Ariana Foster, a fifth grade teacher at Lincoln-Eliot Elementary, said Newton teachers are organizing to settle a new union contract with the district as soon as possible. The union asked for higher wages, but the district has met its request with pushback, Foster said.
“The last thing we want to do is to be in this process all year long,” Foster said. “So I think we want it to be as short and sweet and low impact for our students as possible.”
The current negotiations come after a campaign to raise taxes, providing additional funding for the NPS budget, partially failed in the spring. And the district faces continued scrutiny after it announced plans to cut staff positions earlier this year as a result of the failed override vote.
Newton Public Schools (NPS) will operate on a budget deficit of $4.9 million for the 2024 fiscal year, former interim superintendent Kathleen Smith said at a budget presentation last April.
“Last year, we reduced teaching positions and support staff to balance our FY23 budget,” Smith wrote in an April letter included in the FY24 school committee budget. “While these cuts were painful, we were able to maintain essential academic and social emotional supports for students.”
The current negotiation disagreement stems from these budget issues, according to Anna Nolin, superintendent of NPS.
Nolin said the school district does not have enough money to meet the teachers’ demands for higher salaries.
“They are at a place where they were so far apart in their financial proposals for what the union was wanting and what the district was saying it can afford that there was just no place to go,” she said. “There were like $15 million apart or $10 million apart or something that’s not, that’s not just something that can be easily remedied.”
While the contract negotiations occur every three years, Jayme Ellis, an art specialist at Burr Elementary and NTA webmaster, said the negotiations are not as cooperative this time around.
Since the override vote failed in the spring, she said the district has not worked well with the union.
“It felt very, almost hostile and not like the communication was really challenging,” Ellis said. “And just not like a super collaborative environment. We did make some tentative agreements, so some agreements on smaller things, but it hasn’t felt super collaborative.”
Foster and Ellis emphasized that raises are essential. Foster said that she could no longer afford to live in Newton and therefore had to reduce her involvement in the NTA.
“I couldn’t afford to buy a house in Newton with my husband, so we had to move pretty far away,” Foster said. “We live in Shrewsbury now.”
The NSC’s proposed deal does not allow room for fair negotiation or transparency, according to Foster.
“It feels like we really are having to fight tooth and nail for what we deserve, which I don’t think is how it should be,” Foster said. “We are presenting proposals. We’re going in and trying to be prepared and advocate for what our membership [wants and needs], but I don’t feel like there is an open-mindedness on both sides of the table.”
Teachers are also concerned continued negotiations will distract from their ability to focus on their jobs, Ellis said.
“We want a fair contract with a decent cost of living adjustment, protecting our health care, protecting our kids and their needs,” she said. “And like just able to move on because we don’t do this job for the bureaucrats or to work with adults.”
Foster concluded that NPS should better compensate Newton teachers to keep pace with the rising cost of living in the city.
“We want to move on and continue to make Newton a place where educators will stay and be respected and not be forced to leave due to, you know, bad money management and politics,” said Foster. “That’s not what Newton should be.”