How arbitration decision may affect Newton’s FY2025 school budget remains unclear

What impact could a recent arbitration decision requiring more kindergarten classroom support staff in Newton have on the school budget?

No one knows yet. To comply, the district would need to come up with $900,000 or possibly make cuts to that budget. And the decision is in the appeals process, so there’s no way to know anything yet.

“I will be operating as if we have to follow through on this, as it’s part of our contract,” Superintendent Anna Nolin said. “It is unclear what a legal appeal means to the budget at this time.”

What happened

According to a statement from the current School Committee, a prior School Committee worked out a contract with the Newton Teachers Association that included every kindergarten classroom with more than 14 students be staffed with a full-time aide, to ease the city’s transition to full-day kindergarten in 2019.

Then last year, after a tightening of school budgets and a rejection of a tax levy override to offset the budget shortfall, the district recommended cuts to programs and staff, including some kindergarten aides. The new plan had teacher aides in all classrooms with 22 kids or more instead. This saved the district about $900,000.

This year, the district and the NTA signed a new four-year contract after a 16-month negotiation and a two-week strike.

But on April 24, an arbitrator issued an award regarding that former agreement with that prior School Committee, ordering the Newton Public Schools to put a full-time aide in every classroom with 14 kids or more.

What could happen

The School Committee plans to appeal the decision “on legal grounds that the arbitrator exceeded his authority,” the committee’s statement reads.

School Committee Chair Chris Brezski said that if the district loses the appeal and has to comply, that money for those added aides would have to come to the district incrementally from the city or from elsewhere in the FY2025 school budget.

“There’s the appeal itself, which is really an acute legal issue, and then there’s the budget and priority issue,” Brezski said. “The budget we passed, we believe, represents the most acute needs of the district.”

What could the arbitrator’s decision do to the recently signed contract? Generally, it’s possible to change or renegotiate part of a contract without tearing the whole thing up, Brezski said, but he’s leaving that discussion to lawyers.

“That starts to get into legal nuance, the enforceability of that provision in a contract, and that’s what this is all about,” Brezski said.