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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: April 8, 2024, Revised and Supplemented


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Dear Colleagues,


I did not have time to include everything I wanted in yesterday's EBulletin, nor did I copy-edit what I did write as well as I would have liked. So I'm sending out a new and improved version of the EBulletin today. 


What is becoming more and more clear to me is that our campaign, which culminated in a strike, did not end with the strike. From raising funds, to enforcing the contract, to holding the school committee, Mayor Fuller and the city council accountable, to planning for Joint Labor Management Committees called for in our Memorandum of Agreement, to making sure that we retain our solidarity and power, we are still campaigning to make our voices heard. 


 

What do NTA Members Need?


In our last NTA Representative Assembly, we asked our Building Representatives what NTA Members need. They made it clear that two things are a priority:


1. Members need a vacation!

2. Members need to know more about local dues increases next year. 


About dues: First concerns, then process.


Concerns: Building Representatives made it clear that all members are concerned that local dues increases next year will eat up their COLAs. Building Representatives also made it clear that there is particular concern about raising Unit C local dues.


Raising local dues so much that they would absorb all of the salary increase from next year's 2 1/2% COLA would raise far more revenue than we need to restore our reserves.  That much of a local dues increase would increase NTA revenues by over 6 million dollars. The NTA needs 500 thousand dollars to restore its reserves, and we plan on raising this much over a number of years, not all next year. Dues increases for next year will be far less than the increase to salaries from next year's COLA.


With respect to Unit C dues increases, we will be particularly careful to protect members. 


Process: There are four stages through which we develop our budget. First, Chris Walsh, our treasurer, reviews this year's budget and presents an assessment of our financial needs for next year to the NTA Budget Advisory Committee. This Committee, which is meeting today, will review the budget and draft a plan to meet those needs. The Budget Advisory Committee will present its recommendation to the Executive Committee later this month, and the Executive Committee will present its recommendation to the Representative Assembly on May 1, which will vote on the final budget and dues structure. We will communicate to members the changes to local dues in the May 5th EBulletin. 


Please also bear in mind that our local dues are only 30% of total dues members pay, the rest of which go to MTA and NEA. While MTA and NEA dues will go up slightly, these increases are not at all impacted by our strike. 


 

Parent Lawsuit


When we were on strike, a very small group of parents (four) filed a motion to have the judge deciding the fines against the NTA also award them financial compensation for the "damages" parents and students incurred as a result of the strike. The judge threw out their motion.


The parents then filed an independent "class action" lawsuit against me, the NTA, the MTA and the NEA in civil court. The MTA and NEA have assembled a comprehensive legal team in order to defend against this lawsuit. The first step in our defense is to attempt to have all of the charges dismissed. 


There are two attorneys representing the plaintiffs: Ilya I. Feoktistov and Daniel R. Suhr. 


Feoktsitov was the "legal" representation for group that called themselves "Americans for Peace and Tolerance" that attacked the Newton North and Newton South history programs, launching a particularly vicious assault in right wing media on North history teacher David Bedar. 


Daniel R. Suhr, currently based in Chicago, is a member of the Federalist society, the group that has pushed its legal agenda by placing judges in courts across the United States, including the last three conservative judges appointed to the Supreme Court. Suhr was a major player in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's attack on educator unions in the early 2010s. He is currently litigating civil suits against the Chicago Teachers Union, KY120 American Federation of Teachers in Kentucky, and Rutgers University's professors' union for striking. In other words, we are being sued by a high profile right wing group with deep and dark financial pockets with agenda that has nothing to do with the well-being of students, families, or educators in Newton.


For all that, the lawsuit itself is poorly written, poorly argued, and unsubstantiated by any reasonable evidence. We believe its primary intent isn't to win; it is intended to harass and scare us. 

