Fuller: ‘Get the kids back in the classroom’ [Video]

As Newton Teachers Association leaders and school district officials sat holed up in a bargaining room and thousands of supporters of the NTA gathered in front of City Hall, chanting slogans aimed at Mayor Ruthanne Fuller—the union’s main adversary in the ongoing teacher contract battle—Fuller stood in front of her office and urged the union to call off its strike.

“We believe deeply that out children belong in their classrooms, and that’s why strikes are illegal in Massachusetts,” Fuller said.

The Commonwealth Employment Relations Board issued a cease-and-desist order to the NTA on Thursday night, but the NTA did not call off the strike.

“Here in Newton, we deeply value education, we care about our children, and we love our teachers.” Fuller said. “All of us are committed to competitive salaries and a sustainable budget.”

Fuller said a contract must be responsible and not one that results in layoffs. But when asked whether or not the NTA’s demands would result in school staff layoffs, she didn’t outright say yes or no.

“We have to have a budget that we can afford and that is sustainable,” Fuller repeated,

The NTA, in addition to City Councilor and Finance Committee member Bill Humphrey, insist that there is enough money in the city’s coffers to meet the NTA’s demands—an idea Fuller scoffed at.

They point to the $46 million surplus the mayor announced last summer, which she proposed be put into a a stabilization account to be allocated over eight years rather than spend it on the schools now. The City Council rejected that proposal, with many saying they wanted more money going to the schools now and not doled out over eight years.

“I wish there were even more moneys just sitting there in a closet waiting to be deployed,” she said. “Sometimes we’ve had one-time moneys, we’ve allocated them, and we’ve always prioritized the Newton public schools.”

Fuller wouldn’t go into detail about any “wiggle room” she thinks she has left in bargaining with the NTA.

“That will all be worked out at the negotiating table,” she said. “We encourage the NTA to stop the illegal strike, get the kids back in the classroom, and have the adults at the negotiating table figuring out a competitive and sustainable contract.”

As of Friday night, a deal had not been reached and Newton teachers remained on strike.

A court order from Superior Court on Friday ordered that the strike stop and that teachers must return to the classroom on Monday.

“If the negotiations over the weekend do not lead to a settled contract or the NTA chooses to ignore the Judge’s order and continues its strike on Monday, the Superior Court has set a hearing for Monday, January 22 at noon,” the mayor wrote in an announcement Friday evening.