Next Monday, October 23, the membership of the NTA will be rallying at Newton North High School and marching from there to the Ed Center to deliver an unmistakeable message to the school committee: You must negotiate in good faith! We need you to join us. Chris and I have now visited Bowen, Williams, Underwood, Lincoln-Eliot, Zervas, Brown and Oak Hill. This coming week we will visit Ward, Horace-Mann, Burr, and Memorial-Spaulding. The following week we will visit Mason-Rice, Newton North, NECP, Bigelow, the Ed Center, and Cabot. We won't be able to visit Franklin, Day, Newton South and Peirce until the week of October 30. So far, there has been great turnout at each school, and large majorities of members in every building have committed to attend our rally and march on October 23. Unfortunately, we won't be able to meet with all of you before October 23. That said, we need all members to commit to attend, even if Chris and I aren't able to meet with you before the rally. Here's why. Chris and I have begun each of our meetings communicating to members the urgency of this year's contract campaign. In years past, during a contract year, we have always returned to school without a new contract before the previous contract expires. And every year, we have organized, and through our member activism, we have won good contracts. We have always known that when we put on the pressure and build community support, the school committee would come to the table and negotiate in good faith. This year is different. This Newton School Committee and Mayor Fuller are committed to winning a cheap contract that includes multiple give-backs. And they are committed to a scorched earth campaign to win this cheap contract--using their advantages with the law, their managerial power to issue directives, and their ready access to email communication with the parent community and the larger Newton community. They are determined to force this cheap contract upon us, believing the community will support them--or just look the other way--when they do. And they seem to believe that when they have subdued us, and our expectations, they will not need to worry about the damage they have done. The message Chris and I are bringing to buildings: We can't let this happen. If we have already met with you, you know where these conversations have gone. If you have not--one key piece of that conversation is that we MUST escalate our campaign. For now, that means making our campaign more public facing. And that means we need our members to attend the October 23 rally and march. This week, once again, we had a great turnout at the school committee meeting. Tamika Olszewski's proclamations that the school committee is bargaining in good faith sound more hollow each week she utters them. Meanwhile, as our members--and our students--speak their truths in public comment, they continue to put the school committee to shame. Next Monday, October 23, we need to show the school committee, the mayor, and all of Newton the power of our union, united and determined to win this campaign, whatever it takes. Join us on October 23! In solidarity, Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association (Because members found last week's negotiations update and information on the city budget surplus helpful, I have included them once more in this update. They are unchanged. If you have not yet read them, please do.)
Negotiations/Mediation Update Where do we stand in mediation? School Committee on COLAs
NTA on COLAs
Regarding Unit C COLAs, the school committee continues to emphasize with the mediator that NPS paraprofessionals on the top of the scale are currently the highest paid paraprofessionals in the state.
The NTA points out to the mediator that paraprofessionals throughout the state are grossly underpaid, that the NPS is still unable to fill large numbers of paraprofessional positions, that retention rates remain abysmal, and that paraprofessionals in general must be highly skilled to do their jobs well. For these and other reasons, the NTA continues to advocate for improvements in working conditions and wages for Unit C.
In addition to COLAs, the school committee has proposed what they are calling a one time $500 "retention bonus" for employees who work 175 days during both this school year and the next school year. We have countered that this is not really a "retention" bonus so much as an "attendance" bonus.
The school committee continues to ask us to accept their full package of proposals and counterproposals, which they have modified slightly, and they continue to reject the proposals remaining in our package.
The highlights of the school committee package are:
educators return the Monday before Labor Day, and work three professional days w/out pay increase;
students return before before Labor Day;
educators work one additional professional day during school year w/out pay increase (modified from SC original proposal of two additional professional days);
psychologists increase work year from 185 to190 days per year w/out pay increase;
drop a half step off the bottom of Unit C salary schedule each year of contract (counter proposal to NTA proposal (see below);
limit number of sick days for first and second year educators;
restrict access to sick leave bank for first and second year educators;
limit number of days that can be granted from sick leave bank for all members;
shift health insurance costs to employees:
increase employee premium contribution rate for PPO plan;
increase deductible from $250/$500 to $400/$800 per year;
increase "retail" (minute clinic) and urgent care co-pays from $5 and $10 respectively to $20;
restrict eligibility of children of NTA employees to attend NPS if enrolling these children requires opening another classroom;
modify Time and Learning agreements (SC is no longer calling for the elimination of these agreements, but they want to increase number of duties at all levels and set a required arrival and departure time for high school educators.)
