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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: January 7, 2024

Dear Colleagues:


Upcoming Actions


MEDIATION. Your negotiations team will be meeting with the mediator tomorrow at 4:15. I deliberately did not say be meeting with the school committee, because the school committee will not meet in the same room with us. 

  • Please join your NTA team as a silent observer. No need to sign up. We have been meeting in room 210 of the Ed Center, although occasionally we have been shifted to room 111. Come to room 210; if we aren't there, we will be in room 11.


SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING. There is a school committee meeting tomorrow at 6:30. 

  • Line the halls beginning at 6:15.

  • Provide public comment at 6:30

 

We Must Take Back OUR Schools!


I think many of you were caught off guard in December when Mayor Fuller and Superintendent Nolin announced that the Mayor was introducing additional funds into the school budget. 



Now, lest you say--"I'm tuning out now. This is about the B U D G E T," remember, a budget is a statement of values--that is to say, how one approaches budgeting is a statement of values.



And when the Mayor talks about the budget, and about adding additional funding, we need to have a ready tool at our disposal to test those values. 



Here is a simple "sniff test" for any future claims Mayor Fuller may make about providing additional funds. If she says she is adding "one time" funds for anything--you fill in the blank-- it's a ruse. Mayor Fuller must increase the "allocation" to the school operating budget.



When the Mayor adds funding to the budget on a one time basis, it is just that--she's adding that money one time, and it will not appear in the budget the following year. For that reason, these "one time" funds cannot be used to fund ongoing expenses, such as salaries and benefits. Which means Superintendent Nolin cannot use those funds to hire additional staffing, and the school committee cannot use it to settle our contract. Those expenses would recur in the next year's budget, and they would not be funded. 



There are about a million and one reasons why Mayor Fuller's offers of "one time funding," are gaslighting, plain and simple. "Buyer" of this rhetoric beware! (That means you, members of the school committee, who say "thank you for your generosity" every time Fuller provides "one time funding" and thereby validate her deception.)


 

THE MAYOR DOES NOT "GIVE" THE SCHOOLS MONEY. When Mayor Fuller "gives" funds for capital projects, she's simply taking credit for something she is obligated to do. The normal operating costs of the school buildings are the responsibility of the NPS--cleaning, regular maintenance of equipment, etc. But the Newton Public School buildings are, ultimately, the responsibility of the City of Newton. The City "owns" them. So when the Mayor says she is "giving" the schools money for repairing a roof, adding handicapped accessible bathrooms, replacing a boiler, adding a wing to a building, or replacing a building altogether, Mayor Fuller is not "giving" the schools anything; she is meeting her responsibility as the steward of the Newton public school buildings! Those major expenses are the city's responsibility already.



When you teach your student, you do not "give" them a lesson out of the generosity of your heart--though you may go above and beyond in doing so, and your heart may be fully in it. You are doing it because that's your job. And when Mayor Fuller provides the financial resources to finally fix that roof over your classroom that has been leaking for as long as you can remember, she is not "giving" the schools anything. She is finally meeting a long-neglected responsibility. She is just doing her job.



Don't be fooled when Mayor Fuller demands public acclaim for doing her job.


 

THE MAYOR OVERREACHES HER AUTHORITY. When Mayor Fuller "gives" money in one-time funds, and the school committee lets her, she decides what the NPS' priorities are. When the school committee or superintendent determines that something is a priority, they then need to go to her for the additional funding. She decides to provide funds for this use, and not a different use. 



When funding is provided directly to the operating budget, the superintendent makes recommendations to the school committee about budget priorities, and the school committee determines, in open session, whether to approve that budget with its stated priorities.That's a more open, transparent process.



Moreover, some of the NPS' priorities are established through collective bargaining, and it is through collective bargaining that we, the professionals who make the schools run and know best what the schools need, have a voice. When Mayor Fuller doesn't appropriate enough money to the operating budget, she short circuits this process, and steals our voice and prerogative.



