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:
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.