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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin March 19, 2023

In this issue:

Dear Colleagues: I did a lot of thinking this weekend about the override and its implications for our contract negotiations--beyond what I already shared with you on Wednesday. Spent hours pouring over a spreadsheet I created comparing the results of this year's failed operating override to the successful campaign in 2013, and hours staring at a Newton ward and precinct map and a Newton elementary school zone map. I will share with you the "big picture" of these thoughts. First of all, it would be far too simple to call this election a battle between the recalcitrant and conservative part of the city that is north of the pike and the liberal part of the city that is south of the pike. In fact, Ward 1, which includes the precincts in the city that comprise what is known as "the lake"--Nonantum--, had the biggest increase in the city for votes cast for the operating override from the election in 2013 to the election in 2023. The part of the city north of the pike generally still tends to vote against overrides, and this vote was not an exception--but that trend is changing. Support is growing the margins of defeat are getting slimmer. So please, let no one tell you that the residents of Newton who reside north of the pike do not support our schools. That is just not true. So if that is not how this override vote failed, then how? Demographically, anyway, there were two things: One, with the exception of the precinct served by Countryside, almost all of Ward 8--the part of the city south of Route 9, which includes Chestnut Hill--voted overwhelming against the operating override. Most of Ward 8 voted against the override in 2013 as well. But the margin of defeat swelled in this election. The total margin of the defeat citywide was 1138 votes. The margin of defeat in Ward 8 alone was 647 votes. Over half of the margin of defeat for the override was from this one, mostly wealthy, Ward. Two, the core liberal vote, from south of the pike to Beacon Street--the areas that are served by Peirce, Cabot, Mason-Rice, Angier, and Zervas--overwhelming supported the operating override in 2013. In 2013, that vote was enough to overcome the margins against the operating override north of the Pike and south of route 9, Ward 8. That changed dramatically this year. In Ward 5, precinct 4 alone-- the area served by Angier--the vote on the operating override in 2013 was 571 Yes and 272 No; in 2023, the vote was 435 Yes and 443 No, a swing of 307 votes in this one precinct alone. (To give a sense of scale, Newton has 8 wards, and each ward has 4 precincts.) Most of the precincts in this area of the city did not see voting swings quite as dramatic as the one in Ward 5, Precinct 4, and overall, residents in this area still tended to vote for the override, but the margins were much thinner. In spite of the fact that the Yes campaign made gains in north of the pike, the liberal vote in this area, unlike in 2013, was not nearly enough to carry the election. So we had: Progress in the North, which tends to be more modest income. Regression in the center of the city, which tends to be more well off financially, but votes very liberal. Overwhelming defeat in one of the wealthiest wards in the City, and crushing defeat in Chestnut Hill. For your edification, I offer you a picture, from google maps, of the home, on West Newton Hill, of the chair of the No No No campaign:

And, for your further edification I offer you the city of Newton's assessment of value of this property and Zillow's appraisal of its market value:

Finally, what is on those two signs in front of this $2.2 million dollar home?

A Diehl sign now, and my guess is a Trump sign will make its appearance in 2024. I think this tells you a lot about the person who chaired the No, No, No campaign. The moral of this story? Do not believe those who will tell you that this was a victory for the little guy. Or a crushing defeat, by the underrepresented, of the establishment. It was anything but.