Don't be fooled when Mayor Fuller uses "one time" school funding to control the schools and undermine your voice in collective bargaining. 


 

THE MAYOR CANNOT CONTINUE TO CREATE BUDGET CRISES. Mayor Fuller is perpetuating the cycle of budget crises. If she continues to close budget gaps by providing one time funding, then in every budget cycle, because she has not allocated sufficient funds to the operating budget, there won't be enough to provide level services. She is perpetuating budget gaps, and perpetuating budget crises.



But of course this works for the mayor, because it allows her to portray herself as the knight in shining armor who rides in on her white horse to fix everything at the eleventh hour, never mind all the damage that this artificial crisis has already created. And she never provides sufficient funding to close the original budget gap. 



Don't be fooled when Mayor Fuller creates an artificial crisis in the Newton Public Schools budget every year, then presents herself as the hero who comes to the rescue!


 

THE MAYOR MUST RUN THE CITY FOR ITS CITIZENS AND TO SUPPORT ITS DEDICATED EMPLOYEES. Finally, the Mayor is perpetuating a cycle of under estimating the City of Newton's revenues, overestimating its expenses, and ending each year with another huge surplus of "free cash." And then every year Mayor Fuller once again calls this free cash "one-time" funding, and we're back on the merry-go-round....only the "go-round" is anything but merry. 



That surplus, that "free cash," is not really "one time funding." It's recurring funding. Every year the City of Newton regularly takes in more in property taxes, fees, permits, interest income, and meal and hotel taxes than it estimates, and that, largely, becomes the free cash Mayor Fuller has at her disposal to "give" to the schools and other "projects." 



This does not happen by accident. It is how the bonding agencies--Moody's and Standard and Poor's International--"advise" municipalities to budget their finances. They advise municipalities to estimate their revenues conservatively, even though city officials know with reasonable assurance that revenues will be higher than budgeted. They advise municipalities to overestimate their expenses, even though city officials know with reasonable assurance that expenses will be lower than expected. They advise municipalities to keep large "rainy day funds," even though city officials know that those funds can never be spent to cover city or school expenses, because they are set aside exclusively to protect the bondholder.



And, finally, it is the bonding agencies that DEFINE the surpluses that accrue in the budget every year as "one-time funds," even though the sources of those surpluses recur year after year.



Don't be fooled when Mayor Fuller tells you that she can't afford to spend more on the schools. Mayor Fuller is choosing to run the city according to the arcane accounting guidelines of the bonding agencies, and not for Newton's schools or its students. She is choosing to underfund education.



OUR CAMPAIGN FOR A FAIR CONTRACT IS THE SOLUTION, NOT THE PROBLEM. Mayor Fuller and the members of the school committee present themselves as "very serious people," and treat you condescendingly, as if you just don't get the way city finances work. 



We are told that our demands are unreasonable. School committee members tell us they must work within the budget allocation that Mayor Fuller has "given" them. They say that our demands are "unsustainable," short hand for--if we, the school committee, cede to your demands, there will be more cuts. 



But in truth, we are the serious people. In standing up for a fair contract, we are in fact acting as the true stewards of this city's schools, and its students. 



Someone has to put an end to the chorus of voices that keeps chiming in with the Mayor: "We have no money--don't look at that $29 million in 'Free Cash' over there, or that other $26 million in 'Overlay funds' hidden away in that corner, or that $25 million in the 'rainy day fund'. We can't spend that on the schools"!



We know what our students need. We know what is best for the schools. We are not making unreasonable or selfish demands. 



The cuts will only end if we, with the support of the parent community, continue to stand up for the schools we and our students deserve.



Someone has to put an end to this nonsense. And that someone is us.



Don't be fooled, Mayor Fuller. Don't be fooled, members of the Newton School Committee. We're serious about winning this contract--and winning back OUR schools!


In solidarity,


Mike Zilles, President


Newton Teachers Association


 

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