In this issue:
On Monday, April 11, the School Committee voted 8-0, with one abstention, to award school personnel stipends for service during the pandemic, per the tentative agreement we reached in mid-February. You can read the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) by clicking here. Stipends will be awarded according to the below criteria:
You must be currently employed by the Newton Public Schools to be eligible.
You will receive a $1,500 stipends if you were employed by the Newton Public Schools prior to July 2021.
You will receive a $500 stipend if you were hired subsequent to that date.
If you are part time, your stipend will be prorated based on your FTE.
If you are a unit C member and you work 32 hours or more, you will receive a full stipend.
If you work fewer than 32 hours, your stipend will be prorated according to the table found at the bottom of the MOA.
A number of members have asked if the stipends are pensionable, and whether members will have to make a retirement contribution from the stipends. No, and no. Many of you have asked when the stipends would be paid. Originally we thought the stipends would appear in either the March 30 or April 15 paychecks. That didn’t happen. We have not yet been given an exact date for payment, except that the district has agreed they will be included in a paycheck before the end of this school year. When we know the exact date, we will let everyone know.
I think most of you, like me, are gratified that some of the positions that the district was prepared to cut have been restored, and disheartened that many vital positions have not. From the NTA leadership’s vantage point, it felt very much like the school committee and the superintendent acquiesced to the mayor’s refusal to fully fund the schools. Chris Walsh has compiled the list you see below, which shows what was restored from the original cuts, what was partially restored, and what was not restored at all.
As you can see, the school committee approved budget still contains cuts that run deep, in spite of the fact that the school committee resolved on March 31 “that the current budget allocation of $262,070,208 is not enough to run the schools without serious negative impacts on our kids." The cuts that remain no doubt will have “serious negative impacts on our kids.” In spite of this, the the “debate” that took place before the final vote on the budget was quite lackluster. The challenges by Paul Levy, Chris Breszki, and Rajeev Parlikar seemed to land dead in the water, generating little actual exchange of views. In the end, the committee voted 8 to 1 to approve the budget, with only Paul Levy voting against it. (For a full and accurate timeline of the budget process, see this excerpt from Amy Sangiolo's weekly update that was re-posted on the Village 14 blog.) In spite of these shortcomings, as members of the NTA, we should all be proud of the success we had in rallying community opposition to the cuts. I echo David Fleishman’s sentiment that he has been “heartened by the outpouring of support from Newton families and community members. This support clearly demonstrates how much our community values and appreciates the work you do on a daily basis. It is a testament to your commitment and dedication to this district and to the families who entrust you with their children’s education.” Indeed. So true. And I would add: The time and effort you gave to advocate for your students—on top of the enormously exhausting work you do every day—was critical to galvanizing the community, and led to its outpouring of support. In an incredibly compressed timeframe, with little time to prepare, together we mounted a full on campaign. Think about all that we did:
Using the NTA Action Network, we sent sent 1,125 emails each to Mayor Fuller, Superintendent Fleishman, and School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski. Many of you also made calls or wrote emails on your own. We have never—never—generated so much participation in an email campaign!
350 to 400 of us rallied at City Hall.
We attended Parent Educator Collaborative meetings to share with the community our knowledge of how harmful these cuts would be.
We stood out in front of our buildings, mornings and afternoons, in rainy and cold April weather.
We posted signs in our classroom windows, even when we were threatened with discipline for doing so.
Why was this campaign so effective? Because every day, in your work with children, you earn parents’ trust. When you let the parents know these cuts will cause harm, they trust that it is true. This is not to diminish the work the school committee and the central administration did at school committee meetings to inform the public of the harm the cuts would cause. But no one else’s voice matters as much as yours, and without your activism, the community would not have joined with us in one united voice to support our schools, and our students, and the work we do.
So where do we go from here?