 


Grievance Trainings


The NTA is offering several Grievance Training Sessions.   Please consider signing up for one of these sessions:

  • Thursday, April 11 at 4:30-6:00

  • Tuesday, April 23 at 4:00-5:30 - added date

  • Thursday, May 9 at 4:15-5:45

Our goals for the training are to demystify the grievance process by going over

  • "Grievance Basics" such as why grievances are important, the contractual definition of a grievance, and types of grievances;

  • the NTA grievance process per the contract; and 

  • how to work with a member who comes to you with a possible grievance.

We have been offering this training to all Building Reps, Executive Committee Members,and members of our Professional Rights & Responsibilities Committee, but any member is welcome. Please fill out this form if you would like to attend one of the sessions.  While we believe the best way to participate in this would be in person, we also have a remote option.


Please let me know if you have any questions.



FY25 Newton Public Schools Budget

 

On Thursday, April 4, the Newton School Committee, including Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, passed its FY25 (2024-2025 school year) budget 9-0 too little fanfare. There were few people who attended any of the budget meetings in person, there was little public comment.


As well one would expect of a budget that not only did not make any cuts, but also did add 46 FTEs. 


That said, we must be cautious. There are much to celebrate in this budget, but there are also areas of concern, both now, and in the future. 


In many cases, the unnerving thing is that if we "scratch at" or look beneath the covers of what can be celebrated, we will also find in that same place a source of concern and worry. Below I discuss a number of the good and the worrisome of this budget.


1. Additional funding. As I said, Mayor Fuller did include 4.1 million dollars in additional funding in this budget by using monies from a "Stabilization Fund" she created. This fund will provide a total of 22 million dollars over the next five years to the NPS. That amount of funding is just somewhat less than the amount that would have been added to the budget had the residents of Newton voted yes to an operating override in early 2023. 


Why is this also a source of concern? 


  • These additional funds were added as "one-time" funds. They were not added to the operating budget, and this means that after five years, the additional funds will drop out of the budget. Talk of a "fiscal cliff" has already begun among school committee members, the city council, and Mayor Fuller.  

  • Our contract will expire on August 31, 2027, just two years before this additional funding will dry up, which would occur two years into the new contract we will be negotiating. It is quite likely the talk of a fiscal cliff will heat up at about the same time as we enter into negotiations. To her credit, Superintendent Nolin notes this concern in her budget, and added the following at the conclusion of her superintendent's budget statement: "Not devising a sustainability plan within the next two years will set up similar budgetary conditions and shortfalls leading into the next round of union contract negotiations—and I think we can all agree that we do not want a repeat of those conditions."  

  • The plan is to eventually ask Newton residents to pass another override. But since Mayor Fuller was able to "find" the money to in effect provide all of the funding to cover what an override would have covered, will the public believe there isn't already enough money when political leaders ask again?   

  • And remember: After the city settled its dispute with Eversource, $26 million in back taxes that had been in an overlay account became available to spend now. That's what Mayor Fuller used to fund the stabilization fund. But going forward, Eversource property taxes no longer need to go into an Overlay account. Now they go directly into the city's operating budget and are available to use. That's $3.5 million in added recurring funding every year. Mayor Fuller did not promise to use any of that additional funding to increase the allocation to the schools operating budget. It's mystery money. And this is just one way that Mayor Fuller's budgets do not reflect the city's real revenues and resources.  

  • The simple fact is, unless the residents of Newton vote Ruthanne Fuller out of office, along with a whole lot of other "fiscal conservatives" on the school committee and city council, we are looking at a "rinse and repeat" situation of our most recent negotiations in a couple of years. Our strike revealed for all to see the lack of transparency in city and school governance.

  • And though much of what concerns me is far beyond the scope of this particular budget, it goes to show how precarious the additions to this budget are. 


