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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: November 3

Dear Colleagues, This week, I am going to give over most of this EBulletin to member voices. First, I want to give a shout out to our Parent/Educator Collaborative leaders--Alison Lobron, Liz Simpson, Ryan Normandin, and Sue Cohen--who have worked with the Parent Teacher Organization Council to help them understand how difficult our negotiations with the school committee have become. it was their work that lead to the parent standouts in support of our contract. Thank you to them, and to all the parents who came out to support us! Second, a very brief mediations/negotiations update. We met with the mediator on Thursday, November 2nd, and made very little progress. We offered a modest counter-proposal to their proposal on health insurance. They came back with a counter that, effectively, asked for everything they are asking for once again, with a slight change in how they asked for it.

Contract Action Team Update

Here is a summary of current asks from your Contract Action Team:

  • Continue to be silent at NPS administrator run meetings

  • Continue to not volunteer for voluntary activities and committees

  • Attend School Committee Meetings:

    • November 6 at 6:30; November 20 at 6:30; December 4 at 6:30:

      • Gather at 6 to “line the halls”

      • Sign up to speak your truth to the School Committee at Public Comment

  • Be a Silent Observer at Mediation Sessions: Sign up here

  • Participate in our phone blitz to elected officials November 13 and/or 14: ask your building CAT captain for details.

  • Join your colleagues to canvass: NTA Canvassing SignUp Genius

    • The Contract Action Team is offering three canvassing sessions over the next several weeks. Canvassing is a great way to get engaged in our contract campaign that makes a huge difference in community engagement and perception! The dates are Saturday November 11, Saturday November 18, and Saturday December 9. They will each begin at 2:00pm and go until about 5:00pm. Canvassing begins at Newton North in the Walnut Street parking lot. There will be a brief training before canvassers pair up to go door to door. This canvass is targeting MTA members who live in Newton, which means conversations will be pleasant and the reception at doors will be welcoming.

Member Voices Open letter to Kathy Shields and the Newton School Committee: (Posted on Oct. 25th to the Parent/Educator Collaborative Facebook Page) Two days later, it’s still bothering me that when going over your contract negotiations update on Monday night, you felt the need to stress that (paraphrasing) “unlike the private sector, teachers only work 180 days”. Can we collectively agree to stop the nonsense about “teachers only work 180 days”?!?!? As someone who worked for a stint in the for-profit and non-profit worlds, I have NEVER worked harder than these past 12+ years in education (especially the past 3 years!) It is 180 days - but teachers work far beyond the 7 hours of the school day, often early in the morning and well into the evening, not to mention on weekends. We go to sleep worrying about our students that aren’t making social connections, can’t seem to grasp that math concept no matter how many strategies we’ve tried, come to school with dark under eye circles because things are tough at home and they haven’t been sleeping well… There’s no “working from home with a flexible schedule”, no lunch breaks out at a restaurant, no ping pong table or coffee bar - we have to pay if we want Poland Springs and I can’t even get a stapler or pair of adult scissors without buying them myself. Those summers off? Most of us work another job, take courses as the only way to get a “raise”, or care for our young families. Then in August we plan for the next school year. So Kathy, et al., until you have a manager more demanding than a 7 year old that is so emotionally dysregulated they tear apart your classroom (office) while you are trying to teach 20 other students their letter sounds - or have to buy your own stapler - keep the “teachers only work 180 days” argument in your (what we call in the SEL world) “thought bubble”. Oh, and if we compared 180 days of a private sector salary to the average Newton Teachers Association salary - I’m pretty sure in most cases the former would be higher for similar levels of education and experience. And finally, if we get paid so well for those “180 days”, PLEASE join us, there are openings across Newton. :) Signed, A Newton Educator that just wants to be “valued” as much as you all tout in every meeting ********

