Children in Andover Public Schools will return to their classrooms Wednesday after the Andover School Committee and the educators union reached a tentative contract agreement Tuesday evening, ending a five-day strike that closed campuses in the district for three school days.
The schools had been shuttered since Friday after the Andover Education Association, which represents more than 800 educators in the district, voted overwhelmingly to strike to protest not having a new contract despite beginning negotiations in January.
The tentative agreement includes 15.5 percent raises for teachers over four years and 34 percent raises for instructional aides, also over four years.
Both were demands the union wanted to see in a new contract. Andover’s average teacher salary is about $94,000, according to state data. Instructional assistants in the district are currently paid between $25,000 and $38,000 a year, according to the union, which has called the pay “far below what is considered a living wage for the region.”
“We found courage among ourselves to stand up for what is fair and just, and are incredibly excited to be back in our classrooms with our students tomorrow,” the Andover educators union said in a statement Tuesday evening. “It was unacceptable to balance budgets by paying instructional assistants poverty wages and denying all educators access to basic benefits available to almost all other workers.”
The School Committee also celebrated the agreement in a statement Tuesday evening.
“With this deal, the administration gained important tools to continue strengthening the instructional practices that we know students need to belong, strive, and thrive,” said Tracey Spruce, chair of the Andover School Committee.
Union leadership had earlier asked for 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 then countered with 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.
According to the School Committee, the new agreement also includes eight weeks of fully paid parental leave with the option to use an additional four weeks of accrued sick time. It also increases elementary teacher planning time and extended recess time for younger students, both of which were also considered priorities for the union. The district must extend the school year by three days to make up for the school time lost during the strike, a district representative confirmed to the Globe.
Despite the agreement, the School Committee indicated that the increased teacher salaries will force the district to consider cuts to programs, services, and staff next school year.
“We heard clearly from the teachers and many in the community that teacher and instructional assistant pay was the priority in this agreement and we responded accordingly,” Spruce said. “At the same time, the final agreement is inconsistent with the principles of the town’s long-range financial plan so, to live within our means, we will need to make meaningful program, service, and staff reductions.”
The educators union is also facing $50,000 in fines, as it’s illegal for public employees, including teachers, to go on strike. A judge on Monday found the union in contempt of a preliminary injunction to end the strike on Friday.
Maura McCurdy Santiago, an Andover parent of a first- and second-grader, said she hopes the educators are proud of themselves for landing the contract agreement.
“Teachers obviously didn’t get into teaching for the money, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a well-paid contract that allows them to live and thrive with their own families,” Santiago said.
While she’s excited for teachers to return to work and children to go back to school, she said she has some lingering resentment toward the School Committee for prolonging negotiations for more than nine months without reaching an agreement.
“Some reputation building will need to be done on behalf of the School Committee,” Santiago said. “There’s lots of frustration that this took so long. It took people yelling and screaming and stomping their foot and raising their hand to get this done, and that’s a hard pill to swallow.”
The strike in Andover was the latest in a wave of labor actions by educators in the Greater Boston area. Teachers unions in Brookline, Haverhill, Malden, and Woburn all went on strike within the past 18 months and later came to new contract agreements with their school districts. In Andover, educators went on strike in 2020 over concerns about workplace safety during the pandemic.