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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: November 19: Benefits


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Email Campaign to Mayor Fuller


We've sent out 400 emails so far. That's still not enough! Let's get that number over 1,000 before tomorrow's school committee meeting!


Please click here NOW to send an email to Mayor Fuller. Tell her to fund the schools using the enormous surplus of funds she has at her disposal. All you need to do is enter your name and contact information. The "Action Network" will do the rest for you. It only takes a minute!


When you send out this email, the content--a dismantling of any claim she might make to not have the resources to fund the schools--tells Mayor Fuller that you are well-informed and cannot be deceived by her false claims that she has no money. You tell her that you know better. And that knowledge gives you individual power and collective power as a member the NTA.


Send the email. Mayor Fuller will feel your power!

Teacher Pay Penalty

Have you heard of the "Teacher Pay Penalty"? It's bad, and getting worse. "Simply put, teachers are paid less (in weekly wages and total compensation) than their nonteacher college-educated counterparts, and the situation has worsened considerably over time. Prior to the pandemic, the long-trending erosion in the relative wages and total compensation of teachers was already a serious concern. The financial penalty that teachers face discourages college students from entering the teaching profession and makes it difficult for school districts to keep current teachers in the classroom. Trends in teacher pay coupled with pandemic challenges may exacerbate annual shortages of regular and substitute teachers." From "The Teacher Pay Penalty Has Hit a New High," by Sylvia Allegretto of the Economic Policy Institute. Click here to read more.

School Committee Negotiations Updates


This is the third in a series of emails that address comprehensively the school committee and Superintendent Nolin’s false and misleading claims in their most recent Negotiations Updates. In the first email, I addressed the Nolin and Shields' update on Unit A salaries. In yesterdays email, I addressed their update on Unit C salaries. Today, I will respond to their claims about our benefits. You can see the previous two emails posted here, on the NTA website. You can see Nolin's slide deck by clicking here.


For your information: Tomorrow the 2024 Newton School Committee will meet at 5:30 in room 304 at the Ed Center to caucus to elect a new chair and vice chair to begin office in January 2024. This caucus is open to the public.


The regular school committee meeting will commence at 6:30 with public comment.


Line the halls at 6:15!


Benefits (Slide 3)


Why is it that Shields and Nolin feel it is so important to prove how generously NTA members are compensated, especially when many of the benefits they describe are not unique to Newton?


Part of their motivation, it seems, is just to prove that we are, indeed, well compensated, but quite often, it also seems intended to prove that it is fine for them to reduce those benefits, since, as it were, our cup runneth over.


Our benefits do not come from nowhere. Many resulted from salary tradeoffs during prior negotiations. And, contra Shields and Nolin, our benefits are not particularly lavish. Perhaps the most egregious attribution to us of a lavish benefit is their characterization of our "defined benefit pension plan," which I will address first.


Defined Benefit Pension Plan


Nolin and Shields state that, unlike most private sector employees, NPS educators have a defined benefit pension, a benefit, Shields implies in her presentation, that is an expensive relic of a bygone era. “Newton NTA employees are so fortunate to have this benefit,” says Shields.


What are the facts about this benefit?

  • The Newton Public Schools is not offering a unique benefit to its employees: Across Massachusetts, educators in every other municipality have the same benefit.

  • The Newton Public Schools pays nothing towards employee pensions. Newton educators participate in either the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System (MTRS) or the Newton Retirement System (NRS). The Newton Public Schools contributes to neither.

  • NTA employees pension benefit actually saves the Newton Public Schools a considerable amount of money. Newton Public School employees do not participate in the social security system. In the private or non-profit sector in Massachusetts, both the employer and the employee contribute 6.5% of an employee's salary towards their social security benefit. The Newton Public Schools saves this 6.5% of salaries. In FY24, employer social security contributions would have cost the Newton Public Schools approximately $14 million.

  • Our pension benefit costs NTA employees more than would social security. Even as the Newton Public Schools pays nothing towards our pension, Newton Public Schools employees contribute between 10% and 11% of their salaries towards their pensions. An employee at the highest step of the Unit A salary schedule pays $4,200 per year more towards their pension benefit through the MTRS than they would if they paid into the Social Security system every year.

  • The Newton Public Schools contributes nothing towards employee 403b retirement plans. In the private and non-profit sector, in addition to contributing to social security, private and non-profit sector employers usually also make contributions to their employees’ retirement through 401k plans that are supplements to employee social security benefits.

