Newton’s long, teacherless nightmare is over.
For two weeks, as the city’s schools remained closed, Newton was in nonstop loop of daily rallies, hourly updates and nightly press conferences called by both sides to blame the other, in what felt like a dark rendition of the 1992 Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day.
That makes the irony of it all coming an end on Feb. 2—the actual Groundhog Day—all the richer.
The final contract agreement doesn’t have everything the NTA wanted, but it’s more than the School Committee was willing (or even able) to give initially. Months of negotiating, 15 days of a strike and eventually more money allocated by Mayor Fuller, however, got both sides to work out a compromise with which both sides could live.
One of the NTA’s most talked about demands was an increase in cost-of-living adjustment, which is how much pay increases with each year.
The final deal gives Units A, B and E (teachers and other professionals) a 2.5 percent increase effective September 2023 and another effective September 2024 (both retroactive).
The COLA for these groups will go up to 3 percent in September 2025 and to 3.25 percent in September 2026. It will only go up .75 percent in September 2027.
For Unit C employees (paraprofessionals), the COLA schedule is the same as above. But the new contract eliminates a step for them, which means they’ll reach higher pay more quickly.
Unit C employees will also have more hours, equivalent to an extra 50 minutes per week.
A lot of the conversation during the strike, and the preceding months that led up to it, focused on mental health.
The NTA was demanding social workers be placed in every elementary school to help deal with the myriad social/emotional issues, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newton schools used to have a lot more social workers, but many fell victim to budget cuts in the past few years.
The deal reached Friday night does not put social workers in every school, but it will add about half a dozen social workers to the district and, according to the NTA, makes district social workers available to students at every school every day.
Also as part of the deal, the district and the NTA will form a joint task force to address mental health support for the district’s preschools, elementary schools and middle schools.
Paid family and parental leave
The new contract gives 60 days of parental leave—20 days paid by the district and 40 days paid with accrued sick time, with five days held in reserve.
Those with fewer than 45 sick days may either stay out of work for half the remaining balance of their 60 days and be paid their full daily pay; stay out of work for the balance of their 60 days at half their daily pay; or return to work.
Employees with an ill spouse, child or parent are allowed to use up to 15 days of their accrued sick time to care for those family members.
Healing the district
A contract dispute may be easier to fix than emotions.
The strike fragmented the city and the school district. It had neighbors and friends publicly admonishing each other on social media.
It had the School Committee chair breaking down in tears during a press conference and later, acording to NTA negotiators, claiming teachers might use prep time for yoga classes. It had teachers physically blocking parents from entering NTA press conferences. It had parents showing up at rallies confronting the union about the impact the strike has had on families throughout the city.
And the strike won’t be easy to put out of mind while the city’s kids are in school later this month during what was supposed to be February vacation, and possibly April vacation.
On Friday, NTA spokesperson Ryan Normandin urged supporters to remember the strike when voting for mayor and School Committee candidates next year, showing just how far the city has to go to heal.
With schools reopening on Monday, that healing can begin sooner rather than later.
“This strike has been painful for NPS families and the entire City of Newton,” the School Committee wrote in an email update after the contract was announced. “We will all need some time to heal, and we ask for patience and leadership from all of the adults in the NPS community. It is up to us to show our kids how a strong community responds to challenges.”
Both the School Committee and the NTA have committed to making the transition back to school as easy as possible on the students and their families.
“We know this was really hard on our families and really hard on our students,” Zilles said. “We know that. We know that this was far too long to be out on strike and it was far too much of a disruption in our students’ and their families’ lives. It should not have gone on this long. But it did. And we are grateful that our community stood behind us to this very moment.”