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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: March 24, 2024

Click on the image above for the Zoom link.



The first meeting of the fundraising committee, on Thursday, March 20, was primarily a brainstorming session. We discussed different venues for holding fundraising events to reach out to members of the Newton and surrounding communities. We also discussed building an online "swag shop." The committee broke into two groups to develop plans for each of these fundraising ideas. Please consider joining the work of one of these committees.The fundraising events group will meet at 4:00 on Wednesday, March 27; the swag shop group will meet at 4:30 the same day. Both groups will meet in the NTA office.  Click here to let us know you would like to participate, even if you can't make it this Wednesday. 

Again, if you received an NTA hat from us, AND HAVE NOT ALREADY CONTRIBUTED, would you consider giving a $25 donation--or more if possible--to the NTA strike fund to help pay for their purchase? To be clear, if you have already contributed, we are not asking for you to contribute more. I also understand that many of you cannot afford to do so. But if you can donate, please click here to do so!


Educator Salaries

Last week, you must have read what I wrote and looked at the chart on salaries in Newton from 1970 and said, huh? What's his point. Let me see if I can do better this week. 

Warning: What you read below will be wonky.

During our contract campaign and during the strike, the dialogue about educator salaries focused on "competitiveness,"--whether Newton paid salaries as high as or higher than salaries paid in surrounding districts. And of course, there is validity to this question--to some degree, market forces determine how much we "should" earn, and districts that pay on the high end of the market are more competitive when hiring and retaining educators.

To Chris Brezski's credit, he followed our lead and compared Newton salaries with salaries paid in Weston, Wellesley, Wayland, Belmont, Brookline, Lexington, Concord-Carlisle and Lincoln-Sudbury, rather than the original, much larger list the school committee had compiled prior to his becoming chair. And he determined that our salaries, when compared with salaries in these districts, were indeed "competitive" within that group. And they are, in the early years of an educator's career.

However, overall, I disagreed with Chris's conclusion, because the data shows that the longer NTA members work in Newton, the less competitive their salaries become, so that educators in the 14th or 15th year of service and beyond earn significantly less than do educators in these comparable districts. 

And maybe these differing conclusions Chris and I drew were just a consequence of our respective interests--the school committee's in maintaining competitive starting salaries to be able to hire new employees, and the NTA's interest in making sure all of our members are paid well, wherever they are on the salary schedule. In any case, for whatever reason, we drew differing conclusions based on the same facts.

With respect to Unit C, the NTA simply rejected any arguments about Unit C members being paid "competitive" wages, because ALL Educational Support Professionals, statewide, are paid substandard wages. We pressed for across the board raises for ALL Unit C members, and MORE for Unit C members in their early years of employment, because those salaries are not just low, they are abysmal. Educational Support Professionals simply deserve a living wage, whatever the market tells us about how "competitive" salaries are in Newton. The fact is, no district can hire and retain Educational Support Professionals given the low wages they are paid and the extraordinary high level of expertise, care, concern, and responsibility that is demanded of them.

We believe that, in a sense, both the NTA and the Newton School Committee should be ashamed that all ESP's--no matter where they are on the salary schedule--make less than a living wage. We also believe that, in a sense, both the NTA and the Newton School Committee should be proud that our highest paid Unit C members are among the highest paid in the state. But even our highest paid Unit C members earn substandard wages.

We have made progress towards addressing this problem in our new contract, but, frankly, not enough. This is not to say that we should not be proud of the gains that we made--they were very hard won--but we have a long way to go, and improving Unit C wages must and will remain a priority for the NTA in future negotiations.

We hope that in the future the school committee will join us in recognizing that EVEN IF our Unit C salaries are "competitive" with the salaries paid in comparable districts, this should be a matter of pride, but it should not be seen as a reason to stop making strides forward. Educational Support Professionals deserve respect--and paying ESPs a living wage will go a long way towards showing them the respect they deserve. If we are truly to engage in collaborative bargaining with the Newton School Committee in the future, there must be an interest on their part in addressing this challenge.

And now to the point of the below graph: When we ask, in negotiations, how much Unit A salaries should go up, we should not simply compare Unit A and B salaries to those paid in comparable districts. That doesn't get at the real challenge that WE--the Newton School Committee and the NTA--need to face together: For over 50 years, the salaries for licensed educators here in Newton, as in the rest of the state and the nation, have slowly eroded. 

I have not yet compiled all of the evidence necessary to demonstrate this, but it's reasonably clear from what I do have. If we are truly to engage in collaborative bargaining with the Newton School Committee in the future, there must be an interest on their part in addressing this challenge.

