top of page
  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: May 5, 2024

Kindergarten Aides Arbitration

As I shared with you last week, the NTA just won an important decision in arbitration, when an arbitrator agreed with us that the district had violated the Unit A contract provision requiring the district to include a kindergarten aide in every kindergarten classroom with 14 or more students.

Since we shared this news with you, the Newton School Committee has decided to appeal the decision of the arbitrator.

I'm actually quite surprised, but then, not surprised at all that the school committee made this choice.

Surprised, because the decision by the arbitrator is carefully written and argued. It is also well-supported by the relevant case law, particularly a very similar case that made its way to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2019. It is highly unlikely the school committee will win in appeal, especially since the final court of appeal is the Supreme Judicial Court that set the standard.

Not surprised, because the school committee is still taking its legal advice from Liz Valerio's firm. And it is still following the same intransigent path that it followed in the time leading up to our fifteen day strike, which destroyed trust. 

It will probably be sometime in mid to late fall before we know the results of the appeal. Whether the issue will be settled before kindergarten aides need to restored in September is still up in the air...though please see Anna Nolin's statement she shared with the NTA in the next section below.

All this said, I will not allow the school committee's decision to appeal overshadow the enormity of the ruling itself. Yes, the ruling returns kindergarten aides to classrooms. But the decision gives full support to the idea that staffing levels CAN be part of a collective bargaining agreement, when certain staffing levels are needed to address member working conditions.

In their brief to the arbitrator, the school committee attorney argued that staffing is a "level of services" decision, a management prerogative that, legally, cannot be bargained away. Laurie Houle, our attorney, argued that once the district decided to implement full day kindergarten, the NTA had the right to bargain for the working conditions kindergarten teachers needed to meet district expectations, namely, a full day kindergarten aide in every classroom with 14 or more students. The arbitrator agreed with our argument: that this staffing level requirement could be in the contract because it addressed kindergarten teachers' working conditions.

This decision supports the other "staffing" proposals we bargained for during negotiations: a social worker in every building, adequate substitute coverage, reduced class size in the high schools, all regulate our members' working conditions.

And as the saying goes, educator working conditions are student learning conditions. 

The "game plan" of Liz Valerio's legal firm is to break unions. This could not have been clearer than it was at the bargaining table leading up to the strike. They, along with the school committee, were prepared for only two eventualities in those negotiations: either they would impose their last best offer on us, or we would go on strike, and, they thought, they would beat us. They never put an offer on the table that they could have reasonably expected us to accept. 

The advice they gave the school committee that the contract provision requiring a kindergarten aide in every classroom with 14 or more students is of a piece with this strategy: it is intended to put a legal roadblock in the way of educator unions right to bargain for better working conditions for educators as a path to also bargaining for better learning conditions for students. 

Whatever the intention of the school committee in appealing the arbitrator's decision, the impact is that the school committee is using Newton taxpayer dollars to pay Liz Valerio's firm to continue its efforts at union busting. Taking Newton is an example, that strategy has not been working very well.


Kindergarten Aides Arbitration

Anna Nolin told me, and our negotiations team, that she was worried that the school committee decision to appeal the arbitrator's decision would be a set back to our efforts for repair. I asked her if I could quote her on this, she agreed, and sent me an email that I could quote from. I appreciate that Anna agreed to be quoted here, and I'm glad to be able to do so. I think it important that I share the entire email, so that nothing can be taken out of context.

Dear Mike and NTA Leadership, 

The recent decision by the school committee relating to the K aides is, I worry, a set- back for our healing and work as school staff.  I will continue to prepare to comply with our contractual promises regarding K aides, and to this end, I will continue to work to secure this funding without degrading the current budget proposal.  As I have always operated as superintendent, I will uphold our contractual promises, but need to work with the school committee to adapt the budget to the new conditions.

Since we have already voted our FY25 budget and assigned monies to it, I have to figure out how to address this development.  I worry that there will be suggestions to come that I let go of the additions/restorations we have made in this budget-- which we all agreed on and are also part of the contractual and negotiations agreements we made:  (social workers, reducing HS class sizes and added elementary MTSS support) in order to fund this development. 

