by Andrew Feinberg and Hana Futai
Since Nov. 21, 2022, the Newton School Committee and the Newton Teachers Association (NTA) have been negotiating a new teacher contract, as the current contract expires on Aug. 31, marking the conclusion of a three-year contract.
The contract itself is an agreement between the School Committee and NTA, which poses mutual rules between the two sides and determines the baseline salaries for teachers and staff.
In the July 20 negotiation meeting between the NTA and the School Committee, the School Committee declared the negotiations to be at an impasse, which the NTA did not agree to settle on. The School Committee later submitted a request to the state for mediation and on Aug. 21, the state Department of Labor Relations appointed a mediator.
NTA President and Chair of the negotiations team Mike Zilles said the School Committee’s lack of compromise led to the NTA’s decision to not join the School Committee in acknowledging negotiations are in a deadlock.
“We believe the district is not negotiating in good faith,” he said. “They’ve hired a very aggressive attorney who has essentially taken over and is running the negotiations now.”
School Committee Vice Chair and Co-chair of its negotiations team Kathy Shields said she and the School Committee are working to reach terms on a deal.
“We’re hard at work trying to get a deal done,” she said. ”We’ve asked for the assistance of the state in doing that, and we hope that process will be effective.”
Despite efforts towards an agreement, Shields said that ongoing budget cuts have posed a conflict to closing the deal, as the district has had to cut teacher positions.
“One of the biggest issues we’ve been dealing with over the last couple of years is having to cut positions each year, which I don’t think is good for students or teachers because it creates an aura of uncertainty about people’s job stability and prospects,” she said.
Treasurer of the NTA and member of the negotiations team Christine Walsh also said that the waning budget is a big problem in the negotiations that needs to be tackled.
“The amount of money that has been allocated to the schools has not been enough to cover the costs of running the Newton Public Schools,” she said.
While both Shields and Walsh can agree that budgets are a big concern in NPS, during an NTA rally in June, Zilles said that Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has not been cooperative when it comes to giving money to Newton Public Schools (NPS).
“The mayor ran a $28.8 million surplus in her budget this year and NPS had a $4.5 million deficit,” he said. “The math is pretty simple. She is not funding the schools.”
In the NTA’s official negotiation updates blog, Zilles said the NTA will protest through a modified work-to-rule action to express the NTA’s frustration with the negotiation process thus far.
A typical work-to-rule action indicates that teachers and staff only report for their contractual hours and do not work outside of that time. In this modified version, teachers would grade and prepare outside of the contractual day; however, they would not be able to schedule extra help for students during contractual hours unless absolutely necessary.
Eighth grade English teacher at Brown Middle School Rebecca Cohen said this plan will demonstrate the volume of work teachers do outside of their contract.
“I have hours and hours of grading regularly. I know that that’s part of my job, but I also know that it’s really important for people to actually understand how much extra teachers put in,” she said.
South English teacher Alan Reinstein said the protest would take away from the aspects of the job he enjoys. His recent withdrawal from overseeing South’s quarterly “Passin’ Time” is an example of his commitment toward the cause.
“I love putting together Passin’ Time, meeting with students and working in the evening. I don’t know how I’m going to manage if there is work to rule action,” he said.
Meanwhile, School Committee member Cove Davis said that high school students will be affected the most by the protest.
“The impact [of the work-to-rule protest] is going to be felt most at the high school level because they are the ones that are able to stay after school,” she said. “That’s just unfortunate.”
Cohen said that although there is still work that needs to be done before a deal is agreed upon, both sides are ultimately working toward the same end goal.
“We are all in this to have the schools be better for kids, for teachers and for families,” she said. “I believe that NPS is wonderful and we just need to continue to advocate for the things that we can do to make them even stronger.”