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Newton teachers union frustrated over pace of contract talks

“I do think it’s important to hear teachers’ concerns,” said Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman (left). Justin Saglio/Globe file photo

The Newton teachers union likely will start the academic year without a new contract in place, and members frustrated with what they see as the protracted pace of negotiations will demonstrate at City Hall Wednesday, Aug. 28, to demand that an agreement be reached soon.

Michael Zilles, president of the Newton Teachers Association, said city leaders need to directly address the concerns of educators and school staff.

“It’s their responsibility to say: ‘We will do all we can to settle this contract as fast as we can. We really appreciate what you are doing for us. And we want this to be a good year,’ ” Zilles said. “They should be saying that to us, and my members know it.”


Ruth Goldman, the chairwoman of the Newton School Committee, said the sides have met at least a dozen times during the past school year, and will meet again later this month.

“I think the union wants to settle, the School Committee wants to settle,” Goldman said. “Everyone is eager to find a fair, responsible settlement that demonstrates how much we value our faculty, and that we are fiscally responsible.”

Zilles said the sides are discussing a proposed pay increase: The union is seeking a 12 percent raise over four years, he said. The latest offer from the district, made last year, was 6 percent over three years, according to Zilles.

The union also is looking for additional work hours for roughly 500 to 600 school aides and behavior therapists, many of whom now have to collaborate with fellow educators outside their normal work hours and are unpaid for this additional work, he said.

“There is not a lot of wiggle room, but I think we are working really hard to get teachers what they want and deserve,” Goldman said. “And also ensure that we don’t end up with huge cost rises.”


In 2018, the union agreed to a yearlong contract extension to buy the sides time to negotiate a new deal. But that extension ends Aug. 31. Last spring, teachers at Newton South High School called on Mayor Ruthanne Fuller to skip graduation ceremonies at the school because of the slow progress.

Joe Golding, a South teacher, presented a petition signed by the teachers to Fuller and the School Committee during a public meeting in May.

Newton is among the wealthiest of Massachusetts communities, but Newton teachers rank 85th in pay across the state, Golding said in a statement at the time.

“The mayor has treated our protests as ‘business as usual.’ We don’t want this to be how we do business,” Golding said. “We don’t want to have to flier and march every single contract negotiation.”

In an interview, Fuller said she attended the Newton South ceremony to congratulate graduates and thank educators for the work they do.

“I was grateful that our Newton South educators cared so passionately about our schools and our students,” Fuller said of the petition. “And I share their passion, and believe we have a common goal of doing everything we can for Newton students.”

Union members also are preparing to attend some staff meetings in total silence to demonstrate their displeasure with the lack of a new contract.

The effort, which uses the social media hashtag “TheSoundofSilence,” is designed to “break the pattern” of protracted contract negotiations, according to a handout.


“Starting the year without a contract despite almost a year of negotiations is not acceptable,” the handout said.

Zilles said the planned City Hall demonstration was organized after an annual Newton South “opening day” event on Aug. 28 for staff was replaced by Superintendent David Fleishman with a meeting for union members only.

The schools’ event is traditionally attended by the school superintendent, the School Committee chairperson, and Newton’s mayor, Zilles said. That change deprived the union of a chance to speak directly with leaders, he said.

Fleishman said he changed the event after discussing it with Zilles. Attendance had declined for opening day, and Fleishman said a group of faculty and administrators would recommend changes for a better way to welcome back staff.

He acknowledged in an Aug. 12 letter to staff and in a follow-up Globe interview that the timing will lead to a perception that opening day was changed because of the current state of contract negotiations.

Fleishman visits the schools regularly and is in contact with teachers and other staff, he said. “I do think it’s important to hear teachers’ concerns,” Fleishman said.

The School Committee also is negotiating with two other school unions, the Newton Public School Custodians Association and Newton Educational Secretaries Association, Goldman said. The custodians most recently met with the board earlier this summer, and plan to meet again later this month, said Tim Curry, the president of the custodians’ union.

“I think both sides felt very positive” about their previous meeting, Curry said. “We have a lot of respect for Ruth Goldman,” the School Committee chairwoman.


A representative for the Newton Educational Secretaries Association could not be reached for comment.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com .