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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin April 30, 2023

Coming soon: One day a week, modified "work to rule."

In this issue:

Hello All

What a tumultuous week since we returned from break! What all is going on?

  • changes to health insurance;

  • school committee budget deliberations;

  • contract negotiations;

  • a general membership meeting and planning our next steps

Changes to Health Insurance

(This is a synopsis of a more detailed update I sent out earlier this week.)

Newton will offer health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield for all active and retired employees beginning July 1. Health insurance through Tufts and Harvard will no longer be offered. Though the carrier will change, there will be no changes to out of pocket expenses or contribution rates. The network of medical providers will overlap very extensively.

There were unanticipated and unwelcome changes. Premium rates for active (non-medicare) plans will go up a lot. Since Tufts premiums were already higher than Harvard rates, they will go up less.

Original Plan

Blue Cross Blue Shield Premium Increase

Tufts PPO Individual


Tufts PPO Family


Tufts EPO Individual


Tufts EPO Family


Harvard HMO Individual


Harvard HMO Family


Mayor Fuller cut the $925 offset to the cost of medicare part B to retirees and the CanRx program will be eliminated for retirees on medicare supplement plans. I am not sure on the status of CanRx for active employees and will follow up.

School Committee Budget Deliberations and Vote

The deliberative process on the budget and budget restorations was confusing, but from what I could gather, these are the highlights:

  • The mayor restored nearly $700K to the budget by eliminating retirees’ medicare part B reimbursements;

  • Liam Hurley restored nearly $300K to next year’s budget as a result of additional carryover from this year’s budget;

  • Central administration recommended a cut to the “charter maintenance” (building upkeep and repair) budget of about $400K.

  • Central administration recommended additional cuts to the per pupil (materials) and professional development budgets of $50K each (total $100k). (More money out of your pockets to pay for materials.)

From these funds, the school committee restored teaching positions in the elementary and middle schools to prevent class sizes from rising above 25, and restored the elementary strings and “Understanding our Differences” programs. They did not restore any high school teaching positions. Many high school classes were already above 25 students this year, many as well were already above 30; these numbers will grow.

Kindergarten aide positions were not restored, nor was there any consideration of restoring them, even though cutting them is a violation of our Units A and C collective bargaining agreements. The NTA has grieved these cuts, and the grievance will be decided in arbitration, likely sometime in the middle of the next school year. Although one can ever be sure, we have a very strong case and believe we will win the arbitration. (For more about kindergarten aides, see Chris Walsh's blog post here.)

At the Negotiations Table: Session 10 4/26/23

By Elizabeth Ross Del Porto and Mike Zilles

Your NTA Negotiations Team met again on April 26 with members of the NPS Administration Team and School Committee. And once again, the energy of the Line the Halls members was electric! The entire NTA Negotiating Team is deeply grateful for your support.

You can check out the Line the Halls action by following the NTA at newtonteachersassoc on Instagram and Newton Teachers Association on Facebook; both are also great places to keep up to date on announcements and job actions, which are ramping up. If you want to participate in Line the Halls, you can sign up to do that here.

So how did negotiations go? In a word, incrementally. There was some progress, but if you blinked, you might have missed it. Here are some highlights:

  • We made progress on our proposal to establish stipends for staff to provide coverage at the middle and high schools.

  • We are quite near a tentative agreement on an enhanced ($1,000) retirement notice incentive.

  • The SC agreed to take another half-step off the bottom of the Unit C pay scale, so that a half step would come off at the beginning of each year of the new contract. We countered by proposing that a half step be dropped at the beginning of the first and second years, that a full step be dropped at the beginning of the third year, and that all full time elementary, middle, or high school Educational Support Professionals be allocated a minimum of 35 or 40 hours per week, depending on level and role. Our goal: we must get all starting salaries for Educational Support Professionals above $30,000.

  • COLA proposals ‘centimetered’ closer (yes, that’s not really a word but inched closer felt like an overstatement). Here is a review.

Last time, on 4/4, their proposal was:

COLA for Stepping Employees

COLA for Employees at the Top of the Scale

FY 2024: 1.5%

FY 2024: 1.7%

FY 2025: 1.6%

FY 2025: 1.8%

FY 2026: 1.7%

FY 2026: 1.9%

Our counter on 4/4 was:

COLA for Stepping Employees

COLA for Employees at the Top of the Scale

FY2024: 5.8%

FY2024: 6%

FY2025: 3.8%

FY2025: 4% (We mistakenly reported this as 5% in the last update.)

