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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: November 18: Unit C Salaries

The sun came out today just in time for our members to do some community canvassing. Newton educators are volunteering their Saturday afternoons to speak to residents about our urgent need for a fair contract.

Email Campaign to Mayor Fuller 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 This is the second 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 C salaries compare well to salaries in “similar” districts, as found in slides 2 and 5. Next, I will respond to their claims about our benefits.

Unit C Salaries (slide 2 and 5) Barry Hershenow contributed substantially to this section. References here are again to Dr. Nolin's slide deck used by Kathy Shields in her presentation to the school committee. Nolin and Shields graphical representation on slide 2 of how Unit C salaries are calculated misses a critical point. Nolin and Shields correctly point out that Unit C employees are paid hourly, and their hourly rate is used to calculate their salaries. But they substitute in their graphical representation of how a Unit C employee is paid the "hourly rate" for the "lane change" in the graphical representation of a Unit A salary. But by doing this, they mask the fact that Unit C employees in Newton don’t have available to them the opportunity for a lane change, so their salaries don't increase based on their educational attainment. Many Unit C employees have advanced degrees or teaching licenses, yet they are not rewarded for this expertise. Regarding hours, Nolin and Shields also fail to note that (1) most Unit C educational support professionals work far fewer than 40 hours per week; (2) Unit C employees are systematically not paid--robbed--of many of the hours they do work; (3) unlike in the private sector, Unit C hours do NOT include holidays or vacations (which together would amount to at least another 4 weeks, typically); and (4) most Unit C members that do work in the summer are paid at a rate about HALF of what the top step ESPs make during the school year, as that pay structure is NOT part of our Collective Bargaining Agreement Nolin and Shields claim, on slide six, that the NTA proposes to increase work hours "to make it [sic] equal across levels in district (regardless of different length of school days)." Actually, the NTA proposes that Unit C employees' hours be revised so that Unit C employees are paid for working the same contractual work day as Unit A employees work across the district, so that their hours correspond to the different lengths of the elementary, middle and high school days. This would increase their hours per week to make them more accurately reflect the hours they actually work, thereby eliminating some of the systematic theft of their labor. In Nolin and Shield's comparison of Unit C salaries to those in other districts, they pick a large list of neighboring communities, some of which are Educational Excellence Benchmarking Communities (Lexington, Wellesley, Brookline, Belmont, Wayland, Weston), some of which are not (Needham, Framingham, Natick, Winchester, Arlington, Bedford). It is true that, for Educational Support Professionals with ten or more years of experience, Newton pays more than any of these communities. We can be both proud of the fact that, as a union, we have managed to raise top salaries, yet still recognize that they remain far too low, and that it takes far too long to reach the highest step on the salary scales: 12 years to reach the top of the Teacher Aide salary schedule, and 9 years to reach the top of the Behavior Therapist salary schedule. This is why the NTA proposes to drop the two bottom steps off both of these salary schedules. As with Unit A salaries, inflation has eroded the gains the NTA won for Unit C members in the last contracts. As with Unit A, from 2018 to 2023, approximately 14% COLAs were added to the salary schedules. In 2019, in order to increase Unit C starting salaries, the school committee and the NTA agreed to drop two steps from the bottom of the salary schedule and to increase Unit C hours. That means you have to take the slight "improvements" to a Unit C step 1 and Step 7 salaries shown below in the table with a grain of salt. It's not apples to apples. Because the bottom two steps were dropped, steps 1 and 7 on our current salary schedules were steps 3 and 9 in the 2018 salary schedules. So we are really comparing 2018 step 1 and 7 salaries to 2023 step 3 and 9 salaries. Moreover, the hours were increased for elementary aides, so salaries (though not hourly rates) increased some due to Elementary Support Professionals working more hours. Mind you, these were real improvements, yet in spite of them, because COLAs were inadequate to keep up with inflation, Unit C real wages have gone up very little, and have actually declined for those on the top step...even though these aides are now paid for more hours per week.

On slide 2, Nolin and Shields note that only 20% of Unit C members currently receive a longevity payment, which requires 11 years of service. That means that same small percentage of employees stay in Newton long enough to reach the top step of the salary schedule. When your pay starts at $27,000 per year, as it does for an elementary special education aide, a 6% step increase each year only adds a little over a $1,600 to your pay--not enough to even keep up with the increase in the cost of living. After subtracting health insurance premiums, retirement contributions, and federal and state income taxes, ESPs at the bottom rung take home about $20,000 per year, while ESPs at the top rung take home about $40,000 per year. How can anyone with a bachelors degree—and college debt, likely—afford to live on $27,000 per year? How can anyone afford to stay in that role, when the best one will be able to earn will be $49,000 per year--after twelve years of service? On top of that, the district’s COLA proposals would see Unit C salaries reduced even more by inflation. To suggest that ESPs are well paid, as the School Committee and Newton Mayor are only too quick to affirm, is an insult to all the hard-working ESPs who still aren't even paid a living wage. It is shameful that the school committee continues to trot out their comparison chart and brag how much they are paying their employees when the financial reality for these employees is fact so stark. I have already said that I think the undervaluing, disrespect, and disparagement Unit A educators face is the result of sexism and classism. Unit C employees comprise the most racially and culturally diverse employees of the NPS. The undervaluing, disrespect, and disparagement Unit C educators face is the result of sexism, classism, and racism. It's time for the school committee and Mayor Fuller to actually walk the walk when it comes to equity and pay its lowest paid employees a living wage If you haven't yet, please send Mayor Fuller an email by clicking here. Next, benefits.

In solidarity, Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association


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