Updated: Oct 10
Dear Colleagues, Below please find a negotiations update, as well as a rebuttal of Mayor Fuller's claim, in her October 6 community email, to be offering additional funding to the NPS, along with an account of the large amount of funds she has available to her. (I include this link to the city website where Mayor Fuller posts her email updates. Note that as of today, she has not yet posted the email she sent out on October 6, though it should appear soon.) Finally, I include our action plan for October. 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 to 190 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 Fuller 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 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 the next school committee meeting at 6:30 this 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 October 25, at 4:00 in room 210 in the Ed Center. 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 had planned for a General Membership Meeting in early November, but that does not seem like the best way to reach out to all members right now. These building based meetings will be closed union meetings for members only. The agenda will be much as a General Membership meeting would be. Because of the smaller setting, we will have more opportunity for an interactive dialogue regarding the items on the agenda:
Status of contract negotiations
The urgency of the situation we are facing
What we are willing to do collectively to push for what we need in a contract
We look forward to seeing you.
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.
In solidarity, Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association