First, from what we have learned from our partners in the Parent/Educator Collaborative, many of the Newton City Council members are aghast at the cuts—yet they still do not know their full implications. Our partners have asked that we email or call city council members to help them better understand the impact. Your emails can be anecdotal, or you can offer them data—if this is available to you—on the harm the cuts will cause. In particular, council members are not fully aware of just how much our students continue to be impacted by the pandemic, and why this is a particularly bad time for cuts. (Not that any time is a good time for cuts.) Contact information for the councilors can be found here. (Although you can send the entire council an email, it would be more effective to send your email to each councilor at their address.) I suggest you also send your emails to the mayor—while she has received many form emails from us already, it will help to send her personalized emails from your own email account. Click here for her email address. As David said in his email, “[he is] hopeful that we will be able to restore these positions and this level of service in the near future.” I don’t know how near that future will be, but there could be money that comes into the schools in dribs and drabs before next fall. Second, we will bargain with the district regarding the impact of the cuts. What that means, practically, is to make sure that members are not expected to simply fill in the gaps caused by the cuts. Examples:
Instructional Technology Specialists will be cut be approximately 1.0 FTE, as will Technical Support Specialists. These cuts will not only impact their work load, but everyone’s.
Coordinators will be still be cut by 2 FTE. We don’t even know yet how these cuts will happen.
The Professional Development Coordinator (who also oversees the mentoring program) is still slated to be completely eliminated. We need to bargain how professional development and mentoring will be coordinated.
Responsive Classroom training is cut. Expectations for elementary teachers presume knowledge of and skills in implementing Responsive Classroom. The immediate risk is that veteran teachers will be expected to informally train new teachers.
Middle School Literacy Specialists provide intervention services for students who are not at grade level. The expectation cannot be that English teachers, for example, pick up this responsibility.
High School Counselors will be cut by .5 FTE at each school. Caseloads will return to pre-pandemic numbers of students, but the level of services needed by those students has increased dramatically.
The cut in per pupil allocation will reduce the resources available for curricular and other materials, as well as professional development. If the district moves forward on all of its initiatives, educators cannot be expected to simply rely on themselves.
High School Teacher cuts mean class sizes, in some instances, may approximate or even exceed 30 students. Again, expectations cannot remain the same.
This is a long list, but it is far from comprehensive. The point is to give you a sense of what we will need to negotiate. We will need your support:
NTA leadership will need input on how member roles will be directly and indirectly impacted. In some cases, we will need members who are willing to represent their colleagues to negotiate with us the specific impact on their roles.
We will need members to NOT pick up the slack themselves. That is a trap. And it is hard not to get caught in, because we know, ultimately, students will be harmed if we don’t.
Finally, we need to reflect on what, so far, has been gained, and what lost. And we need to think ahead about three campaigns that are on the horizon for next year: our contract campaign, the fair share amendment campaign, and a possible override campaign. I will address these topics in future EBulletins.
MTA New Member Summer Program
Are you a new educator interested in learning more about the union, but don't know where to begin? The New Member Program at MTA Summer Conference is for you! This program will run from July 31st to August 3rd at UMASS Amherst and is one track of the MTA Summer Conference. Through this program you will learn everything from union basics, reading and understanding your contract, as well as how to bargain a contract. This is a great opportunity to meet and network with other MTA members from across the state. This program is free to members in their the first five years. Please reach out to Ariana Foster (email@example.com) with any questions. Registration will open at the end of May.
Parent / Educator Collaborative
Our Parent / Educator Collaborative had a constructive listening session with three members of the Newton City Council on April 14. The Council is actively questioning the remaining $2M budget gap. That being said, as we learned from two attentive councilors at our meeting, not all 24 councilors have an accurate picture of what truly transpires in the schools, especially during this ongoing crisis. Informing ALL of the councilors would be extremely beneficial, as approving the school budget now belongs to the Council. To be properly informed, all councilors need to hear our persuasive personal anecdotes and stories, and understand data or statistics that illustrate the crisis. The PEC will be holding a second listening session with City Council members on Thursday, May 12 at 7:30pm via Zoom. If you can, please attend: it's important they hear directly from educators to understand the remaining cuts still impact students and the whole school community.
Why is it vital that we keep middle school intervention programs?
Why do we need additional mental health staff to address the rising social/emotional and behavioral crises among our students?
How do smaller class sizes benefit students?
What do we need to deliver excellent instruction?
Why must city leaders insist that we stop ALL the cuts and FULLY fund our schools?
Mike Zilles, President
Newton Teachers Association