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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: October 1

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Campaign Actions and Timeline

The Executive Committee of the NTA met last Thursday to chart the course of NTA actions over the month of October and into November. Here is what we decided.

There are two primary actions we are asking all members to join:

1. An October 23 gathering at Newton North High School and march to the Ed Center for a protest at the Newton School Committee meeting. We will gather at North at 5:00, and arrive at the Ed Center at 6:10, in time for the meeting, which begins at 6:30.

It is important that we have a large turnout for this event, so please mark it in your calendars, and let your building communicator know you are coming.

2. Gathering signatures on a petition demanding that the school committee bargain in good faith. The school committee, which includes Mayor Fuller, continues claiming that they must work within their "current fiscal constraints," yet the entire Newton community seems to know that the city currently has large amounts of surplus funds available to it. (*See below for an explanation of why these surplus funds can and should be used to fund the NPS.)

We will share the petitions with building representatives at this week's RA, and when we have collected signatures from all of you, we will deliver the signed petitions to the school committee at the conclusion of our march and protest on October 23.

In addition to these two primary actions, we are also organizing:

3. Members to attend the next school committee meeting at 6:30 on Wednesday, October 11. We have had about 200 members attend each of the last two meetings. (Kudos to Newton North for turning out a large crowd last Wednesday.) We need the same number of members to attend on October 11. I hope several people can make it from each building.

Many of you spoke at public comment at the last two meetings. Some of you may have things you would like to say, but feel uncomfortable doing so on a public stage. If so, Vice President Elizabeth Ross Del Porto has volunteered to speak for you. At the next School Committee meeting, she will sign up for public comment in order to amplify as many of your voices as she can. In her three minutes, she will read as many of your thoughts about the mayor, the school committee, contract negotiations, your jobs, student needs - really, anything you would like to share. If you fill out this short Google Form, she will do her best to represent you.

4. Members to attend mediation sessions as silent observers. We filled our quota of fifteen silent observers at our last mediation session, so we increased it to twenty-five to make space available for others to attend. The next mediation session is tomorrow, October 2, at 4:00 in room 210 in the Ed Center, and the following session is on October 25, same time and place. Sign up here.

5. Members and community allies to canvass supporters in Newton to share information about our contract campaign. Details to follow later.

6. Chris and I will be attending NTA building meetings across the district before and after school. We will share a sign up sheet with times we are available at the RA this Wednesday, and will see you in your building soon. We had planned for a General Membership Meeting in early November, but that does not now seem like the best way to reach out to all members right now.

7. Members to continue with silent meetings and not volunteering for voluntary activities.

As many of you know, principals are giving staff members directives to engage in voluntary work or to speak during staff meetings. The directives are aimed at undermining our protected union activity, and therefore are an unfair labor practice in violation of Massachusetts Labor Law. We are collecting information on the directives that are being given on this form in order to file charges against the district in the Department of Labor Relations for these unfair labor practices. If you, or someone you know, has been given a directive to do work that has been voluntary in the past, whether stipended or unpaid, please fill out this form. If your principal directs people to speak during a staff meeting, please also fill out the form.

"Free Cash" and "Overlay Acounts" What's up with all that Money Mayor Fuller Keeps Finding?

The City ended a second year with a huge surplus. At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, the City ended its budget year with nearly $29 in free cash. This year, once again, the city closed its books with another $29 million in free cash. In addition to this money, Mayor Fuller announced early in September that the city had available $26 million from an "overlay account." With all that money available, why is it that the mayor and school committee keep claiming they must operate within such tight fiscal constraints?

Mayor Fuller claims that in each instance--free cash last year, this year, and the Overlay account monies--that these funds are "one-time funds." According to Mayor Fuller, she can't fund the operating budget of the schools or the city with one time funds. If she did, she claims, once they were spent, the city and schools would face a "fiscal cliff," because there would be no dependable "recurring" source of income to replace the one time funds.

If it were true that these were all one time funds, maybe this claim would be true, although the sheer amount of money makes even that a shaky argument.

Moreover, these funds are not, for the most part, one time money.

The $29 million in free cash comprises mostly surplus revenues from sources such as property taxes; permits and fees; interest on investments; meals, hotel, and cannabis sales taxes. Mayor Fuller and CFO Maureen Limieux created this year's budget, they grossly underestimated their projected revenues from these sources, which is why they have so much surplus. They did the same for the 2021-2022 budget. They have done the same for next year. As a result, there will be a substantial surplus once again next year, making it yet again another banner year for "free cash."

In fact, these funds aren't one time; they are available year end, year out, EXCEPT they are not accounted for in the city's operating budget. And because they are not accounted for there, they haven't been allocated to the schools.

The "overlay account" funds are somewhat different, but the claim that they are "one time funds" is misleading. These funds comprise taxes collected from Eversource over eight years. But because Eversource had appealed how those taxes were calculated, the city was required to put these tax revenues into an "overlay account." Eversource dropped the appeal, so these $26 million became available.

You might say that this is indeed a one-time windfall, and you might say the city should be careful not to put that money into the operating budget, knowing it isn't "recurring revenue." While these $26 million are indeed a one time infusion of cash into the City of Newton, going forward, the city can expect to continue to collect approximately $3 million per year in property taxes from Eversource. That money had previously been going into the overlay account and not into the operating budget. Going forward, it will go into the operating budget.

$3 million per year would go a long way to closing towards closing any gap between the school's current offer to us, and our proposals to them. Most of the way. That's probably why no one is talking about it.

The pile of cash the Mayor currently sits on, could, without ill effect to the financial prospects of the city, be used to fully fund the Newton Public Schools. So why doesn't she? The answer seems obvious. She doesn't want to. She wants the cuts to the school budget, and she wants a cheap contract. That is, indeed, the true bottom line.

There has never been a real need for cuts to the schools, this year or last. There is certainly no justification now for the school committee to insist on a cheap contract. And there is certainly no justification to engage in a "scorched earth" union busting campaign against the NTA, which threatens to harm the morale of Newton educators for years to come.

In solidarity, Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association


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