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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin January 2, 2023

In this issue:

At the Negotiations Table Session #4 by Mike Zilles, Elizabeth Ross Del Porto and Chris Walsh Your NTA Negotiations team met with the School Committee Negotiations Team on Wednesday, December 21. I apologize to all of you that this update on that session comes now, at the beginning of this new year, but it took us some time to digest the ramifications of that session. And we needed a vacation too.

The news is not good. I know this is hardly what you had hoped to hear as we begin a new year, but there is no way to soften it. Here is a quick summary of negotiations to date. NPS:

  • has asked us to do more without more pay;

  • wants to reduce and restrict our contractual sick and personal days;

  • as yet, has made no response to any of our proposals, including our COLA proposal, other than to let us know how costly they will be.

And in this most recent session, they:

  • have proposed completely eliminating the elementary, middle and high school Time and Learning Agreements (more on just what this means below);

  • still have not presented their promised “proposal to come” for changes to health insurance, nor their “proposal to come” on extending the school year for employees who work in the Stride Programs;

  • have been too busy to schedule more than one additional bargaining session, leaving us with only one two hour session per month over the next four months. They have, effectively, ruled out progress until after the override vote and the presentation of the school budget.

You might say, “same as it ever was,” and in a sense, you would be right. We can expect them to repeat what they always say in every negotiation: “We don’t have any money.” Whether our negotiations follow a recession or a successful override campaign, they never have any money—at least for our contracts. We have come to expect that, in this regard, every negotiation is difficult. Same as it ever was. But in a sense you would be very, very wrong. First, in our initial negotiations session, the Newton School Committee Negotiations Team said they would like to avoid protracted negotiations and fast track a settlement on a new contract by February. They seemed earnest. So you have to wonder, after hearing their proposals: “What are they thinking”? Second, the times themselves are very different. The Newton School Committee seems to have failed completely to recognize these differences:

  • We are still not recovered from a pandemic that has hit educators and students especially hard, and Newton has not been spared.

  • Inflation is quickly eclipsing short lived gains in wages made by labor nationwide, and Newton has not been spared.

  • Morale amongst educators is at historic lows nationwide, and Newton has not been spared.

  • Educators are leaving the profession at historic rates, positions across the nation remain unfilled, and Newton has not been spared.

  • Unlike after the great recession of 2008, during and after this pandemic, the federal government has provided ample financial resources to weather the pandemic’s economic consequences. Newton too has been granted generous financial support, though it should not be spared scrutiny for its use of those funds.

  • Across the state, the MTA and local educator associations have been flexing their muscles in unprecedented ways. This is not the conciliatory and concessionary period that followed the great recession of 2008. We have seen a surge in labor activism, including an historic victory on the Fair Share Amendment and strikes in Dedham, Brookline, Malden, and Haverhill. Does Newton hope to be spared this surge in activism?

  • School districts across the state are agreeing to three year contracts that offer upwards of 10 or 12% COLAs over the course of the contract, they are agreeing to higher starting salaries for ESPs, and they are agreeing to improved sick and parental leave benefits, among other benefits. Does Newton really think it can settle while offering less than this?

Third, this School Committee is asking for unprecedented givebacks and concessions even as the trend statewide is for districts to settle negotiations with generous contracts. So what are they thinking? What were they thinking when, in the first substantive session on November 21, they presented a financial forecast that showed they would have no money left over for COLAs next year, and very little the following two years? What were they thinking when they proposed a Labor Management Committee to examine the elementary school day, yet they could not or would not state specifically what they thought needed to be examined about the elementary school day? What were they thinking when they proposed extending the work year for educators by two and one half days with no corresponding increase in compensation? What were they thinking when they proposed limiting sick days and access to the sick leave bank for new employees and eliminating use of the sick leave bank for all employees for catastrophic illness—as if this punitive approach were any kind of solution to the chronic problems they have with coverage? What were they thinking when they proposed having elementary school Team Specialists evaluate Unit C members in their buildings, with apparently little thought given to the details of what this would look like, certainly none shared with us in their proposal. What were they thinking when they proposed changes to the placement of out-of-district children of NTA members in Newton that would, effectively, force the NTA to collude in discriminating against members’ children who have special needs? And now, in their latest session, what are they thinking when they propose to eliminate the elementary, middle, and high school Time and Learning Agreements from the Units A and B contracts? Because, beyond anything they have so far proposed, this just seems outrageous. These three agreements were originally negotiated in 1996-1997 to accommodate new DESE regulations on Time on Learning (990 structured learning hours for secondary schools and 900 structured learning hours for elementary schools). They became a part of the 1997-2000 contract, and for the 2000-2004 contract, the School Committee and the NTA agreed that they would become integral to the contract, to be changed only by mutual agreement of the parties. The Time and Learning Agreements are the most important part of the contract for determining our working conditions. They govern:

  • the length of the school day (elementary, middle and high) and, in the case of elementary school, the start and end time of the school day; the School Committee proposes retaining only a provision on the length of the day;

  • the amount of preparation time (elementary prep time on Wednesdays; middle and high overall) to be set aside; the School Committee proposes much reducing the amount of preparation time.

