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Newton Teachers Start Work Wednesday Without A New Contract

With their first day of work on Wednesday, Newton teachers still don't have a new contract. Their current agreement expires Saturday.

City officials have been negotiating with the teachers' union, the Newton Teachers Association (NTA), for a year. But union president Michael Zilles said the city is still unwilling to raise starting pay for educational aides or to introduce guaranteed and paid parental leave, possibly to be used in addition to sick leave.

The NTA represents about 2,000 members in total across five units, including teachers, assistant principals, aides and therapists. And the lack of a new contract has already led to friction in the city, which has historically placed a high value on its public schools. Hundreds of Newton residents are already displaying lawn signs in support of educators.

Zilles said NTA teachers are prepared to apply further pressure. They will continue outreach to families and rally Wednesday morning in front of Newton City Hall. And they hope to disrupt the administrative side of the schools' ordinary work.

"For at least the first two months, our members will remain silent during full-staff meetings," Zilles said. For example, when administrators are proposing new initiatives.

Zilles clarified that teachers will still meet among themselves to discuss curriculum and school-based issues, and attempt to minimize any spillover of the labor dispute into their instructional work.

"Our goal is to sort of stop business-as-usual — not to impact students and families," Zilles said.

Zilles argued the city is experiencing a fiscal tightening under Ruthanne Fuller, Newton's first woman mayor elected in 2017.

In October of 2018, Fuller did tell the school committee that the city's annual budget hikes for schools would slow in the years ahead, owing to outstanding pension liabilities and other pressing needs. The decline would "feel like a squeeze," Fuller said.

But Ellen Ishkanian, Fuller's communications chief, said that despite those needs, Fuller has so far lived up to her promise of annual increases in school spending of at least 3.25%. (The city is set to spend $88 million more on schools in the 2020 fiscal year — a 3.9% increase over its 2019 allocation.)

Ishkanian said Fuller and her team are listening to educators and families as school ramps up again: "She understands. She supports the teachers."

Ruth Goldman, chair of the city's school committee and the lead negotiator for the district, said the teachers' campaign for a contract started early, and that it's been effective in garnering support. Goldman said she and other city officials "are not trying to nickel-and-dime" teachers and aides. But she added that practicing "fiscal sustainability" now could protect against surprise cuts down the line.

Contracts are difficult, Goldman said. But, she added she is far from losing hope on reaching agreement soon: "Our intention is, really, to cross that finish line in the next couple of months."

Related:

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Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin is an education reporter.

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