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WATERTOWN

Teachers say they’ll trim extra activities

Rejected contract puts them on edge

By Megan McKee
Globe Correspondent / May 26, 2011

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Dozens of Watertown teachers marched through town last week to announce that this fall they will cease all noncontractual activities, such as after-school clubs, field trips, and tutoring, if they don’t have a contract by the start of classes.

For the rest of this school year, the teachers said, they will no longer go into work early or update most of their websites.

“Over the 18 months of negotiations, we have been the professional ones,’’ said Debra King, president of the Watertown Educators Association, in a statement announcing the stance by the union’s members. “We have been doing our jobs inside our classrooms and volunteering our time and expertise outside of them — all this despite the actions of a School Committee that seems to hold the educators of this town in contempt.’’

The march last Thursday from Watertown Middle School to Town Hall was the latest expression of teachers’ frustration since the School Committee rejected a negotiated contract in April. The teachers union had already ratified the contract, which was hammered out after 18 months of negotiations and the involvement of a mediator.

The School Committee released a statement in response.

“We as a School Committee are saddened by the job action proposal from the WEA leadership as we continue to work toward an agreement. Any of these proposed actions will have a deleterious effect on the education of our students,’’ School Committee chairman Anthony Paolillo stated. “The WEA leadership needs to understand the difficult financial times we are facing as a town, and as a state and a nation. Watertown is not an island immune from the national economy.’’

Watertown’s budget for next fiscal year is still in flux, with unresolved special education funding from the state making more cuts possible.

The Massachusetts Senate has proposed reimbursing towns for special education costs at an amount lower than what the governor and House recommended.

If the lower amount is approved by Beacon Hill, Watertown would have to cut an additional $200,000 from the proposed $38 million budget for the year starting July 1, Paolillo said.

Right now, the proposed budget would eliminate three to five full-time teaching positions, dramatically increase bus fees or eliminate busing, and increase activity and athletic fees, officials said.

School Committee members voted against the new contract on April 4, citing the need to save teaching jobs. They were poised to cut more positions if the teachers’ contract was ratified.

The rejected contract would have given teachers no raise for this school year, a 1.5 percent raise next year, at a cost of $287,000, and a 2.5 percent raise the following year.

The teachers are slated to get $415,000 in salary increases for education and experience next year no matter what, according to town officials.

King said the teachers don’t want to leave parents and students in the lurch this spring, so they’ll continue to chaperone dances, bring students on field trips, and oversee after-school clubs. But teachers will only enter school when their contract says they must, and will cease updating their websites, with the exception of elementary school instructional pages.

If the contract isn’t settled by September, King said, the teachers plan to cease all duties that are not contractually required, which means they’ll teach and that’s it, said King.

“We regret that the School Committee’s actions, or lack thereof, have caused us to take these measures,’’ said King. “We hope that these will not be necessary, but the evidence of the past 18 months, coupled with the behavior of the School Committee on April 4th, would suggest that it prefers a state of contractual limbo to a teacher contract that invests in its educators.’’

Paolillo said the School Committee is committed to negotiating with teachers, but doesn’t agree with funding raises that would force additional layoffs and increase class sizes.

Paolillo said the teachers must be realistic in their desire for pay increases.

“Together, we must provide the best education possible to our students, despite the limitations on resources due to today’s financial crisis,’’ he said. “However, we cannot do this if salaries increase at a rate greater than our revenues grow.’’

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.