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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA Ebulletin January 23, 2022

The adage ‘the only constant is change’ has never been truer than these past two years. As we navigate this most current situation, it seems a good time to reflect.

NTA leadership would like to acknowledge that the NTA represents all its members and their sometimes varied views; this is a big tent, as they say in politics.

We have many members who are anxious and very fearful about Covid; these include individuals with young, unvaccinated children, people who are or live with immunocompromised family members, and others. They are facing terrifying, impossible choices like putting their infants and toddlers into daycare, where masking is not possible.

At the same time, we have other members whose comfort level around in-person learning has gradually increased over time as vaccination rates soared and pool testing offered a sense of security. They are eager to move on from this phase of their lives and hopeful that omicron fading is the beginning of the end.

Please know that we hear all of you and try as best we can to have all these myriad opinions inform our work with the district. Both of these perspectives are valid and real.

With that in mind, there are some positives we are happy to share with you:

  • Data from wastewater shows drastically reduced amounts of Covid. This may well be an indicator that we are only weeks away from our own numbers of positive cases declining. Many schools also report their pool testing number positives taking a steep decline this past week.

  • With DESE’s new program to provide once per week at-home rapid tests to staff and students, the recommendations the Medical Advisory Group made to the School Committee, specifically around eliminating pool testing, make more sense. Would it be good to have the protection of twice weekly testing? Yes. Does it make sense to provide the second test with continued PCR pooled testing? We are inclined to agree with MAG on this that the answer is no.

There is much still to be done. We know coverage continues to be tight in many buildings and that nurses are overstretched. Everyone feels the need for more planning time to meet their students' pressing needs. And we are all just exhausted.

To support our members, as promised the NTA submitted a request to reopen bargaining to the School Committee when we returned from break. We met for the first time on Friday with the new School Committee bargaining team: Chair Tamika Olszewski, Kathy Shields, and Paul Levy along with members of the central administration. This first meeting felt both cordial and productive. We are anticipating a response to our proposal later this week, and will meet again this coming Friday.

Our bargaining proposal includes:

  • COVID days. Codification of the district's policies on using COVID days, with an increased limit from 10 to 20. (The district's current policy is more generous than state law, but not all of our members are clear on it. This would bring clarity.)

  • Sick days. Access to the sick leave bank for members who exhaust their personal bank of sick days, and need more days for typical absences. (Currently, access is only available for cases of documented serious illness.) (Again, HR has been generous in making exceptions and granting more days. We are bargaining for a protocol.)

  • Reimbursement for masks and additional at home rapid tests

  • Slowing the pace of initiatives

  • Incentives for hiring aides and substitutes

As many of you are probably aware, in her most recent update to the community, Mayor Fuller announced that all city employees (except police) will receive a stipend of either $500 or $1,500 for "those who worked through the most challenging months of the pandemic." This does not include NPS employees.

I have responded to the Mayor and contacted School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski; the Globe reached out to ask about the stipends, and I answered the reporter's questions based on what I wrote the Mayor.

In addition to the list of bargaining proposals above, we will include stipends for educators.

Here is what I wrote to the mayor (I informed her I would be sharing what I wrote);

As you can imagine, I am receiving many emails from educators who have heard about the generous stipend that has been extended to City of Newton employees. They feel deeply disappointed that the members of the NTA have not been offered the same benefit.  ....

I want to be clear: I'm not casting blame on you, the School Committee, or David Fleishman. I am simply expressing a deep disappointment that school employees were not included in this generous stipend, and hope that this situation can be made right. 

It may be that, as a condition of agreeing to the vaccine mandate, City of Newton Unions bargained for these stipends. I don't know that history. The NTA signed an MOA with the School Committee that included a vaccine mandate. We didn't do so on the condition that our members receive a stipend. On the contrary, NTA leadership advocated for the vaccine mandate because it was the right thing to do to protect our members, our students, and the Newton community. We were citywide leaders on promoting a vaccine mandate for Newton employees. To me personally, it felt wrong to exact a price for doing the right thing.

But if other City of Newton employees were offered a stipend for agreeing to a vaccine mandate, the members of the NTA certainly deserve the same generous treatment. And I would add: they deserve this not because they agreed to a vaccine mandate, but rather, for their hard work, generosity of spirit, sacrifice, and deep commitment to the children of Newton. They have been there for their students throughout this long and seemingly never ending crisis.

For budgetary reasons, I am sure the schools would need your support to offer this stipend to school employees. I hope the members of the NTA can count on your support for extending this generous stipend to Newton Public School employees.

MTA All-Membership Meeting Monday at 6 pm

Please join MTA in a state-wide virtual meeting to discuss the state COVID response and continue to put pressure on the governor to keep our schools safe and open. Register here, or look for an email from MTA Governance yesterday.

Fair Share Amendment Support

Next year we will be entering into negotiations. Inflation is higher than it has been in decades, yet it is likely that the City will once again bargain hard to keep our wages and benefits as low as possible. That said, schools do indeed need more funding, and there is a ballot question coming up this November that would help. Called the Fair Share Amendment, it raises state tax on income OVER $1,000,000. If you make less than a million, you won't see an increase. Please sign the pledge to vote YES in November. This money will directly help our salaries and support our classrooms.

Trainings for New Members

The MTA is proud to offer virtual trainings for our new members on the topic of loan forgiveness, Professional Teacher Status (tenure), Paraprofessional rights, and licensure. They are aimed at those in their first five years of working, but anyone who wants to learn can attend. See links to register on this document. **NOTE: These may be particularly useful if you want to forgive student loans, or if you are working under an emergency license**


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