2. Uses of Additional Funding. Of the 4.1 million dollars added to the budget, 3 million is going to fund our contract, directly or indirectly. $1 million of the additional funding will be used to cover part of the cost of our contract.But if you look more closely at what else is being added, you can see that our negotiations and advocacy is reflected heavily, if less directly, in the use of the additional funds. 6.7 of the additional FTE's added to the budget are elementary social workers and 14.2 FTE's are high school math, science and engineering teachers to reduce class sizes. The total cost for these additional twenty-one educators is nearly $2 million. Our advocacy made this happen. Yes, Anna Nolin also recognizes the need for additional social workers and for reducing high school class sizes. And I believe she advocated fiercely for the funding to provide them. But had we not made these additions a negotiations priority and an essential part of our public communications during the strike, Mayor Fuller never would have provided the funds to support them.(Note as well that our new contract mandates joint labor management committees to address mental health supports in our schools and high school class size. This additional staffing next year represents contract wins for the NTA; the joint labor management committees (JMLCs) will be crucial in preserving those wins going forward.)In short, of the $4.1 million that Mayor Fuller added to the NPS budget during the strike, $3 million will be used to address needs for which we as a union advocated. 


Why is this also a source of concern? 


  • Well, for one, the additional social workers and the reduction in class size are not yet in the contract, so not yet fully protected. That said, the JMLCs and the language we did win go some ways towards doing that.

  • The budget does not restore kindergarten aides. It funds only one aide for two kindergarten classrooms. We grieved the reduction in the fall because it is in the budget. It would have gone a long way towards restoring trust had the need for a full time kindergarten aide been publicly acknowledged, kindergarten aides been restored, so that we could drop the grievance. As things now stand, we will be receiving a decision from the arbitrator some time before the end of this school year. We believe there is a strong chance we will win this arbitration. This means that the district will have to come up with approximately $700 more for next year's budget to restore the aides. 


"Merch" Store


Click on the image above to go to the NTA Merch Store


Support the NTA fund and solidarity raising efforts by purchasing items from our "Merch" store. 


Store Code: YYEMA

Order NOW to help us reach our goal of 1,000 orders.

SURPRISE Product Launch: SOLIDARITY Tees!


 

UNUM Disability Insurance Representatives

Will be Visiting Buildings


Click on the image above for more information or

to schedule an appointment for a conversation with a call center representative.


Representatives for UNUN disability insurance have not visited buildings since before the pandemic, but this year, they will once again be visiting your buildings. 


UNUM insurance has a contract with MTA to provide disability insurance on very reasonable terms. Because our sick leave policy and sick leave bank protect members in the case of a personal injury or illness that is a year or less in duration, the NTA does not advise members to purchase short term disability insurance...though some members may of course choose to do so based on their personal circumstances. We do advise members to purchase long term disability insurance. Premium costs are deducted from your pay.


Short term disability insurance covers up to 60% of your pay after you have been disabled 14 or 30 days, depending on which coverage you choose. This insurance benefit is provided to you in addition to the regular pay you receive during paid sick leave. Benefits are granted for up to 22 or 24 weeks. 


Long term disability insurance covers up to 60% of your pay as well, but not until you have been disabled for at least 180 days. This insurance benefit is NOT provided to you in addition to your regular pay; it only becomes available to you when your sick leave benefits are exhausted. You are only eligible to receive long term disability insurance benefits it you are NOT receiving your regular pay. 


In most circumstances, we believe it is wise to purchase long term disability insurance. Personally, I have represented educators who have been injured or become gravely ill, are eligible for very little in pension payments, in spite of their disability, and have to face an uncertain future with little financial support. It is heart wrenching. Long term disability insurance helps you avoid finding yourself in this awful position. 


Please see the schedule for building visits above. Click on the image to learn more. Speaking with the person in charge of scheduling these visits, we decided not to schedule meeting times for individuals in advance. Meetings can happen on a drop in basis, and if you need more time to speak with a representative, you can schedule a follow up phone. Or, if you prefer to schedule a conversation in advance, you can schedule an appointment to speak to a representative at a call center if this is more convenient for you. Please click here for more information or to schedule an appointment with a representative at a call center.



Click on the image above for more information.

As the flyer above states, registration is closed online--contact Keri Woods to register.



In solidarity,


Mike Zilles, President

Newton Teachers Association

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