FY2026: 3.8%

FY2026: 4%

AND Step increases move to September 1, 2023

Their counter proposal on 4/26 was:

COLA for Stepping Employees

COLA for Employees at the Top of the Scale

FY 2024: 1.5%

FY 2024: 1.9%

FY 2025: 1.6%

FY 2025: 2.0%

FY 2026: 1.7%

FY 2026: 2.0%

We countered on 4/26 with:

Stepping Employees

Employees at the top of the scale

FY2024: 5.6% (change from 5.8%)

FY2024: 5.8% (change from 6%)

FY2025: 3.8%

FY2025: 4% (no change)

FY2026: 3.8%

FY2026: 4% (no change)

AND Step increases move to September 1, 2024 (representing an offer to move it one year back)

We are still far apart in other ways as well.

We discussed our proposal for a full-time social worker in every building, and for an professionalization of the positions of SEL Interventionists. The SC/Central Administration continued its opposition to these proposals.

(There was some alarming talk about the importance of “building capacity of Tier 1” to support students with SEL and mental health needs, which, in context, sounded to us a lot like “classroom teachers should be able to manage the issues with enough PD,” and seemed to miss the vital role social workers and interventionists play in supporting educators as they provide Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 support for students.

Unfortunately, among other things, we were not able to discuss our proposal for improvements to the parental leave policy or our other proposals to address the crisis in coverage.

Where does this leave us? While the tone in the room remains collegial, and we continue to make progress, it will be very challenging to come to an agreement by June 30th, especially with only two more sessions scheduled to date.

Putting together the week’s developments on the budget and in negotiations, we see:

  • The district and the city restored funds to address those concerns that the community pressured them to address: Class size in elementary and middle school and the elementary strings and “Understanding our Differences” program.” These are very important, but nothing was restored to the high schools, where class sizes will grow more.

  • They restored cuts by reducing health insurance benefits for retirees and increasing costs for active employees…in effect requiring educators who work for or have worked for the schools to subsidize the schools.

  • The district still has proposals on the table to take back areas of management prerogative (Time and Learning Agreements), to shift additional health insurance costs onto employees, and to otherwise limit benefits.

  • We can expect that as the discussion of the “structural deficit” and a “sustainable budget” continues, the school committee and administration will likely double down in negotiations in order to reach their goals.

We ask: Are we really to give mayor, the central administration and the school committee more“flexibility”? What have they done with the flexibility they already have?

Well, we just saw what the mayor did with her "flexibility" to cut retiree benefits and increase health insurance premiums.

Four years ago, we saw how the SC and Central administration used its “flexibility” to schedule high school staff meeting in the afternoon, in spite of the fact that, when surveyed, 75% of high school staff members said they would prefer staff meetings in the morning rather than the afternoon.

And when has the Central Administration or School Committee, in spite of their flexibility to do so, done anything to address the crisis caused by a lack of coverage? They have done nothing. It isn’t even on their radar. If anything, they have made it worse.

Restoring funds to the budget is important. Making sure those funds are directed towards the real needs of the system is crucial. Making sure that educators are not asked to subsidize those funds is essential.

The fight for the schools we and our students deserve must be our fight for a fair contract. And this means: Our strongest and best bargaining position comes from an engaged, unified membership, fighting together!

General Membership Meeting and Continuing Contract Action!

On the topic of engagement, it was AMAZING to see so many members at our General Membership Meeting on Thursday last week. We came away from that listening session with renewed and refined determination to do everything we can to settle a fair contract BEFORE this one expires. We utterly reject the notion that dragging our membership into a new teaching year with no contract is okay as Newton business as usual. You will be hearing from your RA and CAT members soon about our next action, One Day Work to Rule.

And remember: Every action matters.

Wear your t-shirts. Not only do you show your solidarity to your colleagues, you also show it to your administrators. And they talk, amongst themselves, and to central administrators, who gauge our strength by the participation of our membership. When we all wear our t-shirts, its noted, and it matters.

Keep lining the halls. Your negotiations team is energized as you cheer us on, and, believe me, the school committee knows your there!

More to follow, soon! There were a lot of takeaways from the General Membership Meeting, but the biggest was that—you are ready to support us in whatever way we ask!



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