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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin, September 7, 2020

I hope that you have all had some time to enjoy this wonderful Labor Day Weekend. The weather could not have been more cooperative. I know we all carry the weight of our respective worries, whether that be concerns about health and safety in the buildings, or childcare, or teaching remotely again, or providing direct services, or wondering whether our roles will be better defined this year.  In normal times, before entering our seventh month of this awful pandemic, we would be looking forward with pleasure, excitement, and trepidation to greeting students as they returned across the district tomorrow. Now, on top of our respective worries, we all also carry the sadness of missing the normalcy of those first days with new students.  We always anticipate students' crazy, wonderfully chaotic energy, their nervousness, their laughter and impishness, their fears and tears. We always look forward to the wonder of seeing students we haven't seen in three months and marveling at how much they have grown. We look forward to greeting a new class, or classes, of students, to getting a new start, a chance to do it better this time. We look forward to that necessary jolt of energy students give us to pull us out of our summer respite, to get us back into the groove for a new and exciting school year. Some--much--of that will happen this year too, in different ways. But there is also sadness for what we are losing, and that weighs on and darkens these days, however sunny. I hope that everything we do as a union helps you feel safer--gives you some emotional safe space--to experience the multiple and varied pleasures of welcoming students back to whatever extent possible. Without that, your jobs are impossible. Negotiations Update As you are aware, we voted on a number of demands at our General Membership Meeting. We met with the School Committee on Wednesday last week, and they presented us with a comprehensive proposal, and we saw movement on some of the critical issues. We have made progress. We will not win everything we would like, or that we demanded, but we have made progress. Over the weekend, the NTA Negotiations Team has been preparing our response and counter-proposal to theirs. It's a critical time. We have to settle this quickly, and we have to be thorough, and attentive to detail.  Here is the big picture, based on those five demands: 1. Surveillance testing. We have not reached an agreement, but we have heard a willingness to consider some surveillance testing in a targeted fashion.  2. Contract for an Outside Review HVAC in NPS buildings slated to reopen. The district has purchased a machine to test the amount of cubic feet of fresh air that their HVAC system circulates in a room. They have contracted with an outside contractor to do sample testing, using that contractor's own machine of the same type. The contractor will test three rooms in three buildings: NECP, Lincoln-Eliot, and Franklin. The NPS will use their machine to test those same spaces, and calibrate their equipment and their methods to make sure their results are correct. They will follow ASHRAE standard metrics to determine whether air circulation is adequate. They will do this testing to supplement the other preparatory work they have done this summer, including ordering MERV level 13 filters, and purchasing some portable HEPA air purifiers. 3. Policies and protocols to protect the staff and students: NTA proposes that more accountability measures, including fuller administrative support for educators, be part of the mask policy. We propose that PPE be made available not just when the district deems it appropriate, but when members ask for it.  Moreover, we have a verbal agreement that the NTA and NPS form a Labor/Management Committee to the craft the NPS protocol for "Response to COVID-19 Cases." To date, NTA has recruited a committee, and, Jill Murray and I are working on a draft proposal for the committee to review and revise. It is an ambitious goal, but we want this protocol operative, if not completely polished, before schools open.  4. Keep students and staff in small, truly separate cohorts that allow for quarantine and isolation in the event of positive COVID cases in a building. We are including language to this effect in our counterproposal. We hope it is in a form in which the district and the NTA can come to an agreement.  5. School staff receive three hours during the ten planning days to form NTA health and safety teams. The clock is ticking on this...but we have proposed time for members to do this.  Meanwhile, Chris Walsh has created a Google Form for members to use to document health and safety concerns in their buildings. Click here. (We will post this form on our website, and it will be at the top of all of our emails this year as a banner you can click to communicate concerns.) Other issues we are bargaining:

  • requirements for being in the buildings;

  • stipends for athletics and extra-curricular activities, should any of these go forward;

  • clearer roles for Unit C members in remote and hybrid models

  • increasing stipend amount for members who have been or will be involuntarily transferred;

  • additional sick days for staff, with encouragement for members to stay home when symptomatic;

  • leave policy when quarantined--no use of sick days;

  • staffing levels of special education teachers during the year;

  • in high needs programs, setting a floor for staffing levels the district must meet before opening to students;

  • implementing an expedited dispute resolution process during crisis;

  • input on decisions, and metrics for deciding when to shift from hybrid to remote learning or back due to pandemic conditions;

  • small adjustments to middle and high school remote schedules (only adjustments that would not impact ongoing planning)

We are, effectively, renegotiating broad swaths of our collective bargaining agreements under extremely tight timelines. It's hard, but we have a great team doing this work: me, Chris Walsh, Jamie Rinaldi, Sue Cohen, Lynn Penczar, Liz Simpson, Elizabeth Ross del Porto, and, from the MTA, Jason Leto and Martin Hernandez, and we are supported by our fantastic Executive Committee.  Building Safety Committees If you are interested in joining a building safety Committee, please contact your building rep. And don't forget, if you need to report a concern in your building, please do so following all the normal protocols you would, but also record the problem with us using this NTA Health and Safety Concerns Form Meetings/Actions this week Newton Public School parents have organized an #ONLYWHENITSSAFE caravan in support of the NTA positions on health and safety. They would love to have educators there to support them supporting us! The School Committee meets this Thursday, at 7:00. The topic will be health and safety. Zoom meeting link: Call-in information:  1-646-558-8656 Call-in meeting ID: 390 017 072 Vote of No Confidence in David Fleishman This certainly was a controversial vote, no question, and I received many emails on both sides of the issue. Frankly, the wording in the polling was confusing, what with the double negatives (I agree that we do not have confidence...etc.) and I think the number of participants was lower than it could have been.  That said, the results remained fairly consistent in the various iterations of the poll. With about half of NTA members weighing in, a little over 70% do not have confidence in David's leadership.  Some members wrote to me concerned that this put too much responsibility on David Fleishman's shoulders, and not enough on the School Committee's. Others were just unsettled and unhappy about the confrontational approach.  On the other side, I heard from many who remain so concerned about how things are going that they wish the NTA had made a stronger statement, or taken a stronger action than a vote of no confidence.  I do not want to put a conciliatory or an adversarial spin on these poll results, nor these varied opinions about even doing the poll. They can be, and are, all true. The poll results reflect a genuine sentiment about the leadership in the Newton Public Schools on the part of all who answered, however they answered. The opinions I have heard about conducting the poll represent genuine sentiments about the fact that the NTA took this poll, which some found deeply concerning in its confrontational tenor, and others deeply inadequate. Both are also true. I genuinely believe that.  We are all in a hard position. Right now, in my wish to be neither conciliatory, nor adversarial, I express my hope that during the next week, we all--David Fleishman, the School Committee, NTA leadership, and all the members of the NTA--find our way to an agreement that will allow us to go forward: safer, better prepared, more united.

"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike  


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