At the Negotiations Table: Session #8 by Elizabeth Ross Del Porto and Mike Zilles Your negotiations team met again with representatives from NPS and the School Committee on Thursday, March 16th, and what a difference the mood going into the meeting was, thanks to the sea of blue-shirted union support that clapped and cheered us into the meeting! The message to your NTA team was loud and clear - we are with you in solidarity. The message to NPS and School Committee was also loud and clear - we are organized and ready to fight for a fair contract. As the standout team so aptly cheered, “When we unite, we win!” So how did the meeting go? The deliberations were once again collaborative, though there were subtle shifts in tone and substance that we will talk about below. We spent some time at the beginning of our session sharing our disappointment over the outcome of the vote on the operating override. The School Committee and administration told us how much they appreciated the strong support we gave to the override campaign. And of course, there is reason to celebrate the passage of the debt exclusions, allowing the Countryside and Franklin building projects to proceed, which is so exciting for those communities. Yet, while the consequences of the “no” vote will reverberate throughout NPS, the outcome was particularly awful for everyone in the Horace Mann community. They have been fighting for a long time for the renovations they need, and this vote really stung. The city must find a way to fund the Horace Mann project within the current timeline. Anything short of that is unacceptable. Superintendent Kathy Smith, Newton School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski and Vice Chair Kathy Shields all noted that as they campaigned in every building and every school community across Newton, they heard nothing but enthusiastic and unequivocal support for educators. If the override vote was a referendum on the way the city and schools are currently operating, it was certainly not a referendum on the work that you all do. If, in some quarters of the community, there are questions whether “excellence” retains the pride of place it has always held in the Newton Public schools, there is no question regarding the excellent work that educators do every day in these schools. From there it was back to the business of negotiations. We had wondered if the school committee would come with a counter to our own financial proposal, but they did not, letting us know they were working on it and would bring it to our next meeting on April 4. First, the School Committee offered us revised versions of three of their proposals. Then, we went through all the proposals made thus far by both sides to establish where we stand, and, in some cases, to gain clarity on the rationale of each sides proposals. It mostly felt collegial and efficient. We have arrived at tentative agreements on several proposals: They have agreed to withdraw their proposal to require members to use two of their personal days in order to take one personal day off during May or June, in conjunction with our agreement to withdraw our proposal to increase the total number of personal days to three. They have withdrawn their proposal to require Stride educators to work during the summer. We have agreed on creating district wide “Green Team Captain” stipends, to be paid at the rate of a high school group B stipend, which is currently $869. We have agreed to drop the bottom step from the Unit E salary schedules, increasing starting salaries in that unit. To our proposal that members be allowed to use any of their personal sick days if these are needed to care for a family member or dear friend, they have countered that the number that can be so used increase from the current maximum of eleven to fourteen. We have countered that it increase to fifteen. So we are very close to a TA on this proposal. And yet, as we went through everything, it became clear that the School Committee still stands firm on most of their most contentious proposals. They still propose to eliminate the Elementary, Middle, and High School Time and Learning Agreements, which govern schedules, the length of the school day, teaching responsibilities, duties, meeting times, and preparation time, among other things. They still propose to have students return before Labor Day, have staff return as early as the Monday before Labor day, and require one more day of meetings during that week, bringing the total number of meeting days to three. And they still propose to add up to two more full day release days during the school year, which would extend the school year for students and staff, effectively beginning the school year three days earlier, and ending it on the same schedule it currently ends in June. They still propose to limit access to the sick leave bank for all employees and limit the number of sick days for new employees. Since we last reported, they proposed, in January, to increase co-pays, deductibles, and out of pocket maximums for health insurance. They still propose to weaken the benefit that allows NTA members who live outside Newton to enroll their children in the NPS. They propose revising our current contractual benefit by:

  • Charging parents a fee for each child, based on a percentage of the district’s current per pupil expenditures. This would be approximately $2,000 per year per child now, so that, if one factors in the rising cost of per pupil expenditures, to send one child to school from kindergarten through twelfth grade would cost approximately $33,000.

  • Giving themselves wide discretion to refuse a student admission or send them back to their home district if their presence gives rise to additional costs for the district.

  • Eliminating the union’s right to grieve the district’s decisions on these issues.

