BROOKLINE — The town’s public school teachers will go on strike Monday and schools will be closed after weekend negotiation sessions with the district’s School Committee failed to yield an agreement on a new contract.
Brookline Educators Union has said its “overwhelming” vote in favor of a strike comes after three years of back-and-forth negotiations with the School Committee that have resulted in little agreement. BEU’s teachers are requesting wage increases in line with rising inflation rates, concrete policy changes to benefit and attract educators of color, and an established 40-minute period of “duty-free time” for every teacher.
A nearly nine-hour negotiation session Saturday night ended with the School Committee declaring an impasse. A last-ditch attempt late Sunday afternoon to prevent a strike at the district’s nine schools was fruitless, the union said, and Superintendent Linus Guillory announced Monday’s closures later in the evening.
“There will simply not be the staffing capacity to operate all schools safely, nor can PSB [Public Schools of Brookline] provide the structured education required by the state for the day to legally count as a school day,” Guillory said. “I also understand that this juncture in negotiations is challenging and frustrating for all, and that closing schools on Monday will be extremely difficult for students, caregivers, staff, and our community.”
In a statement posted early Sunday morning, the union said “it has greatly pared down its list of original proposals to bare essentials,” but little progress was made during the negotiations.
“Brookline educators can no longer tolerate the School Committee’s dismissive attitude towards educators or its willingness to dismantle the quality of our schools,” the union said in the statement. “We remain open to negotiating with the School Committee throughout Sunday and beyond, to resolve a fair contract that preserves the working and learning conditions that our students and educators deserve.”
The BEU, an affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, represents more than 1,000 Brookline educators, and the district serves roughly 7,000 students.
The union’s president, Jessica Wender-Shubow, said its members last Thursday voted to strike after what she described as three years of BEU concessions and “blatant disrespect towards teachers” by the School Committee. On Saturday, BEU members rallied outside Brookline Town Hall, drawing more than 100 supporters, including several local politicians and candidates for office.
The union plans to picket outside the district’s high school and each of its eight elementary schools at 8 a.m. Monday, and members are preparing for the possibility of a long-term strike, Wender-Shubow said.
“You think we want to do this? Of course we don’t want to,” said Wender-Shubow. “It’s scary. It’s exhausting. But at this point, they’ve rejected everything we’ve offered and put us at an impasse. We feel like we don’t have a choice.”
At the center of the dispute is the question of so-called “duty-free prep time,” a 40-minute period that would allow teachers time to conduct preparative work outside of class without any meeting obligations. Wender-Shubow said the union offered several alternatives in the negotiations, all of which were rejected by the School Committee.
In a statement Sunday morning, the committee said that allocating such a period to each teacher would have “substantial logistical and financial implications,” and countered by offering teachers who don’t have a prep period “the opportunity to address their concerns with their direct supervisor, and if need be, to appeal to the Superintendent.”
Wender-Shubow said the School Committee would not consider several alternative proposals that would allocate adjusted raises over a six-year period, though the committee has argued that the union’s requests raise budgetary issues.
And she said the committee rejected the union’s request for a report on retainment rates of educators and students of color.
David Pearlman, the School Committee chair, said another round of negotiations is slated for Monday.
“Brookline has always been proud of its schools and its teachers,” Pearlman said in an e-mail. “The School Committee recognizes their service, but we also have to recognize the town’s financial situation. We are responsible for balancing the two. I remain hopeful that we will reach a resolution soon. A strike will cause harm to students who have already been through a lot in the past few years.”
Last week, the School Committee petitioned the state labor commission, and on Friday a Norfolk Superior Court judge issued an injunction against the BEU, ordering them not to strike. In the ruling, the judge agreed that a strike would mean “serious and irreparable harm will occur to the Town, the students and their caretakers, and the public welfare.”
Under Massachusetts law, strikes by public employees are illegal, though some state lawmakers have criticized the policy.
The tension at the school district has boiled over into the community, sparking fierce debate among parents who are struggling to balance their support for teachers with the consequences of a school shutdown.
Danielle da Silva, a single mother of two young children who both attend the Edith C. Baker School, said she is an “avid” supporter of the district’s teachers, but a strike would leave her scrambling to find child care. Da Silva, who is a Town Meeting member, said she believes both sides need to take a new approach to the negotiations.
“I don’t know what I’ll do if there’s a strike,” she said in a phone interview. “It feels like the people getting punished are the people who really need and rely on the public school system as an essential part of living in this town, and those tend to be the people in town that are not the most privileged.”
Chris Drake, a father of two Florida Ruffin Ridley School students, struck a similar tone.
“A strike should be avoided at all costs,” said Drake, who was with his children at the playground behind the Ridley School Sunday afternoon. “At the same time, it is surprising to me that the two sides haven’t been able to work out something reasonable. That suggests bad faith.”
“I want [the teachers] to get what they need within reason,” he said.
The impending strike comes as teachers’ unions across the state are negotiating for new contracts amid financial havoc wreaked by the pandemic.
At least three school districts, including Brookline, exercised brief work stoppages in 2020 over pandemic-related safety concerns, the Globe reported.
The last public district in Massachusetts to see a strike before the pandemic was Dedham, where teachers picketed in 2019 over health care coverage, salary adjustments, and policies covering sexual harassment and student cellphone use. It was the first public teachers’ strike in 12 years, and was resolved in a matter of days. In 2007, the Quincy teachers’ union incurred significant fines and leaders were sent cease-and-desist letters with the threat of arrest during a six-day strike.