Newton School Committee seeks state mediation in teachers’ union talks

Contract negotiations between the Newton Teachers Association and the Newton School Committee are heating up, as the School Committee has requested mediation from the state and the teachers’ union has talked about a possible work slowdown this fall.

“It is the School Committee’s position that after 10 months and 18 collective bargaining sessions, negotiations have reached an impasse,” the School Committee posted in a memo on its website after its most recent negotiation meeting last week.

The big sticking point seems to be money—specifically, future pay raises and how pay schedules work.

“When the School Committee’s budget grows at a rate of more than 3.5% per year, we are forced to seek additional sources of funding such as the recent operating override, which voters rejected, or to make cuts in staff, programs and services,” the memo reads. “One of the School Committee’s guiding principles in these contract negotiations, therefore, is to make sure that the rate of growth of the salaries and benefits specified in the contracts does not exceed 3.5% each year.”

But Newton Teachers Association President Mike Zilles wrote on that organization’s blog that cost-of-living pay raise details haven’t even been discussed.

“The school committee has no proposal on the table to reduce the amount of compensation awarded in each step increase, and the NTA has no proposal on the table to increase the compensation awarded in each step increase,” Zilles wrote. “The only proposal on the table is to move the anniversary date for when the step increase is awarded back from December to September. The cost of moving the anniversary date back one month is $180,000. The cost of a 1% COLA is nearly ten times that much.”

In a subsequent blog post, Zilles discusses the possibility for a “work to rule” slowdown this fall. “Work to rule” refers to when teachers do only what they are contractually required and nothing more, to slow productivity. It’s not quite a strike, but it follows a similar spirit.

“In summary, we would like members to not volunteer to do anything outside of contractual hours to the extent possible, nor to volunteer for added responsibilities during contractual hours,” Zilles wrote. “In short, please do not volunteer for anything that is not in the service of your direct professional and contractual responsibilities to your students.”

So the School Committee has thrown up its hands and asked the state to step in and help with mediation before the school year begins in a few weeks.

“Mediation is not an adversarial process,” the School Committee memo continues. “To the contrary, the state mediator works with both parties to try to find a pathway to agreement. In most cases, mediation is successful in helping school districts and unions reach an agreement.”

Negotiations have reached tentative agreements, according to the School Committee memo, in other areas including:

  • A pay system for teachers who substitute teach for other teachers
  • Increased parental leave benefits
  • Increased tuition reimbursement for education and re-certification
  • More paths for advancement for paraprofessionals
  • Juneteenth added as a paid holiday for all units

Teachers and staff are set to return to school on Aug. 30, with students starting the 2023-2024 academic year on Sept. 5.