This EBulletin will largely be a follow-up to David Fleishman’s Friday Update from May 23. I am putting it out early because I understand that there is a good deal of uncertainty and worry that is circulating, though I don't think that was not David’s intent.
I apologize in advance for the length of this email...but there was a lot of ground to cover.
The intent of David’s communication on staffing was, I believe, to alleviate worry without promising more than he will be able to deliver, which isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. I will try to bring more clarity to that message.
To begin, it helps to spell out the immediate context of David’s Friday email: the Brookline Public Schools sent out pink slips to over 300 of their Unit A and Unit C employees earlier in the day that Friday, and it had been all over the news. (See the coverage on WBUR and Channel 4 CBS news.)
For perspective on just how many layoffs this is, Brookline is a little more than half the size of Newton, so if Newton were to lay off an equivalent share of its employees, that would be double the number in Brookline, or nearly 600 employees: one third of Newton’s Unit A and Unit C workforce!
As soon as something like this happens, the worry spreads: Will this happen in Newton? David speaks, even if somewhat indirectly, to this question. And his answer is no.
What exactly did happen in Brookline? Why so many layoff notices?
The district’s interim superintendent, Ben Lummis’ explanation is that Brookline was forced to send out all of those layoff notices because the Brookline Public Schools’ contract with the Brookline Educators Union requires them to do so. But, Lummis adds “there is no universe where we don’t bring back the vast majority of those people."
So Lummis sent out all of those pink slips “just in case” he needed to lay off a few of those 300 people—because that’s what the union requires you to do?
Actually, the union contract in Brookline, as in Newton, does require the district to inform people they intend to layoff before the end of the prior school year. But the use of blanket "pink slips" to cover any possible contingency was the district’s choice. And not only is there “no universe where you don’t bring back the vast majority of those people,” there ought to be no universe in which you send them all out pink slips “just in case” either, introducing so much more uncertainty into so many educators’ lives in such uncertain times. That’s ethically irresponsible.
It’s also fiscally irresponsible: all of those employees will be entitled to unemployment benefits this summer, regardless of whether they are rehired. That’s a lot of money, and the Brookline Public Schools foots their own unemployment insurance bill.
I am sure I speak for the entire NTA membership when I say the Newton Teachers Association stands in full solidarity and sympathy with our Brookline colleagues!
So the reassuring part of David Fleishman’s message, even though he does not say so explicitly, is that there will be no blanket pink slips “just in case” in Newton.
If the Newton Public Schools will not issue blanket pink slips, are there plans for reductions in the fall, and when will members learn of them?
To my knowledge, there are currently no plans for layoffs in Unit A. But there will likely be fewer positions, and some layoffs, for next fall in Unit C.
The normal end of year process requires supervisors to speak with Unit C members and let them know if they will be asked back by early June. If members are informed that they are asked to return, then, during the summer, they receive a follow-up “reasonable assurance” letter from HR. At the end of every school year, some Unit C contracts are not renewed. This year, there will be more who will not be renewed.
Everyone should know if they are being offered reasonable assurance by June 12.
That said, some Unit C members do have contractual protections, and not all fall into the group who are at risk of being non-renewed.
In 2010, the NTA successfully bargained for “good cause” protections in the Unit C collective bargaining agreement. These protections are similar to the protections of PTS teachers—you can’t be let go from your job arbitrarily, and you have additional protections during a layoff.
For Unit C members, this means two things: In an ordinary year, when there are no layoffs, if the particular position a member filled is not available the following year, the district is obligated to provide that member a position somewhere in the Newton Public Schools, though not necessarily the same position, nor in the same school. In a year with layoffs, a reduction in force must first happen among members who do not have good cause protections…that is, have not been in the district at least five years.
Practically speaking, this year this means that any Unit C members who were hired and began working before the end of the school year in June of 2015 or earlier cannot be released at the end of the year without “good cause.”The reduction in Unit C staff will happen only among members who began working in September 2015 or later.
That said, my understanding is that even among this group, the majority of members will be offered the opportunity to return. There is not a plan to implement a policy equivalent to issuing “blanket pink slips.” The district intends to reduce the number fairly closely to the number of positions they anticipate they may need in the fall.
Anyone who does not receive reasonable assurance of being rehired—does not have their contract renewed—is eligible to begin receiving unemployment benefits when the school year ends, that is, they are entitled to begin receiving benefits during the summer.
Unit C summer ESY employment.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education promised to issue guidelines about summer ESY two weeks ago; they still have not done so. The district has been waiting for that guidance before making any decisions. That said, it seems unlikely there will be on-site summer services offered this year. The district will likely offer some remote special education services, and most of the educators hired for this will be Unit A. There may be a much smaller than normal number of positions for Behavior Therapists hired to work in the Stride Program this summer supporting remote services.
Please note that, unfortunately, the loss of summer employment does not qualify members for unemployment benefits over the summer.
After consulting with the MTA, we advise members who are not working during the summer, but who do have reasonable assurance of returning to the Newton Public Schools in the fall, to NOT apply for unemployment benefits. The Unemployment Office is approving many applications for benefits without careful scrutiny, then going back and looking more closely later. If you apply for and receive unemployment benefits for missed summer employment, you will likely be requested to pay that back at a later date.
Please note, again, that if you do not receive a letter of reasonable assurance that you will continue to be employed by the NPS in the fall, you qualify to begin unemployment benefits in the summer.
Over the next two weeks, the NTA will be gathering information on our members needs and experience to inform our bargaining with the Newton Public Schools regarding fall plans.
To this end, this coming week we have scheduled a number of district wide focus groups. At Wednesdays’ NTA Representative Assembly, we will provide training to our Building Reps to moderate focus group meetings in their buildings, which we invite you all to attend. These will possibly be this year's last NTA "ten-minute" meetings in most buildings...though the focus groups will take a little longer than an hour.
We are also preparing a final NTA survey, which will look both forward and backward. We will ask questions that help us assess how well you have done during this final phase of distance learning, as well as assess what you will need for the fall.
To gauge how far we have come, we have made available the results of the first and second surveys, including an analysis of the qualitative data from the first survey by Barbara Gibson, Charles Rooney, Anndy Dannenberg, and Karen Tokos. Thank you Barbara for pulling that team together and doing such great work. Chris Walsh pulled the results all together and formatted them.
The MTA has sent you a link to its own, very good, survey. It doesn’t take long at all to fill out. If you can, please do so. MTA will share the results with NTA. I'm including a link here for your convenience.
Thank you for reading.
"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."
Please take care and stay well.