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Teachers union leaflets Newton over lack of contract

Posted by Sarah Thomas  May 22, 2011 12:35 PM

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The Newton Teachers Association is circulating a flier through the city that accuses the School Committee of not bargaining in good faith, leaving the district's teachers susceptible to layoffs.

"The NTA is offering concessions in health insurance and salary that will save the Newton Public Schools nearly $2 million," said the flier, distributed to homes Saturday. "But the School Committee has delayed responding to our proposal for nearly two months, canceling negotiations sessions or coming to the table unprepared to bargain."

In a statement, Jonathan Yeo, chairman of the School Committee's negotiating team, said that the union and the team had been working together closely, and that they were willing to bargain in good faith.

"We put a serious counter-offer on the table just this week and have two additional sessions scheduled over the next two weeks," Yeo said in the statement. "We will continue to expend whatever time and effort is needed to reach a reasonable settlement that is both fair for Newton Public Schools staff and is financially sustainable for the Newton Public Schools."

The Newton School Committee passed a budget last month that would cut 33 faculty positions and a number of programs, including middle school Latin.

To address budget woes, a number of state lawmakers have advocated overhauling the way health care collective bargaining is accomplished.

However, the Newton Teachers Association said that waiting to take advantage of possible state-level reforms is hindering the collective bargaining process.

"Let's be clear; even if this legislation passes, it is highly unlikely the law will come into effect in time to save Newton money for next school year," the flier read. "And without a collective bargaining agreement, most of the cuts in the school budget that the School Committee has approved will happen."

Yeo said in an interview that the negotiating team was not waiting on state legislation to make bargaining decisions.

"This is a legislative matter, one that will be decided by the mayor and the Board of Aldermen," Yeo said. "The negotiating team is not waiting on any decisions. We're focusing on the entire agreement."

Michael Zilles, president of the Newton Teachers Association, said that he decided to create the flier because time is of the essence.

"I was moved to do this by the urgency of the situation," Zilles said. "If we don't get a contract by mid to late June, we will go into the next school year with the cuts to faculty and programs passed in the School Committee's budget."

Zilles said the Teachers Association had made a proposal that would restore some of the programs, and called the School Committee's counterproposal "not well thought-out."

Yeo said the next meeting between the Newton Teachers Association and the bargaining team would take place on Wednesday.

Fifteen unions, eight on the city side and seven in the school department, are in the process of negotiations. Earlier this month, Mayor Setti Warren announced that the city had ratified a three-year agreement with a union that represents 184 employees, including library staff, Planning Department staff, and administrative employees in most departments.

"Newton's fiscal futures depends on getting our labor costs - particularly health care - under control," Warren said in a statement today. "To that end, I have been working since last fall to forge new agreements with all our unions. They have been active and sincere partners in those negotiations because they recognize that we must significantly lower our costs.   I want to re-iterate my commitment to collective bargaining as a means of achieving both our financial goals as well as respecting the hard work of our city employees." 

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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