I am trying to understand what happens next legally, but believe, given our contractual promise, we will need to and should restore these positions and follow through on our contract.  I am especially dismayed that at this critical time in our partnership we have this added challenge.



Dues for 2024-2025

On Wednesday, May 1, the NTA Representative Assembly worked well past the normal end time of our meeting, but was unable to address all the issues we needed to address to approve an NTA budget for the 2024-2025 school year. Because of this, I do not yet know what the dues for next year will be. The RA scheduled an additional session on May 22 to complete discussion and vote in a new budget. 

Over the past ten years, we have only raised local dues approximately 1% per year on average for Units A, B, and E, with the exception of the year we added a full time second release officer. Dues for these units have generally gone up about $3 or $4 a year. Dues increases for Unit C have been less, both in terms of percentage increase and dollar increase. 

We will have to raise dues more next year than we normally have. We have been able to keep dues increases low because we have had ample reserves we knew we could draw on if needed. That said, we have not had to dip into those reserves even as we have kept dues increases low until this year, when we forced to pay off our fines with them.

That said, I have heard from members who fear that their entire pay increase from this year and next will be swallowed up by their dues increase. Nothing even close to that is going to happen. 


High School Start Time Fall 2024

I want to remind high school educators that in our last contract, we agreed to pilot holding high school professional meetings in the morning rather than in the afternoon on Tuesdays.

The Memorandum of Agreement states that:

Starting in the fall of 2024, faculty meetings and weekly professional development meetings will begin no earlier than 7:40 a.m., end 15 minutes before the first class each Tuesday, and will be no longer than one hour and 15 minutes in length

While it would probably be better if the school committee would change the start time for students to 9:20 and have Tuesdays end at the normal time, it is unlikely that will happen. 


NTA Endorses Bill Humphrey for State Representative for 12th Middlesex Massachusetts House District!

I am thrilled to say that in our last Representative Assembly, NTA leadership voted to endorse Bill Humphrey to be the next State Representative to the Middlesex 12th district. 

Do I even need to say anything about that decision?! Probably not, since all of you saw Bill courageously stand up and support us during our strike. The members of the RA are confident that he will continue to do so at the state level, supporting critical statewide initiatives, such as the right to strike and the end of using MCAS as a graduation requirement. 

Bill stood up for us. The primary election--which, in Newton, will determine the outcome of the final election--is September 3. Now we need to stand up for him.

Here is a link to his website, where you can find ways to support his campaign.

Here is the sign up form for volunteers including lawn signs

Signs should be ready in about a month or so. 

If you wish to donate directly to Bill's campaign that link is here.

There is a lot we are going to need to do between now and September 3 to help Bill get elected.

Grievance Training for all Members

The NTA is offering a Grievance Training Session on Thursday, May 9 at 4:15-5:45.  This will  be our last session this school year.  Please use this form to sign up to attend.

Have you ever asked, "Can they do that?" If so, maybe this training is for you.

Our goal for the training is to demystify the grievance process by going over:

  • "Grievance Basics" such as why grievances are important, the contractual definition of a grievance, and types of grievances;

  • the NTA grievance process per the contract; and 

  • how to work with a member who comes to you with a possible grievance.

We have been offering this training to all Building Reps, Executive Committee Members, and members of our Professional Rights & Responsibilities Committee, but any member is welcome.

Once we negotiate a contract, we also must make sure it is followed. This is an opportunity for you to learn how we do that. Please fill out this form if you would like to attend the session.  While we believe the best way to participate in this would be in person, we also have a remote option.

Unum Representatives in Buildings Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday

UNUM Disability Insurance Representatives will be coming to your buildings on the below schedule next week. Look for them in your lunchroom.

The NTA recommends that members purchase long term disability insurance from UNUN. MTA Benefits purchases a group plan from UNUN that allows them to offer very competitive rates and excellent service to our members. 

Please note that there is a slight schedule change. The UNUM Representative at Horace Mann will be leaving at 10. They will be arriving at NECP at 11:00.

In solidarity,

Mike Zilles, President

Newton Teachers Association


bottom of page