Earlier this Spring, the Newton School Committee made the decision to violate their Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) with the Newton Teachers Association by cutting Kindergarten Teaching Assistants for the 2023-2024 school year. The contract requires the district to staff every kindergarten classroom which has 14 or more students with a full time teaching assistant. The contract further sets out what hours those teaching assistants will be scheduled. (Unit A Memorandum of Agreement 2019-2020.pdf, page 22).
Kindergarten teaching assistants have been notified that the position has been reduced next year. This results in some KTAs being “released” at the end of this school year, some having their hours reduced, and some being reassigned to different positions. There will not be a single kindergarten classroom with a full time teaching assistant come September under the district’s current plans.
Within our CBA there is a grievance procedure. The purpose of the grievance process is to allow the union to bring an issue to the attention of the school system. There are several steps to the process, which gives the district two or three opportunities (depending on the nature of the grievance) to correct the error without the necessity for arbitration.
On March 28, 2023, we presented our grievance alleging violation of the collective bargaining agreement directly to the Director of Human Resources and sought the following remedies:
Reinstate Unit C Kindergarten Aide positions so as to comply with the contract.
Return any Unit C Kindergarten Aides who were laid off to the reinstated positions.
Return any Unit C Kindergarten Aides who were reassigned to other Unit C positions to a Kindergarten Aide position.
Make Unit C members who suffered any loss of earnings due to this violation whole, including, but not limited to, the payment of back pay to recover any loss of earnings suffered due to layoff or transfer of assignment that resulted in a pay differential.
We also stated our intent to hold fast to the timelines of the process:
The NTA plans to hold firm to timelines regarding this grievance:
If not resolved within 14 days of this presentation of the grievance at Step 2 (April 11), the NTA will immediately move the grievance to Step 3;
If not resolved within 20 days of the School Committee’s receipt of the grievance at Step 3 (May 12), the NTA will immediately refer the unsettled grievance to arbitration.
Finally, we told them that the “NTA is open to moving this grievance to an expedited arbitration process if the parties conclude that this would be most judicious.” An agreement to expedite the arbitration process by the School Committee, we thought, would be in the best interests of all of us. We thought this true especially because we did not anticipate that the School Committee would change their position on this issue. Requiring the NTA to jump through procedural hoops in order to move this to arbitration would be solely for the purpose of delaying the ultimate resolution. The School Committee, however, did not respond to this offer.
As anticipated, first the Director of Human Resources and then the Negotiations Subcommittee of the Newton School Committee denied the NTA’s grievance. Following these denials, the NTA filed its Demand for Arbitration.
Last week we received notice of assignment of an arbitrator, and this week we received the hearing date: October 19, 2023. While that feels like, and is, a long way off, it is much sooner than we anticipated.
With this date, we can anticipate a decision from the arbitrator prior to the end of the calendar year. If we are successful, which we think we will be, that will mean that the district will need to reinstate full time Kindergarten Teaching Assistants midway through the 2023-2024 school year. If we win all that we’ve asked for in our remedy, they will also need to “make whole” any employees who suffered financially as a result of their violation of the contract.
Of course, a grievance can always be settled before it goes to arbitration, and if Newton Public Schools were to assign each Kindergarten class with 14 or more students a full time teaching assistant at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year in compliance with the contract, they would be able to avoid the cost of this arbitration.
Parents, staff, and community members: do not stop advocating for the restoration of kindergarten aides!
Anna Nolin, our new superintendent, starts on July 1. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell Mayor Ruthanne Fuller to fix The Kindergarten Funding Problem.