Newton Teachers Association, Parent/Educator Collaborative Demonstrate at School Committee Meeting

The Newton Teachers Association (NTA) and the Newton Parent/Educator Collaborative (PEC) organized a demonstration outside of the Newton School Committee’s meeting on Monday night, rallying in front of the Newton Education Center and speaking during the meeting’s public comment period to demand fairer treatment for Newton educators. 

“We chanted, we made some noise as the school committee members were coming in, to really show that we mean business and that we’re really serious about getting a fair contract,” said Mike Schlegelmilch, a Newton North High School English teacher and co-chair of NTA’s Contract Action Team. 

The NTA and Newton Public Schools (NPS) are currently negotiating a new contract after the previous contract’s expiration on Aug. 31. According to Schlegelmilch, NPS teachers desire higher cost of living adjustments (COLA) in addition to more funding for school programming.

“Inflation has been extremely high over the last few years, and so what that means is that our salaries obviously are not keeping up with the cost of living,” he said. “Many, many of our educators cannot afford to live in Newton, many of them are commuting from far away.”

The current proposed annual COLA increases would increase a teacher’s salary by 5.1 percent, 6.7 percent, and 5.5 percent each year, according to the most recent negotiations update to the school committee. The calculation of this increase does not, however, account for the salary increase that comes with more years of experience, according to the NTA.

With this factor accounted for, the COLA increase is only 1.5 percent, 1.6 percent, and 1.6 percent, respectively.

“That’s less than 5 percent over three years, just for context,” Schlegelmilch said. “In other districts, educators are getting between 9 and 15 percent over three years—so, really not competitive with other districts.”

Educators during public comment spoke out against the school committee’s treatment of teachers, alleging inadequate salaries, unjust treatment during contract negotiations, and staff cuts that undermine NPS’ commitment to inclusivity.

“If we’re so easily replaced with our current rates of pay, our positions would be fully staffed, which they never are … in truth not one school in the city could open its doors for an hour without us,” Loring Masters, social and emotional learning interventionist at Bowen Elementary School, said during the meeting. “We’re the backbone of fair access to public education.”

After public comment, Newton School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski provided contract negotiation updates, pointing out that the Newton’s fiscal year 2023 salaries are some of the highest of Massachusetts’ schools districts. 

“Newton remains within the top 10 among comparable districts for our salaries … we are trying very hard to reach a fair but also sustainable contract with our NTA members,” she said.

 Olszewski made note of NPS’ recent filing of a strike investigation following the NTA’s silent meeting action and boycott of the NPS staff convocation, an allegation the NTA denies.

“It’s our position that we, as required by law, have to flag something that gave us a reasonable inference that there may have been a work stoppage—a strike—as defined by law,” she said. 

After the conclusion of public comment, NTA members marched out of the meeting, chanting for a fair contract. Schlegelmilch said he was feeling optimistic about the energy and intentionality behind NTA’s campaign efforts.

“We’re really good at running campaigns, we hit the ground running this time we you know, we were doing actions in the spring,” he said. “[But] we’ve been trying really hard to keep our actions from impacting kids—and so our goal is to put pressure on the school committee and on the mayor, and, as much as possible, not impact students.”

September 14, 2023