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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin June 18, 2023



In this issue:


We had a fantastic turnout at our rally last Thursday. Over 500 NTA and community members showed up, marched, and demanded a fair contract and full funding for the schools. Thank you to all who showed up! For those who didn't--no worries! There will be other opportunities, I'm sure.


The day before our rally, on Wednesday afternoon, MTA President Max Page debated Newton School Committee Negotiations Team member Paul Levy on whether school employees should have the right to strike in Massachusetts. The debate concerns a bill the MTA has sponsored in the Massachusetts legislature that would make it legal for local educator unions to go on strike after their negotiations with their school committees had gone on for over six months without reaching an agreement. (FYI: We have been negotiating with the Newton School Committee for eight months now.) You can watch the video of their debate here.


Max Page joined us the next day at our rally and shared with us some "highlights" of his debate with Paul.


One of them was rather mind boggling. Paul said that he was surprised to hear Max say that school committees are deliberately engaging in a new tactic to "out wait" educators by deliberately stonewalling negotiations. Paul argued that negotiations can sometimes last a long time, not because school committees are "stonewalling," but rather for the simple reason that there are genuine differences of opinion or points of view at play in negotiations that the parties can get stuck on. This, he said, is to be expected.


Paul suggested unions already have ample tools in their toolkits to advocate for a fair contract--stand-outs, rallies, wearing t-shirts or buttons, posting signs, supporting candidates for office, work to rule, etc. (He didn't mention silent meetings or not volunteering for committees, though I guess he includes that under work to rule.) The playing field, Paul said, is level, and unions don't need the right to strike.


I have a different quibble with Max. I don't think stonewalling is a new tactic. Here in Newton, it's business as usual.


What do you think? Should educator unions have the right to go on strike when negotiations continue for more than six months without a contract settlement?



At the Negotiations Table: Session 13

by Mike Zilles


We met again with the Newton School Committee on Monday, June 12.


At the beginning of this session, the school committee once again told us that their intention, when they presented us with a “package” proposal in our last session, was to move negotiations along more quickly. They again reiterated that they take seriously our wish to reach an agreement quickly. (From NPS website tab on negotiations: “The Newton School Committee takes very seriously the Newton Teachers Association (NTA) recent statement that they would like to finalize a contract soon. The School Committee shares that desire.”)


Hard to take these expressions of seriousness seriously. Normally, in a (package) proposal, you “signal” to the other side what your priorities are by packaging up certain proposals—keeping those that are your priorities in your package, offering to withdraw other proposals, while offering to compromise on certain proposals put forward by your negotiating partner—in order to incentivize them to agree to your priorities.


They didn’t do this. They packaged up all of their proposals, rejected all of ours, and handed that package to us with a negligible increase in their COLA offer. This takes us nowhere closer to finalizing a contract.


We also expressed to the committee our confusion: On the one hand, they repeatedly tell us that their hands are tied—they have very limited funds. On the other hand, on the district website, they present information to the public that shows how well paid NPS employees are. (Again, from NPS website tab on negotiations: "With regard to financial compensation, the School Committee believes it is important for the Newton community to know that NPS pays its employees well.”)


When we asked them about this contradiction, they doubled down, saying that both are true—what they present to the public on their website is factually true—they do compensate us well—and they are limited in their resources--so are limited in what they can offer.


Well, yes and no. On the first point, if you compare Newton, as the school committee does, to a very heterogeneous group of school districts in the area—one that includes Framingham, Waltham, Watertown, Natick, Bedford, Arlington and Dedham, among others, Newton does relatively well. It pays better than most of the above school districts. But generally speaking, Newton doesn’t pay as well when compared to school districts that are educationally comparable to the NPS: Wellesley, Weston, Wayland, Belmont, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln, Sudbury, Concord, or Carlisle.


That is, Newton generally pays its employees less than the districts with which it competes directly for educators.


But their misrepresentation of the facts is even worse, because their data is from the 2021-2022 school year. Things have changed a good deal since then.


First of all, inflation has eaten away at our real wages, and continues to do so. Yet even as districts around us are taking this into account and settling contracts with COLA’s of around 3% per year, and even though they are including in their contracts improved benefits and working conditions, the Newton School Committee proposes we accept inadequate cost of living adjustments, reduced benefits, and less control over our working conditions. This after the city just increased the cost of our health insurance premiums by nearly 20% for most members next year—amounting to over a $1,000 increase for a family plan for next year.


