by Elizabeth Del Porto, Chris Walsh and Mike Zilles
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.