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Acton Teachers' Union Spells Out Contract Demands

About 50 educators gathered on Main Street to demand a new contract.

Acton teachers held a protest Thursday, demanding a new contract. Credit: Pat Clark
Acton teachers held a protest Thursday, demanding a new contract. Credit: Pat Clark

The Acton Education Association, which held a protest Thursday demanding a "fair" contract, wants more than a 1 percent pay raise and some early release days reinstated.

Association President Marc Lewis released the following statement Thursday:

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The Acton Education Association, which represents the nearly 400 teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, therapists, and specialists who work in the Acton Public and Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools, continues to encourage the School Committee to complete our negotiations with a fair and just contract. Our last contract expired at the end of the 2013 school year, and the parties have been in negotiations for a successor contract for the past 18 months.

We are very concerned that current efforts to make our salary scale even less competitive than those of neighboring communities and to reduce elementary school professional time are a threat to the student achievement of Acton and Boxborough students.  If our communities are committed to maintaining high standards and attracting and retaining the best teachers, we must resolve these issues in a fair and equitable way.

As an Association, we strive to work in a spirit of partnership, collegiality, and compromise.  We do it everyday with our principals and administrators, working hard to seamlessly implement initiatives and resolve issues before they surface as problems.

Our relationships within our buildings and with central office, and the fact that we have not filed a single grievance in memory, are the envy of peers across the Commonwealth.  That is testament to the strength of our partnership and desire to come together to solve problems and implement fair and just solutions.

Our Association has shown that same willingness to compromise with school committees and with the Town of Acton. The School Committee came into our last negotiations - which began in 2009 - saying they wanted to eliminate our Early Retirement Incentive and wanting us to raise our portion of health insurance premiums by 10%.  We did just that. After that contract had been ratified, the Acton Selectman said they needed to reduce health insurance costs and were poised to take action to do so. There were many who doubted our ability to make those concessions voluntarily and predicted we would not be successful at the bargaining table. But we sat down with the other public employee unions and Town officials and emerged from the table having agreed to raise significantly our copays and other out of pocket expenses, and we saved the Town and its taxpayers millions of dollars.

That is who we are. Throughout the past year-and-a-half that we have been negotiating with the School Committee, we have demonstrated a clear willingness to compromise and have agreed to many of the School Committee’s requests. The School Committee asked for more time from us, during the year, and during each school day, and we have said yes again and again. The School Committee asked us to add an extra day for teachers on the school calendar; we said yes. The School Committee asked us to add a second day on the calendar for our most recently hired colleagues; we said yes again. The School Committee asked us to extend the length of the school day at all of our schools; we said yes to that as well.

The School Committee asked us to eliminate three of the fours elementary school early release Thursdays each month. Once again, we have shown that willingness to work together and compromise, and, despite some very serious concerns about the impact on students and student achievement, we agreed to meet the School Committee more than halfway and eliminate two early release days each month. Currently on Thursday afternoons, teachers are able to collaborate, review and create assessments and student work, meet or communicate with parents, convene committees and planning groups, devote the time necessary to successfully address each new state mandate, and participate in professional learning within and outside the district.

This schedule has been fundamental to the culture of our elementary schools, allowing our educators the time they need to best prepare our students for success.

Despite our strong reservations to alter this successful model, let’s start with eliminating two early release Thursdays now and work together to see what the impact is on student achievement.  We think it is important to see what effect this has on professional learning. Let’s look closely together at what happens within each school. There will inevitably be unanticipated and unintended consequences of such a structural change. There are unanswered questions about the schools’ schedules, assistants’ time, and most importantly, the impact of all of this on our students. It would have been easy for us to have just said no to any proposal to change the Thursday schedule. Instead, we have listened to the School Committee’s requests and said we would offer two of those Thursdays each month. Let’s collect data and analyze the impact of that change first and then decide together how to move forward.

We have requested adjustments to our salary schedule that are in-line with what we’re seeing around the state, prevent us from becoming even less competitive with other districts, and recognize the additional time we are being asked, and have agreed, to work. The salary scale adjustments of 0% and 1% proposed by the School Committee, especially given the additional time they expect us to add to the school calendar and school week, will prevent us from attracting and retaining the best and brightest educators. That is a great concern to AEA members who are worried about the future of our schools and the effects the School Committee’s proposals could have on the future of education in Acton and Boxborough.

We very much hope that the committee recognizes the concessions we have made in the recent past and during this negotiations cycle. We have agreed to add more time and have shown a repeated willingness to compromise.

None of us wants to be in the place we are today. This is not how we want to spend our time as educators. We want to put all of our efforts into teaching the community’s kids, our students. We don’t want acrimony. We don’t want conflict. We want to teach. We hope the School Committee will join with us and together settle this contract.

