Haverhill teachers to protest proposed new contract

·5 min read

Aug. 31—HAVERHILL — Teachers in Haverhill's public schools plan to rally Thursday in front of City Hall in protest of the School Committee's proposal for a new contract.

At the same time, teachers plan to move into a "Work to Rule" action, which they unanimously approved at a meeting of the Haverhill Education Association Tuesday evening. It means teachers will adhere to what is stated in their previous contract and nothing more.

Examples include reporting to and leaving work at the contractually stated times or not performing any other duties that are not in their contract such as assisting students after work hours.

To kick-off the "Work to Rule" action, HEA members plan to rally in front of City Hall Thursday, Sept. 1, at 4 p.m.

During Tuesday's membership meeting, Tim Briggs, president of the HEA, suggested the contract proposed by the school committee's negotiation team falls short of what teachers are asking for.

Contract proposals differ

Michael Pfifferling, assistant superintendent of finance and operation for Haverhill's public schools, said the School Committee has offered what would amount to a 5% salary increase over the next three years for a total cost of $12.7 million in cost of living adjustments and step increases, while teachers are asking for a 22% increase over three years, plus additional financial requests totaling $46.3 million.

"In essence they are asking for four times of what the School Committee is offering," Pfifferling said, adding that the School Committee has not made counter offers to the HEA's proposal.

Briggs said his response to the School Committee's offer is "no, no and no."

For the city's 782 full-time or equivalent teachers, the current average annual salary is $73,613 according to the School Department.

Also under the current salary scale, starting teacher rates range from $48,719 to $64,218, while the top steps range from $76,966 to $92,435.

Contract negotiations between the School Committee and the HEA are expected to continue this month, with one public meeting planned and two others scheduled for October. These meetings are held in the Haverhill High School library. School Committee members Scott Wood and Paul Magliocchetti are negotiating for the committee.

What the previous contract provided

Pfifferling said the previous teachers contract provided cost of living increases of 1.75% in both FY20 and FY21, and 2% in FY22. That contract also merged annual longevity payments into the salary schedule. When combined with step increases, that contract resulted in teacher salary increases of 3.24% in FY20, 4.69% for FY21, and 2.3% for FY22, or about 10.2% over three years.

How the proposals differ

The School Committee is proposing a 1.5% cost of living increase for the 2022-2023 school year, a 1.5% increase for the 2023-2024 school year and a 1% increase on day one of the 2024-2025 school year plus 1% more on day 91, for a total of 5% over three years.

Pfifferling said the HEA is proposing a 10% cost of living adjustment increase for FY23 (school year 2022-2023); 6% for FY24 and 6% for FY25.

He said that under the School Committee's proposal, the average homeowner in Haverhill would see their property taxes increase by $96 in year one of the new contract; $80 in year two and $95 in year three, for a total tax increase of $271.

Under the HEA's proposal, the average homeowner in Haverhill would see their property taxes increase by $310 in year one, $505 in year two and $703 in year three for a total property tax increase of $1,520, Pfifferling said.

The HEA's proposal also calls for an hourly rate increase for work outside of the normal teacher duties (such as professional development), from $40 an hour to an average of $62.92 an hour, for an estimated total cost to the city of $260,000 per year, Pfifferling said.

HEA says the city can afford the proposed increases

At Tuesday's membership meeting, Briggs spoke briefly about the city budget, which he said is controlled by the mayor.

"Our members are sick and tired of being treated like dirt by this mayor and his outdated policies of austerity," Briggs said. "We need to make it clear to them that there will be no more business as usual in Haverhill schools. We cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results."

Briggs told The Eagle-Tribune that the city can afford what teachers are asking for as it is receiving millions of dollars in funding through the Student Opportunities Act and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

"Teachers are sick of sacrificing," Briggs said. "We don't need to sacrifice any more as the money is there to support the increases we are asking for."

Mayor responds

Fiorentini said that because his son is a teacher, he is not allowed to be involved in or comment on teacher contract negotiations, however, he responded to Briggs' comments by saying he is proud to carefully watch the spending of tax dollars.

He said the teacher's union is incorrect when it says there is some sort of austerity program in Haverhill in regard to education.

According to the mayor's office, the School Department's budget has doubled since 2010, rising from from $54.8 million to $107 million in FY23, which includes nearly $20 million in increases between 2021 and 2023.

"Today, we are $9 million or 12% above the minimum required by the state," Fiorentini said. "We are more above the minimum state requirements than a number of communities including Taunton, Lowell, Methuen, Lowell, and many other cities. I come from a family of teachers and have always priorities education."

As for the use of federal funding to support what teachers are asking for, Fiorentini said that as a general policy, "it is not a good idea to build a permanent pay raise with one time money."

"When the money is gone, what happens then?" he said. "One-time money should be used for one-time structural improvements."