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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: November 17: Unit A Salaries

Phone Blitz!

Email Campaign to Mayor Fuller We’ve been sending a steady stream of postcards to Mayor Fuller. Last Sunday I sent out an EBulletin making very clear that Mayor Fuller has plenty of money. So now let’s send her a barrage of emails letting her know that we are on to her! We know she has the money to fully fund the schools, stop the cuts, and settle our contracts—and then some! What she would like to do now is stash all that money away, out of sight, and we can’t let her! Please click here to send an email to Fuller. Let her know that you know the city can afford to pay for the schools our children deserve and that her excuses for hoarding cash don’t hold water. Send her this clear message: Mayor Fuller, fund the schools now, using the enormous surplus of funds you have at your disposal.” School Committee Negotiations Updates On Monday, October 23, 1200 NTA and community members rallied, and we delivered a petition signed by 1,865 NTA members DEMANDING that the school committee cease and desist from sending out misleading information to the public in their “Negotiations Updates.” The very day we delivered the petitions, they presented yet another “Negotiations Update,” at that meeting, based on a slide deck prepared by Superintendent Nolin. Four days later, the Mayor sent that same slide deck out to the larger Newton community. On Monday, November 20, at the next school committee meeting, they plan on presenting yet another, using a slightly revised version of Nolin’s slide deck. This is the first in a series of emails that will address comprehensively the school committee and Superintendent Nolin’s false and misleading claims. Today, I will respond to their claim that Newton Unit A salaries compare well to salaries in “similar” districts, as found in slides 1 and 4. Next, I will respond to corresponding claims about Unit C salaries. Then I will address their claims about our benefits.

Unit A Salaries Given the critical importance of the people who work for NPS, it should be no surprise that our NPS educators – teachers and para-professionals – are paid well and consistently rank among the top in statewide salary comparisons. They also have excellent benefits. See for yourself. - Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, October 27, 2023 (Fuller's email updates can be found here.) When Fuller says “See for yourself,” she refers to Dr. Nolin's slide deckused by Kathy Shields for her October 23 School Committee Negotiations Update. (I’ve linked to the updated version.) These claims, we shall see, ring hollow. When salaries in Newton are compared to salaries in districts that are similar to Newton in terms of educational excellence, contrary to Fuller, Shields and Nolin’s claims, Newton’s compensation ranks consistently at or near the bottom. Relative to the districts with which Newton competes to hire employees, the Newton School Committee and Mayor Fuller are creating an unsustainable salary gap that will have a long term, lasting impact on the quality of the Newton Public Schools. Yet rather than face this problem, Fuller, Nolin and Shields instead persist in a pattern of misleading the public by hiding the problem they are exacerbating in the interest of a cheap contract. They present a false picture of Newton employees’ salaries and benefits to justify reducing compensation at the cost of a decline in educational excellence. Unit A salaries: Steps, Lanes, and Cost of Living Adjustments(COLAs) (Slide 1) Nolin and Kathy Shields conflate steps, lanes and COLAs to exaggerate Unit A wage increases, claiming that to get a true picture of a Unit A employee’s salary increases, you have to add these up. They seem oblivious to the impact of inflation on any real wage increases. Without an adequate COLA, conflating step increases, lane changes, and COLAs conceals an actual decline in real wages. Even though one’s salary may increase as one goes up a step or lane, the actual value of these years of experience and educational attainment goes down, as the entire salary schedule of steps and lanes is devalued by inflation. The result: A Unit A employee on any step and lane of the salary schedule is actually earning less today than a Unit A member was in 2018 on that same step and lane, as can be seen in the table below.

As can be seen above, in Newton, inflation lowered the salaries of Unit A members who are early in their careers significantly, but for anyone at or near the top of the scale, it has resulted in a disastrous loss of real income. These declines in real wages happened even though the five years covered by the 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2023 contracts provided for 14% in total COLAs. Nationally, inflation during those same years was over 20%. And because inflation in the greater Boston metro area has been higher than the national average, the numbers in the table above don’t even accurately reflect how steep a cut in real income members have faced. It is grossly misleading to conflate steps, lanes and COLAs to show how much Unit A employees salaries increase each year when ALL Newton employees have experienced a reduction in their expected, real, inflation adjusted wages. We’ve all experienced real gaps in our personal budgets, and we’ve all had to make real cuts. If, as Mayor Fuller says, Newton Educators are paid well, at best they are paid less well today than they were when she came into office. Unit A Salaries: Comparisons between Districts (slide 4) The school committee has clearly heard community members asking why Newton's average salaries, as reported by DESE, are very low. Rather than take these averages seriously, they try to discredit them ("a LESS effective measure"). They claim that there are many factors that could determine the average salaries in a district, such as the relative age and experience of the staff in each respective district. So do Nolin and Shields think that Newton’s staff is younger and less experienced than the staff in its peer districts? How do Nolin and Shields know this? And if it is true, why? Is there higher attrition in Newton? Is staff retention a problem here? Does Newton not hire highly experienced and educated applicants? Nolin and Shields alternative methodology (“THE MOST ACCURATE WAY”) is to compare salaries on four representative steps of the salary schedules of three districts to those in Newton. They chose Bedford, Belmont, and Needham, but offer no basis for this choice. No wonder. With the exception of Belmont, these are not districts with which Newton compares itself. In fact, there is an accepted benchmarking standard Nolin and Shields should have referenced: the “Educational Excellence Benchmarking Communities,” produced in the late 2000’s by the “Citizens Advisory Group,” of which Ruthanne Fuller was Vice Chair. Belmont, Brookline, Concord-Carlisle, Lexington, Lincoln-Sudbury, Wayland, Wellesley, and Weston comprise these benchmarking communities. What we can see, whether we look at statewide averages, or use the school committee’s preferred methodology for comparison, is that Newton‘s salaries are not competitive with those of the “Educational Excellence Benchmarking Communities” identified above. First averages: In the school year 2020-2021, the latest year for which DESE provides this data, Newton ranks dead last in average salaries compared to average salaries in these benchmarking communities.