Allen Nitschelm April 03, 2014 at 08:32 AM
Cathy, There needs to be balance between school funding, municipal funding, and tax rates. As an individual, if you want more money going to your children's education, you have several options available to you--private school, tutors, after school programs, etc. The goal of a public education can't be to duplicate "the best" options available. That is unaffordable and unfair to taxpayers who don't have kids in school. There must be a balance. There are several ways of thinking about balance. One is to look at what other school systems do. From my research, it appears that the Boxborough elementary schools had ONE Thursday afternoon off per month. It would seem that the School Committee, in merging the two districts, is attempting to use Boxborough's policy for the whole system. Using your logic, we could never "make a change to an agreed-upon work schedule" because any change would make teachers feel "bad." And yet negotiating changes to the workplace rules are one of the main goals of union contract negotiations. And you can be assured that every past teacher pay raise has been justified by some small change to the workplace rules. These changes typically aren't done for "free." One final comment on "bullying." One aspect of "bullying" is using public pressure to achieve one's goals. Protests, sign-holding, attending School Committee meetings with 50 or 60 teachers in tow is clearly meant at influencing and intimidating our elected officials, all during a period when both sides are supposed to be negotiating in "good faith." It may be a terrible system but that's what we are stuck with. If the teachers want to publicly demonstrate then the contract negotiations should be terminated and we should make this a public process so both sides can "lobby" the citizens, voters, and taxpayers. Do you think that is the way to make fair agreements, with a public process for negotiations? "How would you feel if your boss suddently did that to you?"
Cathy Griffin April 03, 2014 at 04:08 PM
My only point is that Thursdays have been part of our school culture for 40 years. It is cherished by all of our elementary school children and sorely missed when they get into jr high and high school. I don't see us saving any money by taking these days away from our children, and yet there definitely will be a "cost" to both our children and their teachers. Why make a change that does not save us money that has such a downside? And this is not a slight shift in hours, this is breaking a 40 year tradition and for what goal. If it is to regionalize that is another whole sad story and I hope that is not why, as Acton was not to be hurt by the regionalization and this is hurting Acton. I know that both the school committee and the teachers have wonderful, amazing, intelligent people working on this to come to a resolution. I believe that the school committee may have been given bad data when it came to the question "does Acton want to keep Thursdays" and my hope is that by writing, other Acton families will become aware of what we are giving up, and if they agree with me, will express their feelings in a positive way to the school committee.
Allen Nitschelm April 03, 2014 at 05:23 PM
Cathy, fair enough. I read in one of these posts that the school day was lengthened in order to keep the same number of teaching hours. If that is the case, then I would probably lean towards keeping one or two days if not all of them. But I'm not one of the negotiators and I'm really only hearing one side of the argument. This is a perfect example of why we want "experts" to hash these issues out and not have an ill-informed public debate.
Al Parker April 04, 2014 at 02:18 PM
Everyone comments on a "fair" salary. Let's not forget that pretty much all non-governmental salaried college-educated employees don't get a "fair" salary. They get paid a market salary implicitly based on supply and demand. In the real-world your pay is based on what is needed in the market for a business to hire and retain a good employee, nothing else. (BTW A system where pay is decided based on someone's definition of "fairness" rather than the market is called Socialism.) The key information that is needed in order to determine whether AB teachers are over or under paid are real statistics on hiring in AB over the past year or two, noting how many applicants there are for each open teaching position and how many teachers are leaving for other districts. In reality, for every open position they receive an over supply of qualified (licensed) applicants and no one leaves the district for a better job. Some might respond that this is great, and allows us to get the best-of-the-best, but in reality we all know that if 30 people apply for an open teaching position that coincidentally the one that is the niece of a long-time AB teacher is most qualified. This is expected because overpaying and therefore having many more applicants than positions pretty much insures nepotism because it's nearly impossible to find the true "best" in 30 qualified candidates. There's a myth repeated again and again in the media that there's not enough good teachers and their pay is too low. This is false. The truth is that there are not enough good teachers willing to work in socioeconomic disadvantaged areas, and a vast oversupply of those willing to work in affluent and safe suburban schools like AB. In other words urban teachers are underpaid and suburban teachers are overpaid. I know several former young teachers that were working in tough schools in Boston that quit teaching because of the terrible environment and not-so-good pay. I once made the mistake of asking one why she didn't just get a job in the suburbs (didn't she know there was a teacher shortgage) and she schooled me in how ignorant I was on the topic. It's nearly impossible to get a job in a nice suburban district like AB. Think my comment is BS, then someone track down how many applicants AB had for the last open teaching position and prove me wrong.
LL April 07, 2014 at 01:17 PM
As the parent of 2 young elementary school kids, I do not like the early release days. Because the kids do not eat lunch at school on those days, my children are so hungry by the end of the school day that they can barely function. In addition, my children do better with a regular schedule. The early release Thursdays are very disruptive.

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