  • There are substantial limitations to NTA employees’ pension benefit.

    • Retirees who receive an MTRS or NRS pension have their social security benefits reduced or eliminated. This particularly impacts career changers who contributed to Social Security in a prior career. It also impacts what a retiree can receive from their spouse’s social security pension if their spouse dies.

    • The MTRS and NRS do not adjust their pension payments very much at all for inflation—about $360 per year. Social Security pension payments, on the other hand, are adjusted annually for inflation every year based on the consumer price index, Retirees from the Newton Public Schools live on a fixed income.

  • The poor COLAs the Newton School Committee is proposing will reduce the pension of employees near retirement for the rest of their lives. Why? Because MTRS and NRS pensions are calculated based on the average of an employee's three highest years of salaries, typically the last three years of employment. This is hardly a fitting reward for a career of service to the Newton Public Schools.

In short, Shields and Nolin brag about Newton providing a benefit that in fact all public school educators statewide receive; that the Newton Public Schools does not pay for; that actually saves the schools the cost of paying for social security; and the value of which they are undermining for veteran educators near retirement.


Health Insurance


Nolin and Shields begin by talking about how much money the district could save if it just provided health insurance through the state run Government Insurance Commission (GIC).


Their point seems to be that, because the city has generously chosen not to enter into the GIC, the NTA should agree to the school committee's proposal to shift more of the cost of health insurance onto NTA members.


Our health insurance benefits do not result from the benevolence of the City of Newton. Like all of our benefits, they are the result of collective bargaining. When we negotiated our health insurance in 2011, all of Newton’s unions bargained together with the city, and we agreed that increasing co-pays and deductibles moderately along with increasing member contribution rates was a better way to achieve savings than going into the GIC. In those same negotiations, we also made other sacrifices: New salary schedules with more but smaller steps, modest salary increases, and a shift of the step increase anniversary date to March.


We made these tradeoffs and sacrifices because the City of Newton and the Newton Public Schools were facing a real financial crisis, and we believed the sacrifices were temporary. Yet when we entered into negotiations on a successor agreement in 2014, just a year after Newton passed an operating override, the school committee offered us zero’s.


And that pattern has continued. They still try to hold our salary increases well below the inflation rate. They still won’t agree to return the step increases to September. They still bemoan the fact that we are not in the GIC. In every negotiations they ask for yet more concessions on health insurance.


It gets worse. When the transition to Blue Cross Blue Shield was presented to union leaders of the Insurance Advisory Commission (IAC), we were promised that the increase in premiums this year would be partially paid for by reserves from the health insurance trust fund. But there weren't enough reserves there to do that, and they knew this. Some of the city's enormous sums of free cash could have been used to supplement that fund. But no. The huge increases in our premiums this year are the result of poor management by the city of our health insurance trust fund, costs that were then passed on to employees.


And it just keeps getting worse. When we made the transition to Blue Cross Blue Shield last year, the City of Newton cut Medicare Part B reimbursements for retirees, most of whom, remember, are on a fixed income. They used these funds to partly close the schools' budget gap, even though, as we would soon learn, the Mayor was sitting on $55 million in surplus or "free" cash! The sacrifices they ask of us don't even end once we retire!


Work Year Benefits


Shields and Nolin’s claim that a “benefit” of being a teacher is the shorter year they work, and imply that this "benefit" should be factored in when considering how well educators are compensated. Or--though they don't say this--when considering the SC proposal to add two additional “professional” days to our work year.


To reply to which I quote Jen Terrazino, Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School:

Can we collectively agree to stop the nonsense about 'teachers only work 180 days'?!?!?”


And remember from yesterday's Unit C Salaries EBulletin, (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.


Additional Benefits


Parental leave. We fought hard in our last contract to improve the district's parental leave policy, and succeeded, but we still have a ways to go. We are negotiating now to increase the number of days that are paid to 60. Andover, North Andover, Boston, and Lexington, among other districts, have just agreed to provide 60 days of parental leave in their most recent contracts. It's humane, and it would be reasonably inexpensive for the district to fund.


Summer Parental Leave Stipend. This is an incentive that the school committee insisted we include in our parental leave policy in our last negotiations. Why? Because it benefits the district, and students. Educators who choose to take this benefit return to school at the beginning of the year to be with their students, rather than take a few more weeks leave. This way they can begin a new year with their new students. The cost is negligible--less than $50,000 per year--with respect to a $268,655,413 budget.


