA Negotiation Team Reaction

What has been astounding to us is that the SCNT seems almost willfully ignorant of the changing bargaining climate statewide, and, indeed, of the state of the education profession nationwide.


Union members statewide are winning contracts that offer better terms than even seemed possible just three or four years ago. Some of these agreements are more high profile—they were settlements that resulted from strikes (Brookline, Malden, Haverhill, Brookline), or, as in Boston, the election of a new mayor. Districts are agreeing to settlements that include generous cost of living increases—9, 10, 11, or 12% over the course of a three year contract. In a some cases, salaries for Educational Support Professionals have gone up as much 25% (Somerville, Malden). And districts are often agreeing to extend the benefits they provide. I say this not to compare what is happening in Newton to what is happening elsewhere, but rather to say simply that the bargaining climate has changed dramatically.


Nationwide, the education profession is in an acknowledged crisis, with fewer young people choosing to enter the profession and many current educators either retiring early or just leaving education for other fields. COVID seems to have accelerated an already long term trend.


Yet your NTA Negotiations Team sits together with a School Committee Negotiations Team that, once again, began negotiations by telling us that they have no money. Much has changed: In Newton, it seems, things just never change. That much we actually expected. What we did not expect was for their team to not only offer us little, but also to ask for ill-conceived, and what sometimes appear to be punitive concessions. S


Should we be surprised at this seeming tone deafness?


The only conclusion that we can definitively draw from the first three negotiations sessions is this: As always, as a union, we will need to mount a campaign of escalating actions:


  • T-Shirt Tuesdays will still be T-Shirt Tuesdays in the high schools. Everywhere else: Wear it Wednesdays.

  • Rallies, first small, then large.

  • Community outreach.

  • Silent meetings.

  • No volunteering on committees.


And, as always, an NTA membership and leadership that stands in solidarity, with all of our units united behind one another.


Social Media

As our negotiations process moves ahead, make sure you are following the NTA on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. There will be many upcoming opportunities to send in photos of members from your building, to share action items with your network, and to keep the community informed of our progress.

At the Negotiations Table: Session #2- 11/27/2022
by Elizabeth Del Porto, NTA 1st Vice President; Chris Walsh, NTA Treasurer; and Mike Zilles, NTA President

Your NTA Negotiations Team met with the School Committee Negotiations Team (SCNT) for our first exchange of proposals on Monday, November 21. First, we executed the ground rules that the teams agreed to at the initial bargaining session. 

Then, the School Committee presented their proposals. While they did not make a proposal on Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs), they did precede their proposal with a “Financial Forecast” presentation for the next several fiscal years.  This gave us some pretty clear hints as to what they are thinking with regard to COLAs.  

The “Financial Forecast” first went through all budget items other than COLAs. It presented two different scenarios — one with the override passing and the other without the override passing. At the end they projected how adding COLAs would impact the bottom line in each scenario.  The first year projection was the most disheartening, but suffice it to say, under almost every scenario given, even 0%, 1%, or 2% COLAs would leave the district in a deficit. In fact, they indicated that even a 1% increase in the first year of the new contract was $700,000 more than they could afford, even assuming the override passes.

Before going on, it’s important to note that the budget scenarios that were presented to us did include step and lane change increases. There will certainly be some in the community who will protest that educators are getting step and lane increases—raises—so why, they will ask, do they need COLAs on top of that. 

So is a step increase or a lane change a raise? Well, technically speaking, they do raise one’s salary. But School Committees quite often negotiate to increase the number of steps. So what’s up with that?

Although step increases do increase your salary, having many step increases allows the School Committee to decrease the amount of each step goes up and drag out the period of time before educators reach their top or full salary. For the most part, most educators are doing the same or very similar work as their colleagues in job alike positions. Yes, we get better at what we do as we grow more experienced, and yes, more senior educators quite often take on more leadership responsibilities in their roles. That certainly is one way, through this experience and additional responsibility, that we earn that raise or step increase. But realistically speaking, what steps mostly do is allow school committees to pay half the educators in their systems LESS than what they are really worth. 

So, in one sense, you earn a raise when you go to the next step on your salary chart - it is an increased wage in recognition of the fact that you have worked another year and therefore have greater expertise. Lane change raises follow the same logic: as you further your own education you gain greater expertise, and so earn a raise. But neither the pace of pay raises from step increases nor from lane changes fully compensates you for the expertise you acquire while moving up the salary schedule, nor for the responsibility you take on with your students. You may get better at what you do, but we are all pretty darn good at it, and the work is always equally challenging and demanding. It is not until you come near or reach the top of the salary schedule that you even get close to what you should earn. 

And then, when you reach the top, you’re stuck! You are no longer stepping, so absent a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), your salary doesn’t increase at all! Now, the purpose of a COLA is to increase your pay to account for rising inflation, recognizing that your dollar doesn’t go as far when inflation rises.  And COLAs are not just important at the top of the scale: they are important on every step of the salary schedule to assure that salaries are keeping up with inflation. 

But even if you are at the top of the scale, and earning as much as an educator can earn in your position in Newton, you feel like you don’t want to just tread water—and keep your earning power just where it is. You would like that COLA to maybe include something of a raise too. Maybe, just maybe, in good times, we all hope that COLA might even be enough to actually lift salaries.