Open Letter from Anne Carey to Anna Nolin: Dear Dr. Nolin: I have read another letter from you in The Inside Voice attempting to gaslight Newton Public School staff into joining the committees you have established. Throughout your letter you professed to want to hear teacher voices, and so I have to wonder, can you? Do you hear us saying no to volunteer activities of all descriptions? Do you hear us saying that your insistence that any prior practice of volunteering on our part now constitutes an obligation for us to continue that action for perpetuity excludes the possibility of our volunteering for anything? Do you hear us telling you that the completely unprovoked and unwarranted, and deeply demeaning approach the mayor, school committee, and you have taken towards us throughout this contract negotiation period eradicates the possibility of us being able to build or maintain authentic positive relationships with you? Do you hear us telling you that the dissembling and obfuscating and plain bald-faced dishonesty in communication to NPS parents and the citizens of Newton about us and about this process needs to end? Do you hear us saying that we deserve and demand a fair contract? No. Instead you send another letter that proves that you do not know us and that shows you do not understand what a union is. When our leadership sends out a letter advising us not to take an action, they are merely reminding us of the actions we have already committed to with one another. If you will not hear 1200 of us chanting outside a school committee meeting, if you will not hear 1850 of us petitioning you, if you will not hear more than 2,000 of us united in our resolve, how can we possibly expect you to listen to a single voice? Dr. Nolin, do you remember that quote that Garry Leader loved so much that we heard it repeatedly through each class he taught at ELI? “Be the same person you are in all the rooms of your house.” You tell us that you want to hear our voices while steadfastly refusing to listen. It would help us to believe you if you were able to “be the same person” for the length of one letter. Anne Carey

******** A Response to the Recent School Committee and Mayor's Presentation that its Offer to Educators is Generous (it is NOT) November 4th Email to Mike Zilles from Barry Hershenow, Unit C member, Newton North High School I am appalled by the School Committee's misrepresentation to the Newton community that top step Category 1 Educational Support Professionals ("ESPs") are paid $41.40 per hour, while those ESPs at the bottom step are paid $21.83 per hour. To arrive at these numbers, the School Committee simply takes the ESP's salary for the school year and divides it by the total ALLOTTED hours for the school year. Why is this a misrepresentation? For many reasons, to wit: 1) It doesn't take into account that we work, but are NOT paid, way beyond our allotted hours; 2) Unlike the private sector, our hours do NOT include holidays or vacations (which together would amount to at least another 4 weeks, typically); and 3) For those of us that do work in the summer, we 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. To follow the School Committee's logic, the highest paid NFL player (Joe Burrow) whose average salary is about $55 million per year would only work for 17 days (there are 17 games in the NFL regular season) and, since each game is played in about 3 hours, he is paid over $1 million per hour ($55 million salary divided by 51 hours). While this reasoning is clearly laughable, as it doesn't account for the reality of all of Joe Burrow's hard work (including, but not limited to, physical training, conditioning, team meetings, and film study, all of which occur during both the season and off-season), this is precisely the type of "logic" that the School Committee has sprouted to support its position that ESPs are paid very well. Well paid, we are NOT! The truth is that entry-level ESPs at the high schools are paid a starting salary of about $28,000 per year, while the top step ESPs (now earned after 12 years, but previously only after 14 years) are paid about $53,000 per year. [I would add (MZ) that ESPs at the elementary level are paid a starting salary of $25,863. while the top step ESPs earn $49,000 per year. They are paid for fewer hours.] 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. 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 aren't even paid a living wage. Further, the School Committee's offer of a 2% COLA per year must be offset by its proposed increase health insurance premiums it seeks. In effect, the School Committee is seeking to pay us LESS than what we earn now. It's long overdue that the School Committee and Mayor give more than lip service to Newton's educators and pay us what we're worth. I call upon the Newton community at large to contact the School Committee and Mayor's office to let them know that they support Newton's educators, and to demand that the School Committee negotiate in good faith and settle a fair contract with the NTA. Barry Hershenow

