Teachers “gift” city with $37 million

By Alex Gershanov
Published: November 2009

A bag of money, a bid for equity, and a bit of theatrics–the Newton Teachers Association (NTA) “gifted the City of Newton on November 23 with symbolic bags of money, worth tens of millions of dollars, representing the uncompensated overtime work of local teachers.

NTA members hope this demonstration will spur the community to side with them as negotiations continue with the School Committee on a union contract for teachers.

Spearheading the group’s negotiations is NTA president Cheryl Turgel. Debates have raged since early spring to replace the contract which would expire August 31. The NTA hopes to achieve, among other things, a pay increase among its members.

The NTA, according to Turgel, feels that because the School Committee “doesn’t want to give [the NTA] a penny over the salary statement, the NTA needs to seek alternative methods of persuasion.

“The last time we were without a contract, we curtailed voluntary activities. It was not well-received by anyone, Turgel said. “This time we’re just going to give them the money that if they had to pay us for everything we do, it’d cost.

In her speech at the School Committee meeting, Turgel mentioned that the NTA may be forced to reduce volunteer work if a compromise can not be reached.

The exact amount of money in the bags, $37,284,361, was calculated in a survey conducted by the NTA of their educators. The majority of the money was derived from calculated overtime hours put in by teachers, but also from extra days served and out-of-pocket classroom expenses.

Turgel hopes that this new strategy will bring the negotiations back to the table and that an adequate compromise may be reached.

NTA representative to South Jamie Rinaldi believes that this demonstration, combined with others, may help to sway the discussions.

“We think our requests are reasonable, and we want to send that message consistently to the community, he said. “A diversity of tactics in a coordinated series of events can have a profound effect.

Over 150 people showed up to the School Committee meeting, overcrowding the meeting room and adjacent hallway.

One of the issues the NTA is concerned with is the Newton teachers’ pay scale. Currently, the pay scale has 13 steps, based on the number of years a teacher has taught in Newton. A first year teacher earns about $40,000 a year, increasing each year until they reach the thirteenth year and receive between the high 70s to mid 80s of thousands of dollars. Teachers having taught longer receive no increment to their salary.

Turgel hopes to change the system so that the more experienced teachers, those in their fourteenth year or higher, can receive wage advancements too.

“We’re getting tired of working this hard and being told they can’t afford to pay us. It makes it even more difficult, Turgel said.

Rinaldi believes that the NTA’s proposed contract is adequate and not asking of too much.

“The NTA has an awareness of what is realistic and what is not, he said. “The contract that we’re asking for is personally reasonable.

The NTA has 1700 members and is the fifth largest union in the state.

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