Teachers continue to protest lack of contract

Lizzy Filine , Arts Writing Editor

A month after the first early morning picket at the high school, high school teachers and staff members gathered again on Thursday, Jan. 21 to raise awareness about the lack of a contract from the Brookline School Committee.

English teacher Julia Rocco said that the new demonstration was a continuation of the previous initiative.

“The negotiating team has been working with the school committee to try to negotiate a contract and there really hasn’t been much progress,” Rocco said. “We’re just trying to keep up awareness in the community that we’re working without a contract.”

Social studies teacher Robert Grant said the teachers are frustrated with the lack of movement on the issue on the School Committee’s part.

“We’re all being asked to do a whole lot of things above and beyond our contract, and that’s always been a part of teaching,” Grant said. “We knew that when we got in, but to be asked to go above and beyond the contract you don’t have, I think is presumptuous on the part of the school committee.”

English teacher Laurie Sheffield said that for her, the most concerning issue is about how the School Committee is planning to deal with the influx of students coming to the high school in the next few years.

“The slow decisions about how that is to be handled both on the elementary school and on the high school level, has resulted in a lot of pressures on the teachers and anxiety about the future of the educational system which we support with our lives and our commitments,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield said that supporting elementary school teachers is a focus since the elementary school students will affect the learning community of the school when they enroll in the high school.

“Every eighth grader will be my student if they stay in this system,” Sheffield said, “So it really, really matters to me that that the elementary staff have the time that they need to do their best work. Otherwise the students we receive here at the high school are really not able to do the work we want them to be able to do.”

Grant said the School Committee must consider the flood of students arriving in future years when creating a new contract.

“We just want some very clear language about what’s going to be expected of us to deal with that [flood],” Grant said. “How many students? How many teachers? Are we going to have more guidance counselors? Are we going to have more support staff? We would like a clear commitment from the School Committee.”

Sheffield said that if there are no negotiations, teachers may decide to stop doing some voluntary services, tasks they are not contractually obligated to do.  

She also said that she has seen conflicts over work expectations earlier in her time at the high school, when the union voted on a policy where teachers could only work during the school day and not do any additional work outside of the agreed upon hours. According to her, teachers had a hard time finishing all their work in the given time.

“And so what I remember from that long-ago time was to have kids read a lot in class so I would have time to grade papers,” Sheffield said. “Some teachers weren’t writing recommendations. Those things could happen, and they did happen.”

Sheffield said that the town must put pressure on officials to begin fair negotiations, even if they don’t know what the final agreement will be.

“I think people’s awareness has been really divided,” Sheffield said. “There’s a lot of things going on in the town right now. I think it’s hard to focus on this particular thing because it seems it’s been going a lot like clockwork for some years. But it needs some focus, and the voters need to know.”