******** Open Letter from an Anonymous NPS Educator To the school committee and residents: I have been an educator in the Newton Public Schools for ten years in both unit A and unit C roles. Over the last year, I’ve watched lots of other educators try to plead the value of all their hard work to convince you all that they deserve a living wage- how we do so much extra, how we think about our students 24/7, and how it all benefits the students… you know the drill. I, too, could tell you all about how hard I work to support my students- all the extra things I do to connect with them, to push them, and to try to shape them into better human beings while I have them. I could tell you that’s why I deserve a living wage. But I know that you know those things already. I could tell you about all the times I’ve been hit, kicked, bit, and had chairs thrown at me as a regular part of my job. How many times I’ve cleaned up a destroyed classroom or office and had materials ruined that I bought with my own money. How I found out Newton teachers didn’t even have workers compensation while in the lobby of an urgent care clinic after one bite from a student broke the skin. I paid for that out out of pocket. I could tell you, because those things might shock you into thinking I deserve a living wage. But what’s the point? You know these things too. I know that it’s hard to imagine that the school landscape could be so different now than when you were at school- so maybe you choose not to think too much about it. Maybe you think teachers are just exaggerating or complaining. Until your kid is involved. Then you’ll have a lot to say. Across the country, unsafe student behavior is one of teachers top reasons for leaving the profession, but it’s my thing. I could talk about how there aren’t many teachers with my specialized background in trauma and severe emotional disorders. How well-intentioned teachers are ill prepared by grad programs and district trainings to manage student crises, and how common these crises really are. How programs like ESSP and Bridge save the district literal hundreds of thousands of dollars by stabilizing and supporting children who would otherwise be considered for out of district placements because of their severe emotional needs. How unsafe student behavior won’t be the reason I leave teaching, because I love the kids that the other teachers are afraid of (but still care about and do their very best to support). So that’s why I deserve to be paid a living wage, right? Maybe if this was really about teachers. But it’s not. This is just an exercise in cognitive dissonance. You know that teachers deserve more. You called us heroes just a few short years ago, remember? You tell us at the conferences. My child feels safe here. Thank you for connecting with them. Thank you for advocating- for being my child’s champion. You’ll cook a meal for the teacher appreciation luncheon. You’ll bring snacks. We appreciate the kind words and the luncheons and the snacks, we really do, but you know we deserve more. And yet here we are. You know that you’re taking advantage of a long-standing broken system that grossly underpays its highly skilled, highly specialized employees, in order to win a cheap contract. Unfortunately, muffins and boxed coffee aren’t going to cut it when we can’t afford groceries, let alone homes. You know all this, and yet here we are. This isn’t about teachers, it’s just about numbers, so let’s talk about some numbers that we generally deem too uncomfortable for polite company. I am 34 years old. I’m 12 years out of college, but I’ve had a job ever since I was 14. I am not a young professional just starting out, although financially it feels that way. In 2021 I got married to a hardworking carpenter at a Newton-based company. Like me, he loves his job despite the pay. He works 6 days a week sometimes, picking up side jobs for extra money on the weekends. He’s actually worked on some of your home renovations, so I have a little insight into how some of you get to spend your money, and boy is it impressive. Unfortunately for me, after getting married, my husband and I made the two most financially irresponsible decisions of our lives. After 9 years together, at 32 years old, we decided to move into our own apartment without any roommates. I know what you’re thinking- totally unreasonable of us, but there we were. Married and dreaming of independence. 32 and yet so young and naive. Numbers. To find a 1 bedroom we could afford on our own, we had to move 25 miles out from Newton. We now each commute over 1 hour in traffic to and from our jobs- longer if there’s an accident or any type of weather or sun glare. With a daycare drop off in between, it’s an hour and a half. We did okay for a while- I worked on the side year round for a summer camp and then worked all summer as the director of the special needs program there. It was hard work and long hours, but I loved it, and the extra income helped us put a little into savings. That money is long gone now. Zero dollars. At 33, we decided to start a family. I’ve wanted kids my whole life. We were worried that if we waited any longer, we’d run the risk of infertility- like I’ve seen so many of my colleagues struggle with. If we were talking about teachers, I’d talk about the women who show up to work with a smile after suffering a miscarriage, or how you’d never know that some women were undergoing painful and exhausting fertility treatments for months and months, each passing month mourning another loss. Or the families who want more kids, but are choosing not to try because they’re afraid they can’t afford the cost of childcare on a teacher salary. I’d remind you that these are people with masters degrees and highly specialized skill sets, doing jobs that other people could never do, who have to plan families around the financial burdens imposed on us by the lowest paid masters-level profession in the country. Or about those moms who are nursing and trying to find time and spaces to pump at work to feed their babies after leaving them at home at 8 weeks old, after exhausting their 40 days of paid leave. How they have to fight to get coverage just to