Strike Update: Progress at the table, pandemonium at the presser

Negotiations between the Newton Teachers Association and the School Committee made some progress throughout the day Monday, according to both sides of the bargaining table.

But on Monday night, parents who showed up at the Education Center for an update wound up in a confrontation with an advisor from the Massachusetts Teachers Association that led to union members physically blocking the door to their own press conference.

It started routinely enough…

The NTA announced that they would have a press conference on Monday night at 7:30 p.m.—similar to almost every evening since the strike started on Jan. 19—to update the media on the negotiations.

The NTA has held its nightly press conferences outside the Education Center. But when camera crews were all set up outside Monday, an advisor from the Massachusetts Teachers Association walked outside and invited the camera crews and reporters inside.

At that time, several parents walked in with reporters and quietly stood in the back of the room where the press conference was to be held. Some made small talk with the cameramen, others quietly stood staring at their phones.

And then…

Scott McLennan of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, who was there helping with negotiations, asked a couple of the parents who they were. The parents objected to the questioning and the MTA staffer left.

McLennan returned a few minutes later saying the NTA was trying to find an alternate location because they didn’t want uninvited people disrupting the press conference, and then off he went again.

That’s when Newton resident Fran Yerardi stepped up to the podium and commandeered the press conference for the parents in the room.

“There’s a group of parents here that want to know why the kids aren’t back in school, and the Mass Teachers Association is trying to kick the parents out of this building that the parents pay for,” Yerardi said to reporters, accusing the MTA of trying to push an “agenda” through with the NTA strike.

Trying again

Then, the NTA decided to relocate the press conference to a different room, their meeting room at the end of a long hallway, where only invited attendees could get in.

This went about as well as could be expected.

Most of the parents stood back but the few who tried to get down the hallway into the new location were stopped and asked for press credentials.

One parent got through the door, but someone on the other side was blocking him with their body. That father turned around and put his hands up to hold himself in the doorway, insisting he was not fighting anyone and was only trying to walk into the room.

Eventually, a woman inside the room said she didn’t feel safe, so the man graciously brought his hands down and left.

The NTA then allowed press in, and the press conference started.

Baby steps in a marathon

Members of the NTA negotiations team spoke and denied any assertions that the MTA was pulling strings to push a statewide agenda,

“We get support from the MTA, as do all local unions, but we are the ones making the decisions, we are the ones driving this,” Elana Cutler, sixth grade math teacher and member of the NTA’s negotiations team, said.

Both sides of the bargaining table acknowledged that things looked good at the end of Monday’s negotiations, despite there being a big gap to bridge.

“The tone today was respectful,” Lynn Penczar, third grade teacher at Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School, said. “And we emphasized a sense of urgency in getting our students back to school.”

Penczar added that although the two sides had made progress on a bunch of smaller issues, they were still stuck on the big things.

Afterward, in a much less eventful press conference on the third floor of the same building, School Committee Chair Chris Brezski confirmed that stubborn gap, which has mostly to do with funds.

“While making progress on systems and structures is important, we still need to talk about the money,” Brezski said.

There’s still about a $20 million gap (over the life of the multi-year contract) between the two sides, Brezski said, and most of that is in cost-of-living pay increases for staff.

Speaking of weird

NewTV has complete footage of what went down at Mayor Fuller’s office last Thursday.

In the video, a bunch of NTA members head from a rally to the mayor’s office to try to get Fuller to meet with them in person. Police Chief John Carmichael intervenes and speaks with the NTA members while, as it turns out, Fuller leaves out her back stairway behind her office.