Below you can see the results if we use Nolin and Shields' methodology to compare salaries among the Educational Excellence Benchmarking Communities for 2022-2023 instead of Belmont, Bedford and Needham.

I have sorted benchmarking communities according to their salary rank in the MA top step, as approximately 47% of Newton’s Unit A employees are at or below the MA top step, and 53% above. So as of 2022-2023, Newton ranks 6th out of 9 at the top step of the MA lane, 4th at step 1 of the MA lane, 5th at step 7 of the MA lane, and falls to 8th at the highest salary. Contra Mayor Fuller, the School Committee, and Superintendent Nolin, currently, depending on whether you look at average salaries or use Nolin and Shields' methodology of comparing steps and lanes, Newton’s ranking with respect to its peer districts is either abysmal (averages) or mediocre (steps and lanes). But what we really want to know is how well Newton salaries will compare to those of its educational excellence benchmarking communities as a consequence of the school committee’s COLA proposal, and the NTA’s. Among the educational excellence benchmarking communities, Weston, Wellesley, Wayland, Lexington, and Brookline have contracts that extend through FY26; Belmont and Lincoln-Sudbury through FY25, and Concord-Carlisle through FY24. Because of this, we can use Nolin and Shield’s methodology, but look at how salaries in Newton will compare to those in its benchmarking communities in 2025-2026. Thus, below we see two possible outcomes for Newton: One based on the School Committee’s latest “off the record” COLA proposal (2% FY24, 2% FY25, 3% FY26), and another based on the NTA’s latest “off the record” COLA proposal (3.4% FY24, 3.7% FY 25, 3.8% FY26).

The Newton School Committee, Mayor Fuller, and Dr. Nolin’s proposal leaves Newton in the middle of the pack with step one salaries, but last for teachers near or on the top step. Recruited teachers are already turning down job offers for better paying offers in competitor districts. If the school committee, Dr. Nolin, and Mayor Fuller have their way, hiring and retaining educators, especially more experienced and skilled educators, will become increasingly difficult. Their proposal is grossly inadequate to sustain educational excellence in Newton. Finally, it is important to note—no community, including our Educational Excellence Benchmarking Communities, is willing to pay educators a COLA that would address the full effect that inflation has had on their salaries. I think all educators, myself included, are demoralized and angry that we even need to go through this kind of “market analysis” of our salaries. let alone fight a contract battle to win acceptable pay increases. EVEN WITH 3% COLAs over the last four years, as I showed above, our real wages here in Newton have dropped precipitously. A real Cost of Living Adjustment that actually addressed our real losses in earnings would have to be at least 10% or more for this year alone. Yet here we are fighting for an 11% COLA over three years. In our latest proposal to the School Committee, we added a fourth year with a COLA of 4%. Still, 15% over four years may not even address the inflation to come, let alone the losses we have already endured. Why are educators being asked to shoulder most of the costs of inflation, endure cuts to what they can afford for themselves and their own families, in order to, in effect, inoculate schools against inflation? Because that is what Newton and every other school district in the state are asking educators to do. It is easy to see why nationwide, we have a crisis in education. And since I’m saying what I really think now—well, I think that it is largely a result of sexism and classism. Everywhere, the cult of “sacrifice for the children” is sanctified and reified. Cities and towns everywhere are making choices about what they do with their limited resources, and when they make these choices, they count on educator sacrifice. Educators are undervalued, disrespected, and disparaged nationwide, as they are by our political leaders here in Newton. Mayor Fuller says “…it should be no surprise that our NPS educators – teachers and para-professionals – are paid well…” Actually, it should be no surprise to you, Mayor Fuller, that we are not. If you haven't yet, please send Mayor Fuller an email by clicking here. Next, Unit C pay….. In solidarity, Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association


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