alleviate the physical discomfort. Sometimes there is no coverage. Sometimes there is no room with a door that locks and a shade on the window. I’d talk about how you can’t legally adopt a puppy until it’s 8 weeks old, but Newton teachers are expected to leave their babies and return to work after just 40 days of paid leave. I’d tell you about how my OB couldn’t believe we didn’t qualify for PFML, which would have given me more than double the time at home with my baby. How depressing it was when she kept pulling up the website and telling you to call them, and you had to keep explaining that you already did. That you got 40 days. That you weren’t just missing something. I would tell you what a demoralizing experience it was to become a mom as an NPS teacher, and to have to go to work every day to take care of your kids instead of my own tiny little newborn. How I was barely healed from my C-section when it was time to return to work. How my husband could only take a week off at home with me because financially, it made more sense for him to take his leave after mine so we could delay the start of daycare. How alone I felt in those early months and how I cried every single day for months when it was time to leave her at home and return to work. You’d probably say you care about these things- you’d post on Facebook about how wrong it was if this was happening somewhere else. But when it’s your tax dollars, your own city’s money, your schools, then you’re silent. You allow this to happen. Maybe you are not as good of a person as the signs in your front yard would have everyone believe. But this isn’t about teachers. This is about numbers. So let’s get back to the numbers. My husband and I pull in $6300 a month. Our rent for a two bedroom is $2485 a month, 25 miles outside of Newton. We looked for cheaper, but couldn’t find any- at least not anywhere you’d want to raise your kids. Daycare is $329 a week or $1316 a month- again, I welcome suggestions for cheaper options where you would be willing to leave your kids, but this place was by far the most affordable we could find and we count our blessings. Drop off is at 7:30 and pickup is 4, so I can no longer come in early or stay a few minutes late, or I can’t get to pickup on time and I pay a late fee. I start every morning stressed that I won’t get to work on time, because a 7:00 am drop off was the only box this daycare didn’t check. And all that extra work we do? I can’t even start mine until 8:00 at night when the baby is finally asleep. Legal timelines for special education paperwork don’t disappear when you have daycare pickup to rush off to at the end of your contractually paid hours. Before this, I came in an hour early to work and stayed, on average, 1-2 hours after work. Just to get the things done that I don’t have time for in my contractual hours. That adds up to 15 additional unpaid hours worked per week, on the low end. If I were talking about teachers, I’d casually mention that if not for the additional unpaid hours that special education teachers, team specialists, and SPED administrators put in, Newton would be out of compliance on legal special education timelines, opening NPS up for costly lawsuits. We get the work done because our students with disabilities deserve a free and appropriate public education. All that special education law- all the paperwork and the data and the reports and the timelines are ultimately designed to protect our students’ legal rights. Because we believe that those rights are important, and because we know that without them, ableist practices take over and students with disabilities are taken advantage of and discriminated against. They bear the brunt of our lack of resources, time, and adequate staffing. Lawyers are expensive and Newton wouldn’t want to have to deal with the consequences, so NPS teachers prop up the system. Without us, and our unpaid work, that system would come crashing down within a month. But the numbers. In the last few years, groceries doubled and then tripled, reaching $1400 a month at our local grocery store. Now we drive 30 minutes to the Aldi, which has the cheapest groceries I can find besides the Family Dollar. We do still occasionally enjoy fresh produce and meat. I know it’s extravagant, but what can I say? I used to be able to shop at Whole Foods and Wegman’s, like you, but not anymore. Inflation is crushing us. Our electric is $250- up $100 since 2020. Cell phones are $160, sewer and water $100, TV/streaming $60. Wi-Fi $120. Gas/heating $90. Pet insurance is $50, but that’s worth it because one time my dog needed to be sedated for a ten minute procedure and that cost $850 out of pocket on the spot. Gas and tolls $400 minimum for two cars with two hours each of daily commuting. We build your houses and teach your kids. Together, we pull in about $6300 of take-home pay. Our most basic costs right now add up to $6413 dollars. That’s no money to savings. No budget for takeout. No family vacation. No budget for car maintenance. No budget for clothing, even though my 15 month old needs a wardrobe every 4-6 months. There’s no money for a haircut or night out. No apple picking. No mommy and me swim lessons or tiny tots gymnastics class. We’re normal people. We do jobs nobody else can do, jobs that bring value to our community- and more specifically, to the Newton community. I couldn’t keep up with two jobs and an infant during the school year. Believe me, I tried for months when I first returned to work, but when I realized that daycare for the summer would have cost more than my summer salary, I couldn’t make the numbers make sense. I can’t afford to lose money working. Even if I loved my job. Even if I never complained about working two jobs year round. Even if we depended on the money during the school year. We’re hurting without the extra income now. It was how I used to scrounge up a little bit of savings. How I paid for Christmas presents. Not anymore. Another selfish choice on my part I guess, but here we are. And as you keep mentioning, we make good money. I should be fine. We’re paid well compared to other districts. We only work 180 days. Except that to keep up with inflation in