Back to class: Contract agreement reached in Newton teachers’ strike after 11 days without school

Students in Newton will be returning to class on Monday after the Newton Teachers Association and the Newton School Committee announced a tentative agreement on a new contract that brings the lengthy teachers’ strike to an end after 11 days without school in the city.

In a statement Friday night, the school committee said they’ve reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract.

Although the terms of the deal weren’t immediately clear, an NTA spokesperson said the contract secures increased access to mental health supports for students, including social workers, a parental leave policy that removes discriminatory language and guarantees 40 days of paid leave and up to 60 days overall, 15 days of FMLA leave, and raises the starting salaries of aids and behavior therapists.

“This contract reflects our values including respect for our educators,” a spokesperson for the school committee said. “It reinforces and expands meaningful support for students; meaningfully increases compensation for all employees, particularly our building and classroom aides; maintains Newton as a leader in benefits; and provides important flexibility for our leaders to strengthen and innovate our system.”

School officials also acknowledged the pain the strike caused for students and parents alike.

“We will all need some time to heal, and we ask for patience and leadership from all of the adults in the NPS community,” the school committee said. “This strike has been painful for NPS families and the entire City of Newton. The Committee looks forward to the return of students to their classrooms. We will take a breath, then begin the work of ensuring that this never happens again.”

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in part she’s “thrilled” to get students and teachers back in their classrooms.

Around 9:00 p.m., NTA union rep Ryan Normandin addressed the cheering throng of Newton educators, stating they have set a new standard for the students to follow.

“We taught our students not to be afraid,” said Normandin. “We taught them that when those in power try to take away your rights, they should stand up for themselves.”

When students return to class on Monday, they will do so an hour later than normal so that teachers can spend part of the morning meeting with school officials and their principals. There will also be no early care offered for one more day.

“I regret the further inconvenience to families. However, due to the intensity of the strike and the extended period of work to rule that preceded the strike, we must utilize this time to reconnect our staff and principals and provide direction and support for staff in preparation for our students’ return,” Superintendent Anna Nolin said. “Our top priorities are welcoming our students, re-establishing classroom and school community, returning to routines and schedules, and resuming grade-level learning. To support the transition back to school, we have put together expectations that support staff to respond briefly and factually to student questions about the strike and focus on resuming our typical routines.

The strike began on Jan. 19 after the NTA voted to strike in a push for new contract items including paid family leave for all educators, a humane parental leave policy, livable wages for aides and behavioral therapists, and a social worker in every school, among other things.

With daily fines of $50,000 adding up and the school committee asking the court to double those fines to $100,000, the NTA returned to the bargaining table for a marathon negotiation session with the city that went throughout the night and ultimately wrapped up around 6 a.m. on Friday.

No school in Newton as teacher strike enters fifth day
No school in Newton as teacher strike enters fifth day
Schools closed in Newton as teachers go on strike
Schools closed in Newton as teachers go on strike

The two sides finally reached an agreement on pay increases, but they continued to wrangle over a return-to-work agreement that included the NTA’s demand for increased social worker staffing in schools.

In an early morning news release, the NTA alleged the committee “attempted to weaken the agreements on social workers and alter other agreements affecting the working conditions of educators and the learning conditions of students.”

The NTA also blasted the school committee for trying to “extract more than $1 million from educators” as part of their return-to-work agreement.

Before again sitting down at the negotiation table for a 1 p.m. discussion, Newton Public Schools spokesperson announced that the “school committee and NTA bargaining teams are extremely close to settling a contract.”

As the strike lingered into February, the families of some Newton students filed motions to intervene and end the teachers’ strike. “Sad” and “bored” students, and “defeated” parents, even penned heartfelt letters to a Middlesex Superior Court judge, urging him to take action.

The agreement on a new contract comes a day after the school committee voted to cancel February break to start making up for lost school days.

Due to the lost time, Gov. Maura Healey’s administration also asked the court to appoint a third party to facilitate a legally binding resolution between the NTA and the committee.

Under Massachusetts law, it’s illegal for public workers, including teachers, to go on strike.

As of Friday, the NTA owed the Commonwealth $625,000 for failing to end the illegal strike, which was the longest to occur in Massachusetts in recent decades. NTA union president Mike Zilles told Boston 25 Reporter Jason Law the union plans to pay the fine before the end of the year.

Throughout the work stoppage, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller expressed frustration with the NTA, making it clear that funding for the new contract would not come at the expense of public safety and other city departments.

Emotions flared on both sides during the strike, ultimately boiling over and bringing Newton School Committee Chair Chris Brezski to tears as he proclaimed Wednesday that the strike had “gone too far.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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