Highlights of NTA proposals are:
dropping two full steps from the bottom of Unit C salary schedules over three years;
increasing Unit C hours to match Unit A members' work schedules;
increasing Unit D (ISS) part time pay rates (we have reached agreement with SC on increasing 5 day per week pay rates);
increasing and making equal longevity payments across units;
increasing elementary preparation time;
providing adequate substitute coverage;
increasing parental leave paid days from 40 to 60;
minimum of one full time regular education social worker in every elementary school to provide educators support they need with students.
"Supporting" the Newton Public Schools In her October 6 email to the community, Mayor engages in nothing more than posturing. In August, she proposed to the City Council a "stabilization fund" that would gradually add funding to the NPS budget, beginning next year with a small amount, which would increase slightly each year. These funds come from the "Overlay" account, money that the City had set aside because it had an unresolved dispute with Eversource concerning the amount of taxes they were required to pay. Mayor Fuller's proposal has met with stiff resistance from City Council, led by Councilor Bill Humphries, largely because the proposal does not address the NPS immediate and acute needs, and because in addition to these "Overlay" account funds the city has another $29 million dollars in free cash--essentially a surplus from last year's budget. This surplus follows an almost equal surplus last year. Two years of budget surpluses plus two years of school cuts don't add up. Apparently Mayor Fuller is afraid people are beginning to do the math, hence her most recent email, emphasizing how she intends to put school needs first. Let's look at what she says: "Here in Newton, residents, parents, and business owners understand that Newton Public Schools are the bedrock of our community. Many of us moved here and paid a premium for our homes or our rent, and did so happily because of the Newton Public Schools." True enough Mayor Fuller. You should add that Newton's educators are the bedrock of these schools, and that the residents, parents, and business owners know that. And they also know that you have shortchanged the schools. "Together we have faced difficult times during the past three years – a pandemic, isolation, social/emotional health challenges, learning loss, job losses, inflationary cost pressures, and concerns about flooding, heat waves and global warming. We were fortunate to benefit from millions of dollars of federal funds and we have tried to use those wisely as we recover, rebound, and reinvest in our community." All true, Mayor Fuller. And yet, of the $63 million dollars you received in ARPA funds, you only directed $13 million of those dollars directly towards the Newton Public Schools. If indeed the schools are the Newton's bedrock, how do you explain your funding priorities? And how do you expect the schools to recover from "a pandemic, isolation, social/emotional health challenges, learning loss, job losses, inflationary cost pressures, and concerns about flooding, heat waves and global warming" if you do not make them a priority in how you allocate resources? "Fortunately, the City’s bank account has also benefitted recently from the resolution of several large property tax legal challenges. As a result, we now have one-time tax overlay funds available in the amount of $26 million. This amount of tax overlay funds is truly unprecedented and therefore we cannot expect this level of annual funding going forward." Actually, this amount of additional funding is neither one-time, nor unprecedented. The legal challenge that Eversource has withdrawn means not only that the City of Newton will now have this $26 million dollars available, it will also be able to direct Eversource's current and future tax payments of $3.5 million dollars per year into its Operating Budget instead of the Overlay account. These are recurring funds that could also be directed to the Newton Public Schools. Moreover, for the last two years, the City of Newton has run a surplus of nearly $29 million dollars, almost all of which can be counted on as recurring funds because they result from underestimating city revenues and overestimating city expenses. Let's put all this in perspective. For the 2022-2023 school year, the schools had a $5 million deficit. For this school year, they had another $5 million deficit. Yet both years, the city ran a surplus of nearly $29 million. This year the city had an additional surplus from the Overlay account of $26 million. And during these years the Mayor hoarded $50 million of the $63 million the City of Newton received from federal ARPA funds for municipal investments. Simple math: Over the past two years, the schools have a $10 million deficit. Over this same two year period, the City collects and hoards $134 million more than it anticipates. People are doing the math, Mayor Fuller. You do not value the schools, and you do not value the educators who are the bedrock of our schools. Members of the school committee, wise up. You are conspiring with the enemy. To the city council, reject Mayor Fuller's proposal for a "stabilization" fund for the schools. It is no more than a smoke screen, and not a very good one at that. And to councilor Humphries, thank you for recognizing this, and making the schools' cause your cause.
Campaign Actions and Timeline
Over the month of October and into November 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 rally and 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 above for an explanation of why these surplus funds can and should be used to fund the NPS.)
We shared the petitions with building representatives at last 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 mediation sessions as silent observers. We filled our quota of fifteen silentobserversat our last mediation session, so we increased it to twenty-five to make space available for others to attend. The next mediation session is October 25, at 4:00 in room 210 in the Ed Center. Sign up here.
4. Members and community allies to canvass supporters in Newton to share information about our contract campaign. Details to follow later.
5. 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.