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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin November 24, 2020

There are now three vaccines that have shown very promising results, and it is likely that health care workers as well as seniors who live in assisted care facilities will begin receiving vaccines sometime in December or January. What do you think? When will vaccines become available to educators? Will our work be prioritized? Negotiations.

Last week the district presented us with a new proposal just before negotiations, and then walked us through it during our session. While they told us that they rejected the original tentative agreement because there were a number of areas of "disagreement" in our respective interpretations of that agreement, their new proposal much more sweeping in its changes. They focus in their proposal on maintaining "flexibility"--which means they want to be able to make changes in practice without having to negotiate. We are still working on a formal response to their proposal, but it is very difficult, because we cannot agree to an agreement by which they essentially reserve the right to change their plans whenever they deem it necessary. Regarding their rejection of the original tentative agreement, we have filed charges with the Department of Labor Relations against the district for not bargaining in good faith. We bargained this week about the high school transition to hybrid. The negotiations were very preliminary, and it was clear that here, as with everything else, the district wants primarily to limit the scope of what appears in the MOA while maintaining maximum managerial prerogative. Since we do not have a signed MOA, it is not clear what parts of the tentative agreement the district will honor. Nor do members know what what can be expected of them. I will try as best I can in the course of this EBulletin to address at least some of these concerns. Leave Policy

The district has agreed to the following terms for NTA members who request a remote learning accommodation because they live with a household member who is at higher risk from COVID-19, and are denied that request. High school staff members who request this accommodation may continue to work remotely until in person hybrid learning begins on January 27 (or later, if the begin date for in person learning is delayed). Any NTA staff members who request this accommodation and are denied may request an unpaid leave. The below terms apply to these leaves.

  • The district will continue to contribute its share of the employee's health insurance premium until August 31, 2020.

  • The district will pay employees for the fourteen sick days they were allocated this year, plus the employee's two personal days, minus any sick and personal days they have already used.

  • The district will also pay members for two of their four "other" days, minus any already used, bringing the maximum number of possible days compensated up to eighteen. (We are still waiting for confirmation that two of the four "other" days will be paid.)

(Please note that this leave policy ONLY pertains to employees who apply for and are denied a remote work accommodation based on a household members' medical condition. All other unpaid leaves the district grants would be uncompensated.) For purposes of calculating days that count towards pension contribution, longevity, and step increases for this school year, all paid days count. All unpaid days would not count toward pension, longevity, or step increase calculations.

  • Pension is calculated as a percentage of the school year's days that are paid. The total number of days paid is divided by the number of days in the school year. (# of days paid ÷ 182.5)

  • Longevity and step increases are earned in either full or half increments. These increments are calculated based on a single formula that is the same across all units. You can see this formula by clicking here and scrolling to Article 34 on page 35.

This is not exactly the policy we thought we had agreed to when we presented you our tentative agreement, but the misunderstanding was mutual. The district is now implementing this revision as its own policy rather than as a contractual element of an MOA. That said, I do want to note that the policy itself, in its current form, is one of the more generous accommodation/leave policies in the state. Elementary Surveys A few of you have written to ask me and Chris whether to fill out the elementary staff survey that the district recently distributed. Yes, please do. The district shared the survey with us before they sent it out. Chris had the opportunity to vet and edit the questions. The district will share the information they gather with us. The survey itself is housed on Survey Monkey and is anonymous. Please make sure your voice is represented. If you have not yet filled out the survey, please do so before November 30. Childcare Accommodations Members who are working in person and who have children in a Newton Public Schools elementary school are eligible to have their children attend school four or four and a half days per week. This benefit applies both to educators who are residents of Newton, and to educators whose children attend from out-of-district. To date, the district has been able to accommodate all staff members who are working in person, and they are hopeful that they will be able to do the same for educators who will begin teaching in person at a later date--primarily high school educators. Note that the benefit is not available for members who are working remotely. Note also that the district hopes to accommodate all applicants, but that the benefit is on a "space available" basis. To apply, email Martine Albama in HR. Quarantine Chris and I have been receiving many emails from members asking us what the district policy is when members have to remain out of school because they are quarantined. I am not entirely sure of my answers, but I will say what I know. The policy on quarantine is a joint NPS/Newton Health and Human Services policy. It is found in the COVID-19 Health Manual. Technically, the district distinguishes between isolation, which is for individuals who have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and quarantine, which is for individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19, or who have COVID-19 like symptoms. One of the questions that has come to us frequently in the last few days is: What is expected of members when they are asked to quarantine? The expectation is that, if you remain at home either because you are a close contact, or you have COVID-19 like symptoms, unless you are too sick to work, you work remotely. To my knowledge, there is not a district-wide practice established on how this will happen, except that someone must monitor students for you while you teach them remotely. In addition to the planning you ordinarily do, to the extent it is possible for you to do so from home, you can be asked to coordinate and collaborate with colleagues in order to facilitate the classes/lessons that you teach remotely in school. Some supervisors are proactively asking educators to plan ahead for the eventuality that they may be asked to quarantine, and some supervisors are asking educators to collaborate in setting up protocols for what those plans should entail. I do not know how coordinated these efforts are across the district, nor whether there is a centralized plan for handling these situations. But from what we hear, it doesn't seem like it. I know it can feel frustrating that there does not seem to be a coordinated policy about how to handle these situations, especially since we've known since the beginning of the year that this was going to begin happening frequently at some point. Chris and I are hearing a good deal of exasperation about this. Chris and I will press ahead to learn as much as we can, though that process has proven to be exasperating too. I would just remind you that in most cases, you and your immediate supervisors are in the same boat. Like you, they are trying to make the best of things in light of the fact that they, like you, are on the frontline for students and their families. We are also hearing questions about the use of sick days. The district does intend to give everyone who is teaching in person an additional five sick days for use this year only. If you are either in quarantine, or in isolation, you will not be required to use sick days to cover your absence. This is true whether you are working remotely or not, with one exception. If you are too sick to work, and you test positive for COVID-19, you will not be required to use sick days to cover your absence. If you are too sick to work, and you do not take a test for COVID-19, and remain out until you are well again, you will not be required to use sick days to cover your absence. If you are too sick to work, and you learn you do not have COVID-19 (you tested negative, or you were confirmed to have another illness--flu, strep throat, etc.,), you will be required to use your sick days because your absence is not COVID related. Finally, an advisory: Be careful when you get tested. If you are identified as a close contact by your school nurse or another contact tracer, they may recommend that you be tested. However, your insurance may not cover the costs of testing unless your primary care physician recommends it as well. So we recommend you always go through your primary care provider first in order to avoid the costs of testing, which can be quite high. "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."

Please take care and stay well.



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