Contract conversation stagnates

Leon Yang, Sports Writing Editor

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teacher contracts

Teachers stand outside the UA Building in a campaign to educate Brookline parents about ongoing contract debates on Back to School Night. Teachers have been negotiating with the School Committee since their bridge contact ended two months ago. Since then, the contract discussion has stalled. PROVIDED BY BROOKLINE EDUCATORS UNION

After negotiating a one-year bridge contract last December, which expired on Aug. 31 2015, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) and the School Committee are working to negotiate another contract that meets the interests of both parties and those of the students.

BEU members say that although current negotiations have slowed, they are still focused on addressing the needs of students and teachers in the contract.

President of the BEU Jessica Wender-Shubow said that many topics, including class sizes and staffing, were discussed during negotiations last fall. Wender-Shubow said the parties resorted to a one-year bridge contract on Dec. 9, 2014 so town funding would be transparent to residents voting on a budget override. The contract included a 3 percent raise for paraprofessionals, among other things.

Wender-Shubow said the raise in the one-year contract was a significant development. However, there has been difficulty since then negotiating other pressing issues with the school committee.

“We did not expect that we would find ourselves at the end of it over the summer, being totally disregarded in the concerns that we brought to the table, and that’s what happened,” Wender-Shubow said.

Current negotiations for a new contract are under “executive session” and are private to the public. Members of the negotiating committee are not allowed to discuss any specifics of the present negotiations, according to School Committee member and negotiations subcommittee chair Rebecca Stone, who declined to comment on any aspect of the current negotiations.

Wendy MacMillan, who works as a paraprofessional in the elementary schools and also speaks on behalf of the Brookline Early Education Program, said that the absence of a contract creates a feeling of insecurity for public school employees.

“We’re not getting our contract, but life is going on and bills still need to be paid, and mortgages and rents are higher every year,” MacMillan said. “I think it just adds a whole new level of stress, and I think that you start to not trust the administration.”

According to Wender-Shubow, the BEU still hopes to address concerns about class size, testing, paperwork and technology in the new contract. Ultimately, Wender-Shubow said that the focus is on teachers, who she said serve both as role models and educators to students.

“We think that teachers’ primary responsibility is to develop a dynamic, creative, learning and teaching relationship with you as an individual,” she said.

Stone said that the negotiation period can last several months. However, the recently expired bridge contract is still effective through this transition period.

“The contract is assumed in practice to continue, so we continue to operate with the prior contract as we negotiate the new one,” Stone said.

According to guidance counselor and Negotiation Committee Chair Eric Schiff contracts typically last three years. The recent bridge contract allowed the school committee to potentially start school earlier under certain circumstances. It also established time at the beginning of the year to orient staff.

Jane Leo, a first grade teacher at the Heath School, said increased enrollment and inadequate preparation time for students are problems. She expressed frustration over the lack of productivity of the negotiations.

“I think people are really angry about it and are ready to take action to show that we care about our working conditions, and we care about students’ learning, and what they are offering is insulting to both teachers and students- and parents who voted for the override,” Leo said.

Leo said that classrooms need to be properly staffed to sufficiently support all students.

“What we really brought to them was ‘We’re not adequately staffed to provide the quality of education students deserve,’” Leo said.

According to MacMillan, the students’ needs are of primary concern.

“This is about us wanting the school to be better, the careers that we have to be manageable and, at the end of the day, it’s about our students,” MacMillan said. “We want them to be successful and we are finding it harder and harder for that to be the truth.”

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