by Hana Futai, Justin Liu & Ellie Shim
Aug. 31 marked the end of a three-year contract, but the Newton School Committee and the Newton Teachers Association (NTA) have yet to finalize a new one.
On Sept. 5, the School Committee filed a petition with the Department of Labor Relations to investigate the NTA for possible strike actions.
The Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (CERB) conducted an investigation and found the NTA’s Aug. 30 boycott of an opening day event at South violated Massachusetts’ no strike policy; however, they found that silent meetings and other NTA-led practices were compliant.
After the CERB announced their decision, NTA President Mike Zilles said that they will continue to push back against the School Committee and focus on raising more community awareness.
“We’re going to continue asking members to not volunteer for voluntary activities in the schools,” he said. ”We are going to continue reaching out to the public by attending School Committee meetings.”
School Committee member Chris Brezski said that he hopes both sides will move past the complications to settle on an agreement.
“[We need to] recognize that this institution exists to educate kids. We have to put whatever hard feelings are behind us and move forward towards that mission,” he said.
Zilles said that the NTA’s boycott should not have been considered a strike, and that it was an effective way of bringing NTA members together.
“It shows that our membership was united and willing to engage in an action on the turn of a dime, and it shows the solidarity and the organizational strength of the NTA,” he said.
The School Committee and NTA have not yet settled on the financial aspect of the contract. History teacher and member of South’ Contract Action Team Jamie Rinaldi said that the NTA’s asking price is reasonable.
“What we’re asking for is within the range of what other districts have received in recent contracts,” he said. “We don’t think that we’re asking for an exorbitant amount of money.”
While the NTA argues that the city of Newton has over $30 million in unused cash, School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski said that to maintain the teachers salaries, the city must balance these one-time funds that may not be available in the future.
“It’s a matter of making sure that these funds are year over year, that they’re there and available,” she said. “When those funds dry up, those positions will have to disappear.”
NTA member and transition specialist John Curley said that the city is using the one-time funds as an excuse to underpay teachers.
“They’re setting themselves up for a fiscal problem,” he said. “The money is there, and the city’s priorities are upside down.”
Junior Amelie Hirst said that finding academic support within teacher’s contractual hours has been tedious.
“[Students] are busy and need to talk to teachers. We need some other time to get the help that we need,” she said.
Abiding to work-to-rule action, many teachers have stopped advising clubs. Hirst is co-president of WaterAid International Club (WAI), and said that the negotiations are causing a lack of opportunities for students.
“[Clubs] are struggling to find teacher advisors,” she said. “It’s taken away the ability for students to be a greater part of the South community.”
Superintendent Anna Nolin said that teachers and students need to support each other to make the schools run smoothly.
“We have to teach the academic portions and every kid needs a teacher in front of them,” she said. “It’s not just that teacher that makes the school run, it’s the kids as well.”
Senior Kevin Yang spoke at a School Committee meeting on Sept. 27 to support the NTA. He said that other students should also express show support for their teachers.
“Students should show up to School Committee meetings and converse with their parents about the contract,” he said. “It’s only natural to give back the care and attention that the teachers give us.”
Senior Leah Vashevko said that she has stayed informed with the contract because of the impact teachers have had on her.
“Teachers have been crucial in shaping my life to this day,” she said. “I spend most of my day at school and teachers have shaped the way I feel about the world.”
English teacher and co-chair of the NTA’s Contract Action Team Kelly Henderson urges students to speak out.
“[Teenagers] assume they don’t have any political power because they can’t vote,” she said. “I hope that young folks realize that any kind of change in the world starts with them.”