Andover Public Schools will remain closed Tuesday as the educators strike passed through its fourth day without negotiators coming to an agreement on a new contract.
Tuesday will be the third school day impacted by the strike, leaving parents scrambling for child care and students without in-class learning. The Andover Education Association, which represents more than 800 of the district’s educators, overwhelmingly voted Thursday night to take the labor action after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract with the School Committee after more than nine months of negotiations.
Both sides have blamed the other for failing to come to an agreement, particularly on the subject of raises for teachers and instructional assistants.
Instructional assistants in the district are currently paid between $25,000 and $38,000 a year, according to the union, which calls the pay “far below what is considered a living wage for the region.”
Union leadership says it wants 18 percent raises across the board for teachers over four years, and to raise the base salary for instructional assistants to $40,000 a year after four years, and to $50,000 after working for seven years.
The School Committee’s most recent proposal, which the union’s bargaining team was developing a counter to Monday afternoon, offers 14.25 percent raises for teachers over four years, and 24.3 percent for instructional aides over four years, which would raise the base salary to $35,000 after four years, and to $50,000 after 15 years of service, according to the union.
In a press conference Monday, Andover School Committee Chair Tracey Spruce said a mediator is still working with both parties, and they hope to reach an agreement soon so schools can reopen. However, Spruce said the raises the union wants are “unsustainable,” would exceed the School Committee’s allotted budget, and would result in cuts to services for both the town and the school district.
“This is not a scare tactic. I know the union believes it is, I wish it were, this is the reality... we simply can’t afford it,” Spruce said.
If the union refuses to move, Spruce said, it could result in larger class sizes, and the restoration of fees the district worked to cut for families, including bus and activity fees.
Julian DiGloria, the union’s vice president, pushed back on Spruce’s position and argued the School Committee is saying “essentially Andover public schools cannot operate without exploiting instructional assistants, and underserving students with disabilities.”
“We’re taking a stand and saying not only do we disagree, the numbers disagree with you, the community disagrees with you, but that is just wrong,” said DiGloria.
However, DiGloria said the two sides did make some progress on other priorities for the union, including protections for educator prep time, longer lunch and recess periods for younger students, expanded paid family and medical leave, and more educator input in curriculum decisions.
Large crowds of educators, and supportive parents and students, continued to picket at several schools and the Town Common Monday to demonstrate support for the union.
Though public employees, including teachers, are not legally able to strike in Massachusetts, educators unions in Brookline, Woburn, Malden, and Haverhill in the last 18 months have taken the labor action. The teachers union in Andover also previously went on strike in 2020 over concerns about safe working conditions during the pandemic, which the state’s labor relations board ruled was illegal.
Jack Schneider, a professor and education policy analyst at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the increase in teacher strikes in recent years, despite it being unlawful, shows educators are “serious” about advocating for themselves, and is indicative of the broader problem of a national teacher shortage and how educator salaries have failed to keep up with inflation.
“Educators are realizing that salary increases, which they have every right to expect, are not just going to materialize, and that the resources needed in our schools, likewise, are not just going to appear out of thin air,” Schneider said.
He also pointed to the decades-long context of declining job satisfaction among teachers, and how changes to education policy and politics have affected the nature of teaching.
Schneider said the impact is evident in the Andover strike, where educators are not just bargaining over financial compensation, but issues that have not historically been decided at the bargaining table, like extended recess, educator say in curriculum decisions, and other topics that affect educator working conditions and relate to why they became teachers in the first place.
“People don’t get into teaching because they know that they’ll be handsomely remunerated,” Schneider said. “They get into teaching because they feel like they’re going to do important work, and that they are going to make the world a little bit better.”