Children of NTA employees may attend NPS at no charge on a space available basis. This is indeed an important benefit for many of our members, whose complex lives are often simplified by having their children go to school in the same district where they work.


But, notably, neither Shields nor Nolin mention that the school committee has fought hard for the entire duration of negotiations to compromise this benefit, even now still asking us to agree to language that would allow the district to refuse placement to children with disabilities. In effect, the district is asking us to allow them to discriminate against children with disabilities., Apart from harming our members' children, which is enough reason to reject this proposal, if we agreed, we would by exposing both the district and the NTA to legal action for discriminating.


Unit C Staff Substitute Stipend. Aides who are directed to take over a class when a teacher is absent receive a stipend of $46 per day. Teaching a class when the teacher is absent is above and beyond an aide’s normal responsibilities, but a Unit C member can be directed to do it. That is why they are paid more. Unit C members would rather be working with their students; they know every time they are pulled, it violates their students' IEPs.


Notably, the district wouldn’t need to pay this stipend if they hired enough substitute teachers.


Moreover, when the district thinks they can, they try to avoid paying this benefit. For example, when Bigelow Middle School introduced a co-advisory model in 2016-2017, the NPS and the NTA signed an agreement to pay Unit C members this stipend when they acted as a co-advisors, because they were taking on the same responsibilities as a Unit A member. And nearly every year since then, even as Bigelow retained a co-advisory model, and Bigelow Unit C members continued to take on the Unit A responsibilities of a co-advisor, central administrators have tried to get out from under having to make these stipend payments. The amount they pay Unit C members is negligible, yet they continue to fight off and deny our grievances, pretending that Unit C members are not "really" co-advisors.


At Bigelow, this year once again, there continue to be two advisors in every advisory block, some of these pairings being two Unit A members, some being a Unit A member and a Unit C member, and these co-advisors share the responsibilities of the advisory block. As central administrators drag their feet about paying the stipend once again, this time around they pretend they are in compliance with our agreement and do not need to pay Unit C co-advisors because they have renamed co-advisors "partners." It's surreal what they will say and do to avoid paying what they have agreed to pay.


Summary


Nolin and Shields present a very rosey picture of Newton Teacher Association member benefits. Scratch the surface, however, and a very different picture emerges.


What do they really think? I don't know what goes on in their heads, but their actions and words paint a picture of a district that thinks we are paid too much, and enjoy benefits that are far too generous.


This is not a school district or a city that practices generosity towards its employees. It was once—and within my memory. It is not now.

******


If you haven't yet, please send Mayor Fuller an email by clicking here.


Mass Child Grants

The Massachusetts Child is a charitable corporation founded by MTA members in 1996 to help students struggling with financial need. Mass Child is a reimbursement program available to all MTA preK-12 local associations. Members use funds from their local associations to purchase qualifying items for students, and Mass Child reimburses the local associations.


Please note that Mass Child does not reimburse individual members; all grant applications must have the approval of the local president, and reimbursement is made to the local association. Therefore, please do not fill out the online application on the Mass Child website.


Our local process for use of Mass Child Grant funds:

  • Contact Cindy Colantonio at NTA office (colantonioc@newton.k12.ma.us) before purchasing items to be certain that NTA still has Mass Grant Funds available and that the items you will be purchasing will qualify for reimbursement.

  • Once you have approval, purchase the items and submit your receipts to Cindy (you can do this electronically via email or by sending them through the Pony).

  • NTA will reimburse you directly right away. We will handle the submission to Mass Child for local reimbursement.

NTA Dues Deductions

Payroll deductions for NTA/MTA/NEA membership dues will begin with the November 15th salary check and continue through May 31. Please examine your check stub to determine whether the amount deducted is correct.


If you have paid your dues in cash, no deduction should appear. If you are paying your dues through payroll deductions, your stub should have a deduction item "NTA". You can find the amount of your bimonthly deductions depending on your membership classification here.


Please call the NTA office (617-244-9562) between 8:30 and 4:00 p.m. on school days or email Cindy Colantonio (colantonioc@newton.k12.ma.us) if you have any questions.



MTA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee Conference

MTA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee Conference will be held December 1st -2nd, 2023, at The Sheraton Framingham Hotel & Conference Center.This year's conference program focuses on the theme,"Cultivating Cultural Pride: Nurturing Cultural Identity and Heritage." You can find registration information here. NTA will reimburse members for the cost of attending. ***** If you haven't yet, please send Mayor Fuller an email by clicking here.

In solidarity, Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association

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