As negotiation sears in scorching September sun, Nolin tries to lower thermostat

In an email to families celebrating the start of the 2023-2024 academic year, Newton Superintendent Anna Nolin mentioned spending Labor Day weekend trout fishing, kayaking, riding a motorcycle and stacking firewood for the winter.

All that may be less exhausting than the teacher contract negotiation that has stretched into a new school year and has teachers engaged in a “work to rule” action.

“In public discourse and media coverage, it can be implied or interpreted that our current labor negotiations are not productive. I would disagree,” Nolin wrote in Tuesday’s email. “While we come with different lenses and viewpoints, we are all on the same side: wanting what is best for our incredible educators and honoring the tireless work they do day in/day out in service to all of our children. Many valid points are being made and in talking about these different ideas, I truly believe that the best possible solutions will ultimately present themselves.”

Nolin urged parents to see things from both sides by using the word “and.” For example, she wrote, “Teachers work hard AND deserve a strong contract AND the City is experiencing challenges over finances post-failed override,” and also that “teachers showed up to opening day last week at a location of their union’s choosing, worked hard for kids AND there was a disruption to expected trainings in the district.”

“Work to rule” means teachers are only doing the work that involves teaching (instructing, grading, lesson plans, etc.) and not participating in district initiatives or non-teaching work for the district.

On Aug. 30, the first day of school for teachers and staff, the NTA organized a teacher boycott of the convocation ceremony. Attendance for the convocation is usually voluntary, but a couple days before this year’s convocation, Nolin alerted teachers that attendance was “expected.”

After the NTA followed through with their boycott of the event, the School Committee asked the state to investigate that move to see whether it counts as a strike action. It’s illegal for teachers to go on strike in Massachusetts.

The NTA is planning a sign-holding rally outside the Education Center at 7 p.m. on Monday, when the School Committee holds its first meeting of the school year.

And now, Nolin is trying to turn down the heat as negotiations go through state mediation.

“One thing is clear: we have to land in a contractual space where we are not cutting staff to fund contracts,” Nolin continued, “The kids deserve it, the teachers deserve it, our community deserves it. No matter the outcome of our mediation and negotiations, you have my commitment that my focus is on our students and as such, in supporting our staff. I am deeply aware of the special role that our teachers play each and every day in shaping these young minds.”

The main sticking point in negotiations involves teacher pay increases, specifically the pay increase step schedule that dictates how much of an increase teachers get and when each step kicks in.

Complicating things further, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller recently announced $40 million in extra money in the budget, and she’s already decided where the money should go. But the portion she’s set for schools isn’t enough to cover what teachers are asking for, and the School Committee will decide how it’s spent.