We are gathering information about the settlements that are just coming in from our educationally comparable districts. So let’s look now at Lexington, which just recently settled a contract on favorable terms: For this past school year and the next three years, Lexington won:

  • COLAs of 3%, 2.5%, 2.5%, and 2.75% with no splits;

  • paid parental leave up from 40 to 60 days, much of paid without educators needing to use sick days;

  • access to the sick leave bank to care for household members who are ill or injured (they already allowed unlimited use of one's own personal sick days to care for a household member before this agreement);

  • caseload and class size limits for regular and special education teachers;

  • mental health and social emotional learning minimum staffing levels in all buildings, including a full time regular education social worker in every building, with a maximum caseload of 250 students.

Now, you might say (as a member of the School Committee Team said in our last session) that Lexington is just one comparison point. Yes, but Lexington is very representative, because on many of the 2021-2022 salary comparisons, they fell slightly below Newton, whereas most of the other educationally comparable districts were paying better than Newton. So how well Newton fares relative to Lexington says a lot about how well Newton will fare relative to Wellesley, Weston, Wayland, Belmont, Brookline, Lincoln, Sudbury, Concord, or Carlisle, because unlike these districts, Lexington had some catching up to do.


So is Lexington catching up?


To assess this, let’s compare how a hypothetical teacher would do in Newton over the next few years with how they would do if they worked in Lexington instead. This approach fits well with what the school committee presents on the NPS website. They show how much a hypothetical sixth year teacher is currently compensated in Newton, and how much they would be compensated over the course of the contract based on the school committee’s salary proposal. .


So, from the School Committee website:

  • A teacher with a Masters degree on Step 5 (6 years of experience in Newton,) who has a current salary of $72,556, will have the following increases to salary over the next three years:

    • $76,243 in December 2023 (a 5.1% increase)

    • $81,383 in December 2024 (a 6.7% increase)

    • $85,857 in November 2025 (a 5.5% increase)

Couple of points of inaccuracy. First, lumping together step increases and COLAs is misleading, and makes these increases look much larger than they really are. But since every school district in the state, including Lexington, has the same sort of salary schedule, when we compare how much this teacher will earn working in Newton or Lexington over the next three years, that will come out in the wash.


Second, in Newton, step increases aren't awarded until December, whereas in every other district in the state, including Lexington, the step increase is awarded in September. The School Committee does state that the step increase comes in December, but they don’t factor that into their calculation of how much a teacher actually earns per year (versus what their salary will be in December).


When you factor this in, on average this year and for the next three years, the earnings for a Newton teacher are about $1,000 less per year than is the yearly salary that is stated on the Newton website.


So how would a Newton Teacher fare if they were to work in Lexington rather than Newton starting next year?


    • $76,243 $74,998 in December September 2023 (a 5.1% 6.5% increase)

    • $81,383 $82,007 in December September 2024 (a 6.7% 8% increase)

    • $85,857 $88, 259 in November September 2025 (a 5.5% 9% increase)


Factoring in the delayed step increase in Newton, over these three coming years, the teacher in Lexington would earn:

  1. $580 LESS than a teacher in Newton would earn in FY24

  2. $662 MORE than a teacher in Newton would earn in FY25

  3. $3,049 MORE than a teacher in Newton would earn in FY26.


Total differential: this teacher would earn about $3,000 MORE over the coming three years if she worked in Lexington rather than Newton.


But then, you have to factor in as well that:

  • by September of 2025, salaries in Newton will have fallen far behind those in Lexington, so in every subsequent year, this hypothetical teacher in Lexington will continue to earn significantly more than they would in Newton;

  • Lexington pays 82% of a member’s health insurance premiums, whereas Newton only pays 75%, so a Lexington teacher will be paying far less in health insurance premiums;

  • there are only 12 steps to the Lexington salary schedule, so this hypothetical teacher will reach their top salary in the MA lane two years earlier than they would in Newton;

  • Lexington has a MA+15 lane, so this teacher does not have to wait until they have earned 30 graduate credits to move over a lane;

  • Lexington added two steps to their MA+60 lane in this contract, so the highest salary a teacher could earn in Lexington as of September 2025 will be $134,678, while under the Newton School Committee’s proposal, the highest salary a teacher could earn in Newton would be $127,528. That's $7,150 less per year every year for the rest of their career;

  • Lexington offers 20 more days of paid parental leave;

  • Lexington offers unlimited use of personal illness days to care for a household member;

  • Lexington offers access to the sick leave bank to care for a household member.

So what, exactly, is the Newton School Committee bragging about? After factoring all that in, you have to ask? Why would anyone choose Newton over Lexington? And the problem is, as more agreements come in from our educationally comparable districts, we will likely soon be able to ask the same question about Weston, Wellesley, Wayland…and all the rest.


Maybe the question should be: Who do they think they are fooling?