First of all, for those of you who currently utilize this benefit, or plan on utilizing it in the future, we think it is important to say: you’re safe. We aren’t trying to alarm you. A proposal is just a proposal. Our current language remains in place, as do the protections it provides you, unless we agree to change it. And we have not. But our discussion of this proposal was very revealing, and very concerning, for its tone. Of first concern was the attitude they expressed about what it means to include this “benefit” in the contract. They spoke as if a “benefit” were something the School Committee was bestowing upon our members. Why, they seemed to wonder, would we be concerned about handing so much discretion to the district? Why are we objecting to giving up the right to grieve their decisions? Benefits, they seem to think, are not a part of our “working conditions”; they are something the district is “giving” us. Of second concern was that, in explaining their proposal, they continually referred to “their (Newton) students” as distinct from “NPS employee’s students,” creating the impression that they really do not consider “our (NTA employees’) students” to be full members of the Newton Public Schools community. Whether this is a benefit that you will ever make use of or not, we think you will hear a patrician tone that was quite unsettling. This tone carried over into their presentation of their rationale for rejecting our proposal to allow parental leave to be taken in two separate chunks of time. They explained, curtly and matter of factly, that it “isn’t good for kids” and is “too disruptive for students” and “difficult to plan for.” All true. But we believe that an NTA member’s children are also important, and the planning and logistics around caring for them are also challenging. And sometimes, having to take the whole of one’s parental leave rather than splitting it into two parts can be disruptive for “our” children. This doesn’t vitiate their concerns for “their” children. But there was no balance in tone for the concerns for “our” children. We also heard the expression “given the current budget constraints” several times throughout the meeting to explain why the School Committee could not agree with aspects of our proposals. Of course, the district has budgetary constraints, even more so now that the override did not pass. But there was an element of: thank you so much for fighting with, indeed, giving your all, for the override. But now we are going to have to get serious about what we can and cannot do. Does this mean that from here forward, we are going to hear that the SC cannot propose fair COLAs, or agree to improved benefits, or agree, contractually, to provide the supports we need to do best by our NPS students? Because, as I said midweek, that would effectively be asking us to subsidize the override loss or the budget gap out of our pockets. And that we cannot do. Moreover, we are going to keep insisting that the city of Newton remain responsible for its students. We currently have a proposal on the table that would require the district to provide a social worker for every building, because we know that our students social and emotional needs do not go away on the one or two days a week a social worker isn’t present in a school building. Every school building has at least one nurse present every day, because physical illness doesn’t happen on a part time schedule. Nor do mental health crises. We currently have proposals on the table that would require the district to improve coverage, because we know that uncovered absences not only make our work immensely more difficult, but also also because they hurt children and alarm their families. We currently have proposals on the table that will increase Educational Support Professional starting salaries, because we know that we right now these are too low to attract enough qualified candidates for all the positions the district needs to fill. We currently have proposals on the table that will require the district to schedule more planning time for elementary teachers, because we know this will allow them to be more effective educators for their students. In fighting for this contract, we are fighting for better schools. And fighting for better schools does not mean sacrificing our own needs. We need fair COLAs. We need the step increase to return to September 1. We need enhanced paid parental leave. We need to reschedule high school meetings to Tuesday morning. And we cannot give up more of our time, especially without compensation. The citizens of Newton rejected an operating override. In doing so, they did not say: “take it out of your educators’ hides instead of ours.” (Well, maybe some did.) They said: we think the money is there, and the city must find better ways to prioritize the schools. We think it is the school committee’s job to make that happen. One thing is crystal clear: We have a dedicated, galvanized membership that is ready to fight with us for the fair contact we, and our students, deserve. Click here to line the halls!

General Membership Meeting

Mark your calendars for Thursday, April 27, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., for the first of three General Membership Meetings we are holding between now and the end of the school year.

Charles E. Brown Fellowship Applications for 2023-2024 The Charles E. Brown Fellowship is an annual award sponsored by the Newton Teachers Association (NTA). NTA members who receive this award are released from regular duties for one to five days to pursue a particular educational project (without loss of pay). Types of Projects Considered for Funding:

  • Development of professional tools, equipment, and materials

  • Professional study and research

  • Advancement of professional association work and leadership

Criteria for Selection: The review board will consider the project’s future benefits to the students, teachers and professional staff of the City of Newton. The contribution that the project will make to the unified teaching profession will also be considered. Applications: If you are interested in applying for a fellowship, please fill out an application form on line using this link: Charles E. Brown Fellowship Application. Deadline: Completed Applications for Fellowships for the 2023-2024 school year must be received by 4:00 on Friday, March 31, 2023. Announcement of Awards: The winners of the 2023-2024 Charles E. Brown Fellowships will be announced during the first week of May 2023. Completion Dates: All fellowships granted for the 2023-2024 school year must be completed between September 1, 2023 and April 30, 2024.

Selection Committee for Charles E. Brown Fellowships: Members Needed Once we receive the Charles E. Brown Fellowship applications, an NTA selection committee must work to assess the applications and determine the awards. This work entails reviewing the applications on an anonymous basis and meeting in committee to discuss the applications and present any questions. Awards will be made by considering project’s future benefits to the students, teachers and professional staff of the City of Newton, as well as the NTA budget for these awards. If you are interested in serving on the selection committee to determine recipients of the Charles E. Brown Fellowships, please let us know by filling out this form. (Please do not apply to be on the selection committee if you will be seeking a fellowship.)



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