The Newton Teachers Association approved a new contract agreement Monday that will include raises, plus more family leave and sick days for educators and other school staff.
The vote, held at Newton North High School’s Lasker Auditorium, came after 15 months of negotiations and a series of job actions and protests by union members who had been frustrated by the pace of talks.
About 350 of 2,100 members participated in the vote, according to union president Michael Zilles. He said 96 percent of the members who voted approved the contract.
The agreement spans three years from September 2020 to August 2023, plus a one-year deal for the current school year, he said.
“I’m just really glad it’s done and we got a great contract, and that members agreed with us,” Zilles said in an interview Tuesday.
The union originally asked for a 12 percent raise over four years, according to Zilles. In the final contract, the union achieved an 11.75 percent total increase over four years for members at the top pay step and a 10.25 percent total raise for members below the top step.
Steps are automatic increases given for each year of work in the Newton Public Schools up until reaching the “top step.” Steps are separate from cost-of-living increases.
Each year, the mayor allocates a budget increase to the School Committee for the Newton Public Schools, 86 percent of which goes to teachers’ salaries and benefits.
According to School Committee chair Ruth Goldman, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller originally promised a minimum 3.25 percent budget increase in 2021, 2022, and 2023 and has raised that ceiling to 3.5 percent for those three years.
That decision is “allowing us to further increase salaries and benefits for teachers in the new contract,” Goldman said.
Goldman said the shift to 3.5 percent allowed the School Committee to increase its offer to the union in contract negotiations.
Zilles said the union took a “take care of everybody’ kind of approach” to the negotiations and believes the new contract will address the needs of all members of the NTA, including young parents and aides.
“I think that those are our most vulnerable members,” he said. “They get paid the least in the system and I think we worked to address them and the problems with their pay and bring them up.”
In addition to the cost-of-living increases, the new contract also is set to add more family illness days and paid compensation for parental leave. Aides and other educational support professionals also will receive time to collaborate with teachers, as well as time at the beginning and the end of the school day to spend with students.
Zilles also said the schedule for step increases will be changed in the new contract. The anniversary date will be moved back from March to December, allowing members to receive the automatic increases earlier in the school year. In addition, when people move to the top step, they will receive a 5½ percent increase rather than the current 4 percent increase.
The NTA’s healthcare plan will stay the same, and the union president said he didn’t feel he had to sacrifice sticking points in order to achieve these contract items. However, he said the length of negotiations was demoralizing for members.
“It feels like a breach of trust that we have to go out and fight for what the whole community felt were very reasonable changes to our contract,” Zilles said.
Goldman said that a contract has not been signed on time in Newton in over a decade, adding that collective bargaining lasted for 15 months after the expiration of the union’s contract in 2014, while in this cycle it was only two months after expiration.
During the contentious negotiation period, parents expressed concerns about losing teachers to other districts that pay more.
“We’re all here because of the education, and if you’re not going to give us that, you’re going to lose what Newton has that is special about it,” said parent Tanya Lazar.
Matt Hills, former School Committee and collective bargaining chair, said this is a common concern but that Newton has remained steady in its ability to attract and retain good educators at a very high rate.
Over the past few years, Newton had teacher retention rates of roughly 89 to 91 percent each year, Hills said, which are similar or higher than surrounding communities.
During the 2014-2015 through the 2017-2018 academic years, about 3,000 candidates applied each year for classroom teacher positions in the Newton Public Schools, according to Hills, who reviewed district data.
Of the roughly 5 percent of those candidates who are offered jobs during those years, virtually all accept, he said.
“The point is, we get a ton of applications, we only make offers to a very small percent, and almost everybody accepts those offers,” Hills said.
The agreement is set to expire after fiscal year 2023. Zilles said he is hopeful that the union-led job actions this year set the precedent that the Newton Teachers Association would continue to press for more smoother negotiations.
“I think we were successful in sending a message that we’re not going to do this anymore — we are not going to accept that as business as usual,” Zilles said. “So I think we made a point; apart from getting a really good contract we also established that this is not acceptable practice.”
Globe correspondent John Hilliard contributed to this report. Sam Drysdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.