When we finished negotiations on our last contract, we thought we had achieved just that—COLAs that were cost of living adjustments and raises too. But the current rate of inflation has knocked the wind out of that hope. Those 2.75% and 3% COLAs we negotiated are far enough below the inflation rate that our earning power will actually drop by the time this contract expires at the end of August!

So we sit at the negotiations table with a School Committee Negotiations Team that begins negotiations by telling us that providing any cost of living adjustment to help recapture and maintain the spending power of our salaries is an after thought. In their presentation, they asked the question: What can we give employees out of what’s“left over”?

So there's that. Then there's this:

Following the “Financial Forecast” presentation, the SCNT made their opening bargaining proposal.  Of particular note:

  • They are asking for concessions regarding sick days (fewer, depending on your years of service) and personal days (additional restrictions on their use).

  • They are making proposals separately for each unit (A, B, C, D, and E), and in some cases proposing disparate treatment between the units in areas where we have previously achieved parity.  For example, they are asking that Unit C members be able to use fewer (5 rather than 11) personal illness days for family illness in their first four years of employment.

  • They are asking to increase the number of days you work in a year.

  • They are asking to limit access to the sick bank for employees, both when you can access (e.g. after two years of employment) and how many total days will be allowed.

  • They did not come with specifics on some areas of their proposal but indicated that we can expect their completed proposal to later include proposed changes to:

  • Health Insurance (they mentioned plan design (deductibles and co-pays) and premium splits)

  • Tuition Free Attendance (by children of staff)

  • Time on Learning Agreements

The NTA began with a “Negotiations Background” presentation to give context to our proposal. This outlines the impact inflation is having on members’ salaries.  It also gave a history of negotiations over the past 20 year with regard to COLAs vs. increases in the NPS allocation from the city.

Next, we offered our comprehensive proposal. As per last week’s Negotiations Update, it includes, among other things:

  • Realistic cost of living adjustments that address the current levels of inflation

  • Improved and more equitable longevity payments

  • Step increases in September

  • Improved unit C starting salaries (in addition to COLAs)

  • Improved substitute coverage

  • Improved parental leave and family sick leave policies

  • Improved technology infrastructure--readier access to Technical Support Staff and Instructional Technology Specialists

  • Increased tuition reimbursement budget including:

  • Increased reimbursement maximums

  • Distinct reimbursements for BIPOC Unit C and D members pursuing teaching degrees

  • Additional elementary preparation time

  • More equitable middle school meeting times

  • Shift of meeting times in high school to mornings

  • Improved Evaluation protocols to support the growth of members on Directed Growth Plans and Improvement Plans

We meet again with the SCNT on Wednesday, November 30, 2022 in Room 111 at the Ed Center. We expect at that time to receive further proposals from the district, and to also have an opportunity to ask some clarifying questions regarding their proposal.


Negotiations Update - 11/20/22

by Mike Zilles, NTA President

It's beginning! Your NTA Negotiations Team met last Thursday November 17 to review the first proposal we will present to the School Committee Negotiations Team tomorrow, November 21. Our proposal includes:

  • Realistic cost of living adjustments that address the current levels of inflation

  • Improved and more equitable longevity payments

  • Step increases in September

  • Improved unit C starting salaries (in addition to COLAs)

  • Improved substitute coverage

  • Improved parental leave and family sick leave policies

  • Improved technology infrastructure--readier access to Technical Support Staff and Instructional Technology Specialists

  • Increased tuition reimbursement budget, including:

    • Increased reimbursement maximums

    • Distinct reimbursements for BIPOC Unit C and D members pursuing teaching degrees

  • Additional elementary preparation time

  • More equitable middle school meeting times

  • Shift of meeting times in high school to mornings

  • Improved Evaluation protocols to support the growth of members on Directed Growth Plans and Improvement Plans


There are other elements of the proposal, but these are the broad areas we address.

At the Negotiations Table: Session #1 - 10/20/22

by Elizabeth Ross Del Porto, NTA 1st Vice President

Your union negotiations team is pleased to report that we concluded our first joint negotiations meeting last week, attended by our full NTA team, school committee members, district administrators, and Liz Valerio, Newton’s outside counsel. The district team had expressed interest in having our first meeting be about setting ground rules; each team came with a proposal. Fortunately there was some overlap in the respective visions, including a hope that negotiations be conducted quickly and efficiently. Here’s how it went:

  • The district shared their ground rules proposal.

  • We caucused and decided we could not agree to anything that limits what we can propose or how we are permitted to conduct bargaining.

  • They returned; we shared our proposal.

  • They caucused and returned to accept key aspects of our proposed ground rules with some minor revisions.

  • After a brief NTA caucus, NTA agreed to the ground rules as amended.

  • Both sides agree that avoiding a lengthy, protracted process is a goal.

  • We set dates for four additional meetings between now and December break.

Overall, we were pleased with day 1!

Negotiations Update - 10/16/22

by Mike Zilles, NTA President

The NTA Negotiations Team will be meeting with the NPS Negotiations Team for the first time on October 20. We will begin by negotiating ground rules, after which we will set a date for exchanging our initial bargaining proposals, which will likely happen sometime in November.

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