  • the amount of contact time with students (middle) and/or the number of classes a teacher can teach (middle and high); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • how many and what kind of meetings can be scheduled, and how long they can be (elementary, middle), including how Wednesday (elementary, middle) afternoons will be used; the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • how many early release days there will be in the school year (elementary, middle, and high); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • the schedule that schools follow (high); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • when professional development will be offered (elementary); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

  • the number and kind of duties an educator can be assigned (middle, high); the School Committee proposes eliminating this provision altogether;

When we asked the School Committee what specific changes covered by any area of the Time and Learning Agreements they would like to make, they could only give one specific example—this year they were only allowed to offer four early release days in middle school. Beyond that, nothing, nada. Maybe they are just angry that we enforced the agreement on the number of middle school early release days? Maybe they just didn’t want to acknowledge that they had to negotiate an additional early release day? Whatever their real reasons, they have asked us to accept that they simply need more "flexibility," without indicating in any way how having the Time and Learning Agreements in place has stood in the way of any change they are envisaging. But let’s ask, concretely, what could they do if we agreed to give them their desired “flexibility”?

  • They could schedule a faculty meeting every Wednesday afternoon in elementary schools, and eliminate PLCs and professional planning during that time;

  • they could eliminate some of the Wednesday elementary early release time altogether and add more instructional time;

  • they could stop offering elementary professional development during the school day on Thursdays, and try once again to offer it on Wednesday afternoons;

  • they could expand the scope of middle and high school duties, and require middle and high school teachers and counselors to provide coverage: lunch, hall, classes for absent colleagues;

  • they could require elementary school classroom, special education, and specialist teachers to provide coverage when they are not teaching;

  • they could reduce high school preparation time to three preps per week;

  • they could reduce middle school preparation time to one prep per day.

  • they could require all high school teachers to teach five blocks rather than four;

  • they could increase middle school teams to five sections;

Basically, with complete management prerogative, they could do pretty much anything they want. And it seems to us that this is what they really want. They call this "flexibility." Bear in mind that all three of the Time and Learning Agreements have been renegotiated since 2000—the high school agreement and middle agreements to accommodate new schedules; elementary to accommodate the elimination of the Thursday afternoon program. In each case, the results were measurably better than they would have been had educator voices not been part of the decision making, assured that any changes would require their consent. And bear in mind that, it is the Time and Learning Agreement that keep in place equity among the different schools. So we must ask: Are we supposed to just trust them? Because we really do not know what they are thinking, only what they would like it to be possible to do without including educator voices. This is very unsettling. On our side, we’ve kept faith with the hope to settle quickly. In our first session (after the session on ground rules), the NTA Negotiations Team put a comprehensive package of proposals on the table. While there are still some minor proposals we will add, we presented all of the major issues we would like to address. And we have responded immediately and constructively to every proposal they put on the table prior to the last session. They know what we are bargaining for. And we know what they are bargaining against. Fair compensation; reasonable benefits; investments in coverage—and educator voices in how the NPS does business. That seems to be what they most would like to wrest from us. Our voices. To which we say: Careful what you wish for. To be continued…..

Social Media

As our negotiations process moves ahead, make sure you are following the NTA on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. There will be many upcoming opportunities to send in photos of members from your building, to share action items with your network, and to keep the community informed of our progress.

MTA Winter Workshops for PDPs The MTA invites you to register for its 2023 Winter PDP Programs at 4 pm on Tuesday, December 20th! Learn with the MTA and Earn PDPs to use toward your license recertification! Choose from seven different online courses where you can earn 15 PDPs towards either English as a Second Language/Sheltered English Immersion or Special Education requirements for renewing your professional license. All courses are FREE to MTA members. Space is extremely limited for these courses to ensure an enjoyable and effective learning experience for participants. Registration will open on December 21st at 4 PM. Set a reminder now for your best chance at securing a seat in the program of your choice! Winter PDP Workshops Online Asynchronous Courses:

  • Fine-Tuning Phonics Instruction for Students with Dyslexia (K-5) 1/21 - 3/4

  • Teaching with the New Dyslexia Guidelines 1/30 - 3/13

  • Universal Design for Learning: Reaching All Students 2/1 - 3/15

Online Synchronous Courses: Zoom Meetings

  • Social Emotional Learning: Using SEL to Inspire Success In All Students. 2/21 & 2/23 (9am-3pm)

  • Authentic Family Engagement in Literacy 1/28 & 2/11 (9am-12pm)

  • Collaborative Model for Multilingual Learners with, or Suspected of having, a Disability 2/8 & 3/1 (4-7pm)

  • Educational Kaleidoscopes: Inclusive Strategies for Multi-lingual Learners 2/2 & 2/16 (4-7pm)

For more information, visit:



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