One year teacher contract ratified

By Alex Gershanov
Published: March 2010

After nearly a year of negotiations, the Newton Teacher’s Association (NTA) and the School Committee finally reached an agreement for a one-year teachers’ contract on March 2. Teachers began the school year without a union contract and amid uncertainty, the previous one having expired August 31 of last year.

Goldrick House NTA Representative Jamie Rinaldi explained that without a new contract, the only significant difference was that teachers did not receive a pay raise.

“When you’re working without a contract, you’re essentially extending the provisions of the previous contract, he said.

Rinaldi added that in the five years he had been at South, this was the second time he had seen teachers start school without a contract.

To the relief of both parties, the NTA and School Committee were able to come to terms just three weeks ago.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement and know that it’s better for the kids when our teachers are working with a contract, School Committee Chairperson Claire Sokoloff said.

Negotiations for the contract began in the spring of 2009 and have gone back and forth behind closed door meetings ever since. The contract outlines certain provisions for teachers and other public school workers that include a universal sick-leave bank for all, increased tuition reimbursement for professional development, and some compensation for injuries on the job.

A universal sick leave bank for all Newton Public School (NPS) employees offers teachers and workers an easier way to attain an extended sick leave in case of surgery or other circumstances.

One of the NTA’s primary goals during the negotiations was achieving a wage increase for top step employees. Newton’s current pay scale has 13 steps, with an employee gaining a step and a higher wage with every year that he or she works in the NPS system.

Once an employee reaches the top step, however, his or her salary stops incrementing. The NTA managed only to negotiate a quarter percent increase in top scale employees.

To assure that all top step employees would get the same raise, the NTA calculated how much total money the extra quarter percent would bring in, and equalized it across all public school teachers and workers. In the end, though, each top step employee received a wage increase of only $180 per year.

“It was a token, just a token, NTA president Cheryl Turgel said. “A very minimal amount of money just so that we did not feel we were taking an absolute zero.

Rinaldi believes that one of the more important provisions in the contract was the language that helped elementary teachers have more flexibility with their work and meetings with parents.

“This is something that teachers have been fighting for for a long time and we see that as an important victory, he said.

According to Sokoloff, the School Committee understood and sympathized with many of the demands of the NTA but could not afford to meet all of them.

“These are difficult economic times and we know that this is a modest contract, Sokoloff said. “People aren’t always going to get exactly what they want to get or what they want to give.

The negotiations were strung out over many meetings, with both sides attempting to bring about a favorable agreement.

In an attempt to sway public sentiment last November, the NTA held a demonstration during a School Committee meeting in which they presented the city with several bags of fake money. Worth a calculated $37 million, the bags represented the money that teachers give to Newton every year, in terms of unpaid overtime hours, extra days, and out of pocket expenses.

With the contract only lasting a year, negotiations for the next contract are likely not too far off. Both the NTA and the School Committee are eager to work together to attain a favorable contract for all parties.

“What we’ll need to do is develop a process whereby the two sides work together and establish norms for working together, identify interests, and then begin collective bargaining, Sokoloff said.

According to Turgel, however, negotiations will have to wait until Newton’s budget problem is resolved and the School Committee is ready to undertake the new challenge.

“We’ll go back to the table once the budget process [concludes]; once they get their heads out of the budget book, Turgel said.

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