What the NTA and NPS are fighting over

The short answer? Money.

The contract negotiations between the Newton Teachers Association and Newton Public Schools have reached boiling point. On Jan. 18, after over a year of negotiations, 98% of NTA membership voted to strike. The action officially began on Jan. 19: all schools were closed and school-related activities were canceled.

Striking is never something taken lightly, especially in Massachusetts where it’s illegal for public sector employees to strike. Though other teachers’ unions have recently won victories after striking, they’ve also received hefty fines.

In recent updates, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has called the move to strike “disturbing.” On Jan. 17, the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board ordered the NTA to cease all strike-related activities, and Fuller beseeched them to do the same.

“Strikes by teachers are illegal because schooling is essential,” she wrote. “Our kids should be in their classrooms learning while the adults negotiate. We call on the NTA to follow the law.”

How did we get here?

So, what is the sticking point? What has led to this impasse? The answer is far from simple, but seems to come down to this:

The NTA believes the district has more than enough funds to finance their proposed contract, if Mayor Fuller makes a growth allocation to the schools from Newton’s $46 million cash surplus. The district is negotiating with the budget they currently have, as well as some recent additional funding.

In December, Mayor Fuller committed to allocating $18.2 million of the city’s surplus cash to the schools, which the district plans to use for several items identified as priorities by the NTA and NPS. Those include “additional social workers and mental health supports for students, reducing high school class sizes and improving coordinated prep time for elementary school teachers,” and increasing the COLA (cost of living adjustment) proposal made to all NTA units.

Though there are a few sticking points on the negotiating table, the ability to fully finance the contract the NTA is fighting for is at the heart of the move to strike. Some of those points include increased COLAs, overall salary increases for some steps, paid leave, and healthcare contributions.

“The city councilors, the School Committee, none of our elected officials are willing to stand up to Mayor Fuller and say: ‘No, fund the schools, Mayor Fuller,’” NTA President Mike Zilles said at a rally following the strike vote on Thursday. “But guess what? The membership of the Newton Teachers Association is standing up for the citizens, the students and the educators of Newton and we are saying: ‘Mayor Fuller, enough is enough.’”

Zilles has been publicly critical of Fuller’s budgetary decisions in blogs posted on the NTA’s website.

“It is equally dismaying that the school committee continues to tell the NTA, and the public that they must work within the budget allocation the mayor has promised them,” he wrote in a Dec. 10 post. “Mayor Fuller has ample resources at her disposal to fund a fair contract for members of the NTA.”

The School Committee has made a new offer regarding pay, and that offer puts Newton in the pay scale ballpark with comparable communities:

Here’s a list of what six other communities pay, with the Newton School Committee’s latest offer included.

Step 1, with a master’s degree, FY26

  • Belmont: $62,746
  • Brookline: $69,178
  • Concord-Carlisle: $68,542
  • Lexington: $64,262
  • Newton School Committee proposal: $67,826
  • Wayland: $61,422
  • Wellesley: $63,869

Top step, with a master’s degree, FY26

  • Belmont: $114,800
  • Brookline: $115,639
  • Concord-Carlisle: $125,560
  • Lexington: $117,617
  • Newton School Committee proposal: $116,274
  • Wayland: $115,119
  • Wellesley: $117,675

Differing city councilor opinions

Before the strike vote was held, city councilors shared a public letter condemning the strike, signed by 22 of the 24 councilors.

“We call for an immediate return to in-person negotiations with all the relevant parties,” the letter reads. “We owe it to our teachers and our students to give our new School Committee leadership a chance on contract negotiations. …We ask the NTA to vote against going on strike – striking hurts those who we all aim to serve most: our students.”

Councilor Bill Humphrey, who did not sign the letter, spoke at a Tuesday rally sharing support for the NTA.

“It’s not the responsibility of the educators to take an effective pay cut against inflation in order to subsidize the level of services that this community wants to provide,” he said. “It is also a moral constitutional right of any worker, individually or organized, to withdraw their labor if necessary as a means of getting a fair contract!”