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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

Tentative Agreements with the School Committee

Dear Colleagues,

I’ve heard from many members regarding the school committee’s original email to parents as well as our NTA response to that email. Since then, the school committee has pushed “send” on yet another, now abbreviated, “negotiations update” to parents, which links to a “full memo.” bargaining update from the Newton School Committee Bargaining Team. The latter contains much the same messaging as the July 20 email, with a couple “tentative agreements” left out, and goes on to further explain some of the claims in the earlier email.

Over 1,000 people from the community have visited our website,, to view our response to their original email. I’ve spoken with two reporters with the Globe, and expect to speak with a third. Articles should follow. The Parent Educator Collaborative also shared our response through their email list. Fig City News published a synopses of the School Committee’s email and ours, with links to the respective documents. With the help of the Collaborative, we will soon disseminate widely a press release. And many of you, and many parents, have spoken up for the NTA on social media pages.

Although we don’t have the ability to simply push send and get our message out to the parent community and the wider Newton Public as the Newton School Committee and Mayor Fuller do, nonetheless we have certainly made our views part of the ongoing community conversations.

You can support us. Post a link to the NTA blog on your social media pages. Write a letter expressing your concern to Mayor Fuller and the Newton School Committee, then share that letter on social media, and share it with me or Chris as well so we can post it here, with other letters/emails of support that people have shared with us.

I have already addressed the school committee’s claims about why they are petitioning the Department of Labor Relations for mediation. In this email, I will examine the School Committee’s misrepresentations on tentative agreements. I will follow this email with two more: one on the school committee’s misrepresentations about COLAs, step increases, and the budget and a second on the school committee’s misrepresentations about our job actions.

Tentative Agreements

The school committee claims they cannot continue to negotiate individual proposals because they must shape their packages to assess the overall impact on their budget of all proposals. So I will note, in all cases, to my best knowledge, the actual budgetary impact of the tentative agreements we did reach or the proposals we have on the table. Do these, as the school committee claims, threaten their bottom line?

(Quotations below in italics are from either the School Committee Bargaining Team July 25 Collective Bargaining Update or the July 20 email from the school committee and the mayor. I specify the source for each claim of a tentative agreement.)

Tentative agreements that we actually have reached.

  • “paying teachers who substitute teach for other absent teachers (vs. canceling classes)” (In both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

This was one of several proposals that the NTA put on the table to address the crisis in coverage that plagues the Newton Public Schools. There simply are not enough substitute teachers, and in the high schools, currently there are none. This tentative agreement will make a small dent in the problem, but there is much to be done still. To more adequately address the problem of coverage, we ask the school committee to reconsider the other proposals we have put on the table that they have rejected.

This agreement will have a minor impact on the budget, because the school committee insisted on an aggregate limit of $75,000 funding per year to agree to the proposal. That total will likely be exhausted quickly, and the middle and high school will then be back where they started regarding substitute coverage.

  • enhancing retirement notice incentives” (In both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

We proposed allowing retiring employees to buy back more of their unused sick days. The school committee counter-proposed, and we agreed to an additional incentive of $500 if people give notice of retirement 6 months in advance and retire at the end of the school year. This will be in addition to the current incentive that gives $500 to people who give four months of notice. This will have a negligible impact on the budget.

  • “clarifying work hours and work from home policies” (in both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

We proposed and reached agreement with the school committee on language that clarifies that Unit E salaried professional support staff cannot regularly be asked to work more than forty hours per week. This impacts about 30 employees. About a half dozen of these employees, with their supervisor’s prior approval, may work some days from home if their work is online. This will have no impact on the school budget(unless the district hires more Unit E employees because they can no longer count on free overtime.)

  • “increasing tuition reimbursement for staff pursuing additional education and recertification” (In both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

We proposed increasing both the overall amount of money set aside for paying tuition reimbursement and the amount an individual employee may be reimbursed. We reached agreement to increase the amount an individual employee may be reimbursed, but we also agreed not to increase the overall budget for tuition reimbursement. (The district currently underspends this allocation.) This will have no impact on the school budget, though it may mean that the amounts members receive will be pro-rated if the cap is reached.

  • “adding Juneteenth for all units as a holiday” (In both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

We added Juneteenth as a holiday to ONE UNIT, Unit E, not ALL units. In the Unit E contract, paid holidays are set out explicitly. Employees in other Units also have Juneteenth off, but as we all know, this does not reduce the school year by a day—it simply pushes the end date for school out by a day. This change will have no impact on the school budget.

  • “expanding the use of sick days for care of a family member or dear friend” (in both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

On this we do indeed have a real tentative agreement on an issue we proposed. Currently employees may use up to eleven of their personal sick days per year to care for a family member or dear friend; the district agreed to expand that to fourteen. It is hard to gauge what, if any, impact this change will have on the school budget.

Claims to tentative agreements that are baseless and misleading

  • enhancing parental leave benefits” (In both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

We do NOT have a tentative agreement on this. The school committee rejected our proposal to increase the number of paid parent leave days, and proposed a very minor change to the current policy as part of their full package, a change which would have no impact on the budget.

The total yearly cost of our proposal would be approximately $700,000, which is nearly the same cost as adding a four tenths percent cost of living adjustment to our salaries.

  • “providing a scale and mechanism for substitute coverage and substitute pay advancement.” (in both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

We do NOT have a tentative agreement on this. At one point we got close, but then the district refused to reach any further tentative agreements, insisting that they would only proceed by packaging all of their proposals together and asking us to reject or accept the entire package. The cost of this proposal would be approximately $200,000 per year, or possibly more, because it would incentivize more substitutes to work in the Newton Public Schools, and the district might fill all allocated positions.