We have salary schedules for Unit A in our office that date back to just after the second world war. Up until 1965, there were two salary schedules, a slightly higher salary schedule for men and a lower one for women. Beginning in 1970, we have the full collective bargaining agreements for Unit A. By tracing Unit A salaries, we can see a clear trend, identified in the graph below:

The blue line shows the actual salaries paid to Newton teachers from September 1970 to September, 2023. These ranged from $15,235 in 1970 to $27,746 in 1981 to $53,012 in 1991 to $77,707 in 2002 to $112,109 in 2020 to $123,176 in September 2023.

The red/orange line shows the salaries paid to Newton teachers converted to September 2023 dollars. These ranged from $120,328 in 1970, to $91,630 in 1981, to $118,925 in 1991, to $130,950 in 2002, to $132,572 in 2020, to $123,176 in 2023. Now, in February 2024, due to inflation our real wages have already declined to $122,189 in September 23 dollars. 

The trends this data shows are noteworthy. As we all know, inflation in the late 70's was horrendous. Unit A actual salaries, even though they almost doubled from 1970 to 1981, measured in 2023 dollars declined from $120,328 to $91,639, a loss of nearly 1/3 of their real value. This was a horrible time for every working person in the nation, but it took Newton teachers ten years, until 1991, until their salaries recovered, and then they remained stagnant until the late 90's, when they finally actually started to increase. By 2002, salaries reached $130,950 in 2023 dollars, then they slowly declined until 2013. Then, they gradually began to go up until they peaked at $132,572 in 2020 (in 2023 dollars). From then, it has been all downhill, until today. It is likely that, even with the COLAs we won in our contract, inflation will likely eat up most of the increases.

This data shows that our real wages, measured in 2023 dollars, are now almost identical to the salaries Newton paid teachers in 1970. That's pretty bad. But there is a major flaw in my methodology. I track Newton wages using the national rate of inflation. But inflation in the Boston area has been much higher than it has been nationally, so the data I have used underestimates the impact of inflation on Newton educator salaries, possibly by as much as 20%. Based on the national inflation rate, Unit A salaries have remained stagnant, but it is far more likely that they have eroded significantly.

(If I learned anything during our strike, it was that the members of the NTA have remarkable expertise in a multitude of areas. It would be really helpful if someone could find and share with me year by year data that compares the rate of inflation in the greater Boston area to the national inflation rate!)

Salaries cannot continue to decline. It cannot take 20 years for salaries to return to their pre-inflationary peak, as happened in the 80's and 90's. If we are truly to engage in collaborative bargaining with the Newton School Committee in the future, there must be an interest on their part in addressing this challenge.

There is another dimension to this challenge. As educator wages have declined in real terms with respect to inflation, they have also declined in relative terms, compared to comparably educated college graduates in other professions. Take a look at this graph from the Economic Policy Institute researcher Silvia Allegretto's article "Teacher Pay Penalty Still Looms Large," which shows the relative change in teacher salaries compared to other professionals who are similarly educated and credentialed:

Currently, teachers earn 26.4% less than their comparably educated counterparts in other professions:

It would be immensely interesting and helpful if we could determine how to incorporate the Economic Policy Institute data into an analysis of Newton Unit A and B salaries, in particular in order to see how educator salaries have faired in the greater Boston area relative to their similarly educated counterparts. Part of this challenge, which I attempted, is to translate the EPI data into yearly salaries for Massachusetts. What I have been able to come up with to date has been of questionable value. That said, if someone is willing to work with me to make a stab at it, I would appreciate it.

Now is time to come out of the wonky weeds and say this: The real problem, and we all know this and the data shows it, is that educators in Newton, as everywhere, are underpaid. Underpaying educators is just one of the problems that contributes both nationally and in Massachusetts, to a decline in our profession: fewer people entering it, fewer people staying. It's a shame. "Teacher" should be and must be and, for me, a title in which we can take great pride. It is part of the NTA's role to assure that all in our education professionals, whatever their respective titles, can take pride in their role and title.

Could you imagine the day that Newton's Mayor would run an override based on the assertion that our educators are grossly underpaid and undervalued, and this override is dedicated towards making that better, period. No promises of other initiatives, other improvements, other "capital projects"? Just: We need to pay our educators better. Much better.

Chris Brezski, Mayor Fuller, members of the School Committee and the City Council, this is the challenge I put to you: As we begin thinking now about how to avoid bargaining to impasse or a strike in our next contract negotiations, let's address this challenge. If we truly are going to collaborate, we must put our heads together and find a way to work towards elevating the recognition of educators in Newton. We must be leaders. We must lead together. I offer you both a fig leaf, and an apple. Let us educate our community together. 

Thank you. 

In solidarity,

Mike Zilles, President

Newton Teachers Association



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