Or maybe: Why would anyone stay in Newton, when their school committee is misrepresenting to the public how well they are paid in order to low ball their negotiating team at the bargaining table?


So let’s go back to that contradiction the School Committee did not see, because, according to them, they are just stating the facts to the public—educators are well paid in Newton—and they are also just stating the facts to your NTA Negotiations Team—they have no money.


Maybe they actually sort of believe this mush?


Well, sort of. First, they probably do think we are paid well enough. Second, based on the Mayor’s current allocations, they probably don’t have enough money to offer us (much) more than they have already offered.


Then why aren’t they fighting with Mayor Fuller to address the chronic underfunding of the Newton Public Schools, and why, in particular, aren’t they demanding a bigger share of the 28.8 million dollar surplus the City of Newton ran in its budget this year?


Actually, during our negotiations session last Monday, I invited the members of the school committee to join us at our rally last Thursday, and I also offered them a turn at the microphone if they wanted to call out the mayor’s underfunding of our schools and demand more. We counted five hundred people at the rally, but, alas, Tamika Olszewski, Kathy Shields, and Paul Levy were not among those tallied.


So maybe they don’t want the mayor to allocate more money? Maybe they are happy with the current system, where Mayor Fuller allocates too little, but then they ask her to fund additional projects, emergencies, or initiatives, then she accepts, and then they profusely thank her during school committee meeting after school committee meeting. And then the mayor proclaims her generosity towards the Newton Public Schools in nearly every email she sends to the public.


And maybe, just maybe--Mayor Fuller has set certain conditions on eventually allocating more: First, the school committee and superintendent must cut its staff by 40 or 50 people(box checked), and then, second, the school committee must settle our contracts within the financial constraints she's given (box not checked). Then, when Mayor Fuller knows that the money she allocates won’t go to educators—only then, when the school committee comes to her for specific initiatives that she can claim credit for—then there will be more money available. But not until then.


Maybe that's the bargain with devil the school committee has accepted, rather than negotiate in good faith with us.


That’a a dirty business. But then, that’s just Mayor Fuller's variation on business as usual here in Newton. Business as usual on steroids.


Certainly, this school committee seems hellbent on abdicating its responsibility to run the Newton Public Schools to the mayor, and to these ugly politics.


But that last box the school committee is supposed to check, the one that says they have to settle a contract on the cheap. Well, they aren't going to be able to check that box.


Because we say, loudly and clearly: No more business as usual!


Update on Kindergarten Teacher Assistants Grievance


Earlier this Spring, the Newton School Committee made the decision to violate their Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) with the Newton Teachers Association by cutting Kindergarten Teaching Assistants for the 2023-2024 school year. The contract requires the district to staff every kindergarten classroom which has 14 or more students with a full time teaching assistant. The contract further sets out what hours those teaching assistants will be scheduled. (Unit A Memorandum of Agreement 2019-2020.pdf, page 22).


Kindergarten teaching assistants have been notified that the position has been reduced next year. This has resulted in some KTAs being “released” at the end of this school year, some having their hours reduced, and some being reassigned to different positions. There will not be a single kindergarten classroom with a full time teaching assistant come September under the district’s current plans.



Farmers Market Visibility


We are pleased that Fran Rametta, Angier, and Kate Foley, Cabot, have stepped up to coordinate NTA visibility at Farmers Markets in Newton this summer and into the fall.


They will be holding two optional information sessions (via Zoom): June 28 at 7 p.m. or June 29 at 10 a.m. These sessions are optional and will last about 30 minutes. You can sign up here to attend one or the other.


There are two Farmers Markets weekly in Newton where we will ask people to stand out:


Tuesday Market Cold Spring Park

1094 Beacon Street, Newton Centre

June 20th- October 17th

Visibility shifts: 2-3:30 and/or 3:30-5


Saturday Market Newton North High School

352 Lowell Ave, Newtonville

Saturday, June 24- October 14th

Visibility shifts: 10-11 and/or 11-12


You can sign-up for a shift here. On most days there are two shifts to choose from, each needing two volunteers. You should feel free to sign up for a double shift if you would prefer to be there for the entire time.


New Member Program at Summer Conference


Registration for Summer Conference is open! The conference will be held from August 6-9 at UMass-Amherst.The New Member Program(see attached flyer) is designed for all early career members and is free of charge to attend.


Summer Conference will also include a myriad of programming on many topics including anti-racism and anti-oppression, PD, Higher Ed topics, Bargaining, Grievances, Organizing, and Leadership. All information related to Summer Conference can be found at this link.


The MTA is also offering summer PDP Workshops. Click here for more information.

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