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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin March 26, 2023

In this issue:

Action Needed: Public Hearing on March 28th at 6pm Add your name here to stand in solidarity with the Newton educators who will be reading this statement Tuesday evening in support of our work with both academic excellence and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) efforts in the Newton Public Schools. See the message below from Newton FORJ (Families Organizing for Racial Justice) with more information and the context of Tuesday’s hearing. Dear FORJ community, Your voice is needed! A group of residents has filed a petition with the Newton School Committee to create an “Academic Principles Advisory Committee.” Their stated goal is to improve the academic standing of the schools. However, the petition is also tied to the apparent belief that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts that take race into account compromise academic excellence. Some of the petitioners have voiced displeasure with efforts to help different demographic groups (racial, LGBTQ+, etc.) feel welcomed and accepted at school. They challenge the need for any activities related to micro-aggressions, inclusion, respect or belonging. A public hearing will be held at Newton North High School cafeteria on Tuesday March, 28th at 6pm. Speaking can be done in person or remote but you will need to sign up beforehand. Please encourage your networks to speak up in support of NPS DEI efforts and of the importance of acknowledging the race, culture, identity, etc. of students, staff and families. I believe in academic excellence, we all do. However, excellence for one of my kids can and should look different than academic excellence for the other. They are two different people and they have two different needs. Our schools give kids what they need. NPS efforts to help all students be successful will stall if academic excellence is defined so narrowly. Plus, these petitioners will try to stop programs that offer additional supports to students based on their race as a means of closing the achievement gap. More info HERE Form to make public statement HERE

School Committee Flagrantly Violates Collective Bargaining Agreement You would think, with the upcoming cuts to the budget, and Mayor Fuller's willingness to challenge both the Newton Public Schools and the NTA (more of this below), that the current school committee would want to work with the NTA, not against us. You would be wrong.

The Valerio Effect We knew it did not bode well for negotiations when the School Committee hired Liz Valerio to represent them. On Friday, March 24, Tamika Olszewski sent me a letter in which she stated that, as a result of the failed override vote, the School Committee "will likely be unable to meet the minimum staffing provision set forth in Article 3, Section 6 of the Unit C collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) regarding Category 1 full-time Kindergarten Teaching Assistants (“KTA”)." In other words, they plan on cutting kindergarten aides. We understand the district has to make difficult decisions about where to make cuts, and we know how painful these cuts will be. But the district also has to follow the contract when it makes those cuts. And the contract says they can't cut kindergarten aides. It appears they plan on violating the contract. This is where "Valerio Effect" comes in: Tamika's letter continues: "The School Committee, therefore, is considering a reduction in the number of KTAs who are assigned to kindergarten classrooms. As you know, this is a “level of services” decision which is not subject to a bargaining obligation under G.L.C. 150E." Well, actually, not only do I not know that, I know the opposite to be true. We already bargained this. That not only creates a "bargaining obligation" on the part of the school committee, but also an obligation for the district to comply with the agreement that has already been reached. This, then, is one dimension of the "Valerio Effect": If there is something in the contract you don't like, well, advise your client: "Don't negotiate. Violate. And I will give you the legal cover you need to do so." We will of course take whatever legal action necessary to enforce the contract, whether through a grievance, or through an unfair labor practice charge, or both. We will figure that out next week. The problem is: the legal process takes time. So we have to ask this school committee: What about trust? What does this decision to simply violate our collective bargaining agreement do for our willingness to trust that the district will adhere to ANY agreements we reach going forward?

Mayor Fuller Goes on the Offense The huge budget gap the NPS faces is primarily caused by the mayor's chronic underfunding of the schools. The override would have helped, but ultimately, chronic underfunding has to become steady adequate funding. They mayor must provide larger increases to the school allocations than she currently does every year. Of course, in the mayor's eyes, there seems to be only one way around increasing the school budget more. Pay educators less. In her most recent email, Mayor Fuller has decided that the best defense against criticism of her funding priorities is a good offense. In last Thursday's update, she says: "While I already announced an increase in the allocation for the NPS budget by more than $9 million for the next school year, Dr. Smith will be announcing staff reductions and layoffs as costs are rising even more." Oh come on! Really? Every year, the allocation to the school budget increases, and Mayor Fuller announced what the increase would be months ago! That's how it works! The budget goes up a little bit every year. The question is: How much does the budget need to go up to maintain its existing programs? And Mayor Fuller has clearly been coming out on the wrong side of the ledger on that question, year after cumulative year. How much would the mayor need to increase the school budget this year in order to catch up from all of those years of underfunding or one-time funding and avoid cuts? Let's do a little arithmetic--luckily we teach that in the NPS! Mayor Fuller says she increased the school allocation by $9 million. The schools have a $6 budget deficit. 9 + 6 = 15. $15 million! (But, of course, Mayor Fuller might have to increase that number more if there isn't already enough money in the budget to settle a fair contract with the NTA.) That's what it will take Mayor Fuller--and those can't be one time funds. You have to increase the school budget allocation, so the schools can count on steady and adequate funding. But that doesn't seem to be in the cards--at least not yet. No. The mayor takes a different tack. Mayor Fuller goes on in her email to say: "Teachers and staff are the backbone of our schools and people are by far the largest part of the costs of public schools. In fact, personnel costs account for 89% of the NPS budget." Talk about giving with one hand, and taking back with the other...we are the backbone of the schools, and we are also, of course, the biggest expense--and we cost too damn much! Maybe, Mayor Fuller seems to be suggesting, we can do the arithmetic a little differently. What if we didn't pay those educators quite as much! To prove her point, Fuller then shares an internal document from an HR presentation to the NPS Administrative Counsel, and points to tables (pp. 10-15) that purportedly shows the NPS is doing a bang up job providing competitive salaries to its educators. Those documents were, first of all, internal. But second of all, they are misleading, because they compare salaries of educators in Newton to salaries of educators in districts to which Newton simply doesn't compare itself academically. The School Committee showed us those same comparison in negotiations. We were not impressed, for the reason I just cited. And, in negotiations, when they showed us the comparisons on Educational Support Professional Salaries, we were frankly appalled that anyone would brag about the salaries Newton, or any school district, pays ESPs, because NO ONE, not one district, pays Educational Support Professionals a fair salary. The business of employing ESPs has become the business of gross exploitation. So in that seemingly innocent update--"I've already given an increase; educators are 89% of the budget; our educators here in Newton are already well paid"-- the mayor insinuates that the school committee and administration of the NPS need to right their ship. And to the question of how they to do that, the answer seems obvious: Be a tough negotiator with the NTA, because those educators--the backbone of our schools--already make plenty! And of course, whether she intends it or now, what she says publicly will have an impact: She is feeding the right wing in Newton red meat for its attack on the Newton Public Schools and on the NTA. Here's what I say to that: Line the halls! When we unite, we win!

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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