Staffing, coverage, student behavioral and social and emotional challenges, too little time, low morale: The difficulties that educators are facing here in Newton are not unique to Newton. But I am convinced the Newton Public Schools and the City of Newton leadership can do better to support you. And the Newton Teachers Association will continue to advocate for them to do just that. A few examples. We know that it hard it is to hire aides and substitutes across Massachusetts and across the nation. And yet, is the district doing all it can? To provide better coverage, the NTA signed an agreement with the NPS to make it easier for building principals to hire full time substitute teachers (ISS) by paying them a more competitive wage. But at the beginning of the year, elementary and middle school principals were given clear hiring limits--they could keep the two or three part time ISS positions they already had, or they could trade these in for one full time ISS substitute. Why this limit? If school principals were given the option to hire one or two or three or more additional full time ISS substitutes, could they find people? Quite possibly. Then why weren't they given that opportunity? Another example: When an educator is out for a few weeks, how much time and effort do principals, department heads and coordinators spend finding a replacement, only to have a candidate turn them down when they learn how poorly a long term sub is paid? How many educators are covering for their colleagues simply because no one else can be found? The NTA does not bargain long term substitute rates; the district sets those pay rates unilaterally. Knowing how much work it is for building leaders to find these substitutes, why hasn't the district raised their pay rates to make these positions more attractive? We also know that hiring aides has been difficult. And yet, at the November 15 School Committee meeting, Superintendent Fleishman informed the Committee that the district has been able to fully meet its staffing needs for Behavior Therapists. If this is true, it raises the question: Why has the district been able to hire BTs but not aides? Could it be that salaries for BTs are higher than salaries for aides? If so, just as we did for full time substitutes, why can't we negotiate an increase in salaries for aides to make those positions more attractive? We know the answer: Neither the School Committee nor the Mayor's office wants to pay more--with the operative word here being 'wants'. They have the money. They just are not spending it to support educators and students. The city has received generous grants from the American Rescue Plan Act. In her most recent weekly email update to the community, Mayor Fuller announced that the city just spent almost two and a half million dollars of these federal relief funds to purchase two lots near the Williams School--a purchase that would normally be made by issuing municipal bonds. (See picture below.)
Without in any way questioning the wisdom of this purchase, those federal relief funds were targeted to support cities and towns through this pandemic, not to provide Newton taxpayers with long term debt relief. Has anybody in City Hall or on the School Committee gotten the message that we are indeed facing a crisis in our schools! When we return from the break, the Newton Teachers Association will present the newly elected School Committee with a proposal to reopen bargaining for this school year and next in order to address the issues you presented to us in the "What We Need" survey. We have already presented a grievance to the district on behalf of high school educators for the district's violation of the High School Time and Learning Agreement, specifically, the Agreement's restrictions on new initiatives during the period of time when educators are adapting to the new high school schedule. You know and understand what I am about to say, but I certainly hope the community does too. As this new wave of COVID breaks upon us, fueled both by the Delta and the Omicron variants, more staff will be absent from school, and keeping individual schools open could become precarious. There just won't be enough educators in the buildings. Newton's district leaders must take heed, and act without delay. Enjoy this brief but very well-deserved break. Do so knowing that the NTA has got your back. It can be better.