At the Negotiations Table: Session #3
by Elizabeth Del Porto, Chris Walsh and Mike Zilles
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
4th Year and Beyond
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. 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.
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.