  • “providing avenues for paraprofessional pay advancement” (in both the July 20 email and the July 25 Negotiations Update)

The NTA has a number of proposals on the table to “provide avenues for paraprofessional pay advancement.” In fact, we do not have a tentative agreement on any of these. We were close to a tentative agreement on one, but the school committee rejected our counter-proposal, and never returned to the topic. They have rejected all other proposals we have put on the table to provide those “avenues.”

To put this in perspective, the district was unable to fill over 100 paraprofessional positions this year. For every aide position the district is not able to fill, there is a student with unmet needs. This burdens both classroom teachers and special education teachers, who try to meet those needs as best they can. But to be clear, when an aide is called for in a student’s IEP, and there is no aide, the district is violating this child’s right to a free and appropriate public education.

Our proposals to provide avenues for pay advancement do have significant budgetary implications—approximately one million dollars--but together that cost would be less than a cost of living adjustment of 6/10 of one percent in one year of the contract. There would also be the additional cost of actually hiring educational support professionals to fill the many positions that have been going vacant the last couple of years, but paying for these positions is actually already budgeted, even though the district does not spend those funds.

  • "piloting expanded elementary preparatory time while studying how we can make further improvements to the elementary school day"

We have a tentative agreement to form a labor management group to study the elementary school day.

But the claim that we have a tentative agreement to pilot expanded elementary preparatory time is quite misleading. When bargaining our 2019 contract, the school committee agreed to budget $100,000 to experiment with expanding elementary teacher preparation time. Next year the district will run a pilot to expand elementary teacher preparation time to 220 minutes in five elementary schools.

That’s not a tentative agreement, it’s a done deal, and the current school committee had no part in negotiating it. There are no budgetary implications, because the funds are already allocated.

We do have a proposal on the table to expand elementary preparation time following this model. The school committee has rejected that proposal. Based on the cost of the current pilot, one can see approximately the budgetary implications of expanding that model to the other ten elementary schools(though a number of the schools piloting the expansion are small, so the cost would be more than three times the cost of the pilot.)

“protecting Newton staff’s benefit to bring their own children to school in NPS” (In only the July 20 email; removed from the July 25 Negotiations Update)

We do not have a tentative agreement on this, and claiming so may have been the most brazen lie the school committee told.

First of all, the members of the NTA currently have a right to bring their children to the NPS schools, and that right is well-protected, both contractually and by law. The contract states that, once accepted, a student whose parent is a non-resident employee may remain in the schools until they graduate, provided their parent remains an employee. The law protects their children’s right to a free and equal public education if they have special needs, that is, to not face discrimination if they have a disability. and receive services if required.

The school committee has tried to roll back those protections, proposing language that would allow them to send employees’ children back to their home district should they require certain kinds of special education services. That would hardly make members feel more protected—it would make them feel like they could not ask for services their children need and to which they are entitled by federal and state law, for fear that the NPS would then send their children packing. This would be discriminatory and illegal. We have made clear many times that we will not accept language that would imply the district has the right to discriminate against NTA members’ children. Why would the NTA ever agree to language in the contract that would make us complicit in discrimination?

The school committee has also proposed charging a materials fee of approximately $2,000 per child. This is reflected in their wish to rename the contract Article providing this benefit from “Tuition Free Attendance” to “Children of Non-Resident NTA Members Attending Newton Public Schools.” The school committee did remove the proposal to charge a fee in their last “package proposal,” but since we rejected that package, their original proposal to charge that fee still stands.

Not only is it incredibly misleading to suggest that we have reached a tentative agreement when we have not, it is egregiously misleading to suggest that they have agreed with us to“protect Newton staff members’ benefit,” when they are in fact trying to make that benefit tenuous and cost prohibitive.

It is difficult to say what the budgetary impact of this proposal would be. It would likely slash the number of NTA members who bring their children to Newton, so the district wouldn’t even necessarily collect that much in fees. Rather, they seem to want to deeply cut the costs associated with educating NTA members’ children. They have not shared with us what those are, likely because to do so would make it abundantly clear that their intention is to save money by discriminating against children with special needs by sending them back to their home district rather than providing them with services.

Though the school committee did remove this so-called tentative agreement from their July 26 update, they did not inform the public they were retracting their previous claim. It simply did not appear in their more recent update, without explanation for its removal. Nor has Mayor Fuller sent out a correction to the original email she shared with the entire Newton community. So there are probably lots of people who believe that the committee is troubling itself to “protect Newton staff’s benefit to bring their own children to school in NPS.” Hardly.

  • “creating a teacher evaluation committee to revise current system” (In only the July 20 email; removed from the July 25 Negotiations Update)

We do not have a tentative agreement on this. We have said we would agree to creating a teacher evaluation committee if they would agree to revising the timelines for members who are put on directed growth plans or improvement plans in order to help them address concerns earlier. And we have said that before we create a new committee, they first must agree to incorporate into the Handbook for Evaluation the changes recommended by the previous two teacher evaluation committees. We see no point in forming another teacher evaluation committee if we are not going to incorporate the recommendations of prior committees.

This proposal would have no budgetary impact. There is certainly no financial reason why we could not move forward to reach a tentative agreement on these proposals.

Next: COLAs, Step Increases, and the Budget

In solidarity,

Mike Zilles


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