Massachusetts, you’d realistically need to be offering us 15% just to break even, and studies have shown time and time again how much teachers actual hours add up to. You spit in our face every time you argue that we only work 180 days. I’m not breaking even now. By next year, I very literally won’t be able to afford to keep working in Newton. You’ll lose me, an experienced and highly skilled special educator with a masters degree, who loves her job and this district- because I can’t afford to pay to keep working here either. I know with certainty that I am not the only teacher in this rapidly sinking boat. We’re eating away at savings and incurring debt just to cover the cost of basic necessities. We’ll be paying off our masters degrees until we die, the lowest paid by far of all masters-level professionals. Owning a home is starting to seem like an impossibility because a cardboard box costs $600,000 anywhere remotely close to Newton. I am Unit A. If I can’t make ends meet, I don’t know how our Unit C colleagues are surviving. If this were about teachers, I’d talk about the extraordinary skill of our aides and behavior therapists who are supporting Newton’s most high-need students with disabilities so that they are able to access education with their non-disabled peers. These are not the “teachers helpers” of our day- these are not stay at home moms volunteering to help with copies and laminating (although Unit C does that too). No, I’d talk about how they keep classrooms safe, manage aggressive behaviors and emotional crises. How they get assaulted regularly but show up every day because they love their students. How they run academic programming, taking and analyzing data essential for tracking IEP goals. How they change colostomy bags, fix malfunctioning hearing aides, and know exactly what to do if their student has a seizure. No, these are not the “teachers helpers” of our day. Unit C are the literal backbone of our special education programs, not only because of their immense and varying skillsets, but because without them, Newton is, again, out of compliance on legally mandated IEP services and therefore open to lawsuits and other ramifications with the state. They also provided the support that kindergarten teachers desperately need to support our littlest learners. Imagine a birthday party with 21 kids at your house, and all the other parents just leave you there alone. Now- teach them all to read. If you couldn’t do it, and we all know you couldn’t, then you should never have removed kindergarten aides in the first place. I’d talk about how Unit C is regularly pulled from their legally mandated services to cover classroom and specials teachers on a moments notice. Unit C’s flexibility and continued compliance is what masks the underlying sub crisis from families, and allows administrators to turn a blind eye. Aides and BTs will step up to cover because we ask them too, and they are capable of getting done what needs to be done in the moment. They are skilled. They do what is asked of them. They are excellent employees. And so it becomes a normal expectation of the job. Sometimes your job is to support Newton’s most vulnerable and marginalized students, and sometimes it is to cover for NPS’s gross lack of resources. On those days, students with disabilities are denied access to their free and appropriate education and classroom teachers are left to do their best on their own. Imagine the birthday party again, but for a kid with autism. He’s struggling just to manage the environment. Now teach him to read too, but using a different method than the one you’re also using to teach the other kids. And do it all at the same time. And the parents usually have no idea this is happening. This common practice is ableist at best, and at worst, creates a dangerous environment for students. But it has to be fine, because what else can we do? Teachers need coverage to be out sick and we pay our subsitutes and ISS even worse, so there are never enough to go around. Someone has to teach the kids. Don’t get me started on teachers writing sub plans at 6am when they wake up feeling too sick to come in- or when they have a sick kid to take care of. To say that Unit C are paid well would be laughable, if any of this were a joke. It’s an insult to their outstanding professionalism each time you repeat it. Newton schools couldn’t run for one day without Unit C. They deserve so, so much more. But this isn’t about teachers. This is about a cheap contract. So, I’ll leave you with this. The school committee’s best offer is a joke, and teachers are taking notice. We want to stay, but many, like me, won’t be able to much longer. We’ll take jobs closer to home, or we’ll leave teaching completely. It’s already happening at alarming rates across the country. That you’re arguing about 20 additional days of parental leave is also an insult. Newton teachers who want to become parents are treated the same as dogs having puppies. And it’s so outrageous to every other profession that you’ll actually bare the burden of convincing them that you’re not mistaken. Courts are deciding if getting shot at school is covered under workers compensation as a workplace hazard, and you’re offering COLAs that won’t even cover the cost of inflation- that won’t even scratch the surface. We are tired of being insulted. Wake up. We are drowning. We take care of your babies, and we are drowning. Do better, or you will lose us.

********* It is hard to find adjectives to describe the words these educators have shared with us: eloquent, compelling, disturbing, concerning, maddening. To borrow from and paraphrase what one of the writers says: Maybe if these negotiations were really about teachers, about educators, things would be different. But they're not. They are an exercise in cognitive dissonance. We owe these four educators our gratitude for sharing their sense of how cognitively dissonant our words --and our worlds-- are from the words and worlds of Newton's so-called leaders. Do better, because you are losing us. In solidarity, Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association


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