Metro, Newton

NPS Teachers Express Concern Over Compensation, Turnover of Teaching Assistants and Special Educators

Newton residents and Newton Public Schools (NPS) faculty voiced concerns about the compensation of teaching assistants and special educators at a Newton School Committee (NSC) meeting Wednesday night.

Contract negotiations between the NSC and the Newton Teachers Association (NTA) have been ongoing since December 2022. Currently, the two groups are working with a state-appointed mediator in order to reach a contract.

“We worked very diligently and very hard to reach a resolution prior to the Aug. 31 expiration of the contract,” School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski said. “We were not able to reach that agreement through that at that time, but we are in mediation, which is a process we believe will allow us to find a mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, successor contract.”

Teaching assistants and special education aides in the district fall under Unit C, a contract classification with their own salaries and benefits. Michael Birch, a teacher at Bigelow Middle School, said the Unit C salary is too low, which is leading to turnover.

“Those of us in the schools continue to see the impact of not having enough Unit C staff and the constant turnover in those positions is having on our students,” Birch said.

According to Barry Hershenow, a Unit C teacher at Newton North High School, the instability of Unit C jobs puts Newton at risk of having unfilled positions in special education, particularly those who support students on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

“[Newton will] risk liability for not being in compliance with contractually mandated aide support for IEPs and suffer low employee morale,” Hershenow said. “And with higher turnover, students find it difficult to develop and maintain relationships with trusted adults in their buildings.”

Hershenow also expressed frustration with the reduction of allotted hours for high school educational support aides, which has resulted in lower pay for those teachers.

“Educational support professionals at the high schools have seen our allotted hours reduced from 36.51 hours per week to the present 34.93 hours per week, ostensibly because of the new high school schedule,” Hershenow said. “You might ask why we aren’t paid based on at least 35 hours per week. Well, that would add an extra 50 seconds per day to our pay.”

Hallie Armstrong, a teacher at F. A. Day Middle School, voiced concern about increased class sizes as a result of heightened enrollment. Armstrong said larger classes inhibit her ability to give proper attention to her students.

“We’ve had three and a half teams of students crammed into three, and it’s having a real apparent effect. … I love my students and I hate how much less time I have to give to each of them individually in class,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said with larger class sizes, special education and Unit C personnel are a necessity in order to properly attend to students with increased learning needs.

“[I have] just about 22 minutes to check in with 24 to 25 students, some … with significant needs educationally,” Armstrong said. “Sometimes I have my aide with me, sometimes they’re dealing with a student crisis. And it only works when I have my Unit C and my special educator with me.”

Roshan Karim, a student at Newton North High School, shared disappointment with the School Committee’s conduct in negotiations.

“I don’t see a district that’s protecting its most valuable asset, its educators,” Karim said. “I see a district in disarray in a city unwilling to fund it, led by a school committee unwilling to fight for it.”

October 12, 2023