Common Planning Time:
Last month, the School Committee issued the following public statement:
” – when teachers aren’t in front of students, someone else needs to be with them. That means additional hires.” The BEU does not disagree; it is a fact that since well before Covid the schools have been understaffed for the level of service that is being delivered to students. If the community expects this level of service to continue, then corresponding investments in staffing must be made, or the community should be made aware that the district can no longer bear the cost of the resources necessary to provide these services or programming.
Our team heard from building Principals in a bargaining session that scheduling common prep time was difficult and while we are holding firm that this time is needed for educators, we would propose that the time could be implemented into building schedules no later than 6/30/2023 to take effect for the 2023-2024 school year. While we know that Common Planning is crucial for grade level teams, teachers of specials, and related service providers / caseload educators to meet and plan curriculum, tiered intervention strategies, and brainstorm issues that arise for individuals or groups of students, we are willing to take the next school year to allow for necessary schedule and staffing adjustments.
Daily Prep Time:
As part of the public statement referenced above, the School Committee stated that its position on —“Fair workload” for language, art and music teachers” is that – “when teachers teach fewer students, that also means additional hires.” This is read by the team as acknowledgement that the current situation of teachers of specials and world language teachers is indeed UNFAIR. Additionally, we are not in disagreement that this would mean more hires; if this is not something that the schools are able to do, then the town should be informed that the level of service to which they are accustomed will need to change.
Our team remains committed to securing a daily preparation period of no less than 45 minutes for every educator. This change will make schedules more equitable throughout and across buildings. It is more evident than ever before that educators need time each day to plan, breathe, conduct other “self care” exercises, and take a break, even if it is a short one.
Commitment to Retention of Staff of Color:
At the Brookline School Committee meeting on 1/7/2022, this issue was thrust to the forefront of discussions around how our students see themselves represented in the buildings where they “live” every day. Our team has crafted language that we think both expresses a tangible and measurable commitment to recruit and retain staff of color. In this same public statement, we heard that “we do not need language in a specific employment contract to be strongly committed as a district to diversity, equity and inclusion.” We are baffled by this position. We see contract language as the very vehicle by which both parties can affirm their commitment to this valuable effort. We look forward to hearing language that you would accept that could lead to a common understanding of what diversity and equity could look like in the Public Schools of Brookline, but absent such commitment, we will stand by the language we proposed in November, which in no way limits the judgment of the superintendent and is zero cost.
When we first began the discussions to the successor contract in early 2020, this team of BEU Negotiators had 15 pages of thoughtfully formulated proposals that addressed issues of scheduling and workload. After meeting with hundreds of members (and people in the community), we distilled a set of issues such as preparation time, caseload and class size, teaching minutes, expansion of “4+1” into departmentalized grade levels, duties, extra help opportunities, office hours, stipend administrative positions, and others.
The concerns and solutions we presented were affirmed by the school committee as timely and legitimate. Yet we were told repeatedly that these issues were better addressed through administration than in a collective bargaining agreement. While we insist that the parameters of working conditions do indeed belong in a contract because this ensures fairness, consistency, and transparency, we also appreciate that the people who work most closely with students understand directly how well schools are functioning well or not. Recognizing the value in a collaborative process undertaken by a group of administrators and educators who work closely together in the buildings day to day, we devised a plan that can bring their shared experience to bear on the ever evolving challenges we are facing in our schools. We thus proposed a Joint Labor-Management Committee that would examine work activity and generate a “bargaining blueprint” for the next round of contract negotiations. We think all aspects of the contract pertaining to workload, including stipends, are relevant. The resulting report will be a recommendation, not contractual obligations for the BSC or responsibilities for Brookline educators. We are therefore standing with our last proposal on this JLMC.
Lastly, we would like to bring you up to date on our research around wages that lead to our proposal of nine percent over the three year contract. Again, I reference the public statement from last month stating “if we were to agree to the request of 9% over 3 years, that would translate into a salary increase of $2M for next year. **That would mean cutting somewhere between 25 and 30 teachers – the equivalent of eliminating all of the K-8 classroom teachers at Driscoll, Heath, Lincoln or Runkle, or eliminating music at all K-8s. It would mean larger class sizes, reduced program offerings, or both. ** Clearly, that level of staffing cut would be detrimental to Brookline schools, which is why the negotiators have offered 6%, which is still a financial stretch but is in keeping with what other contracts near us have settled for, thus keeping Brookline teachers as the highest-paid among our peer districts” There is a lot here to unpack, and let’s start with the last statement. We are not aware of any “peer districts” having been discussed during these negotiations. Are the districts mentioned in the public statement what you would propose that we are using for comparable districts if we end up in mediation or fact finding?
If so, we take it to be your position that your list are truly peer districts. We would submit for the bargaining record our own list of peer districts: Acton-Boxborough, Arlington, Belmont, Concord-Carlisle, Dedham, Dover-Sherborn, Lexington, Lincoln-Sudbury, Natick, Needham, Newton, Somerville, Waltham, Watertown, Wellesley, Weston, Westwood, Winchester.
We included all of yours even though some would be a stretch in terms of “comparable” but the list above would be amenable to the BEU.
If you are not presenting these formally and prepared to justify your points of comparison, we would expect a public retraction of the suggestion that you have presented these as part of negotiations at any point and allowed the BEU to formally question your choices. Should there be a need to engage in this conversation, we have a list ready for consideration that includes all of the districts mentioned and some others that we think are more similar to Brookline.
Again referencing the SC public statement: it references “Brookline teachers as the highest paid among peer districts.” The concept of “peer districts’ ‘ notwithstanding, our research places Brookline 2nd or 3rd among the districts chosen by the SC for pay early in an educator’s career and 7th or 8th among those districts in pay later on. We used the most current salary data from Brookline AND from those districts rather than salary numbers from three years ago. I don’t know if it was stated publicly in that communication or not, but there is a number north of $100,000 that is floating out there as average educator pay in Brookline. We calculated the actual average pay based on the “scattergram” data that you provided and it comes out to just under $91,000, not including longevity or other benefits. We would appreciate a public correction IF there has been a statement regarding that number.
The public statement, however, makes no mention of the current levels of inflation. As of November 2021, inflation since the expiration of the last contract (Aug 31, 2020) stands at 6.9%. This means that the 6% “COLA” referenced as the “committee’s offer” represents a cut in pay of almost 1% with another 18 months of inflation not yet on the books. Some believe that inflation will indeed begin to recede, but unless it turns negative, which is not a notion that is being entertained, that number of nearly 7% will not come down, but MAY (if we are lucky) lessen the slope of its ascent. Inflation lessens the buying power of money and this round has been most influenced by energy, housing, and food which are the bulk of educator expenses no matter where they are on the salary scales. Brookline’ scales have traditionally been among the higher scales in the state, which is appropriate given the cost of living in the greater Boston region. That is why we have limited our ask to maybe cover the cost of living / inflationary pressure on income and not asked for a raise. Our proposal would put the average pay for educators in Brookline just over $100,000 if there are no retirements and no new hires next year. If there were, that number would obviously go down. With the level of work and expectations of the community, we would not expect that our pay should be effectively cut.
This brings us to the actual COLA ask; we feel that the 9% (three percent over each of the three years of the contract) is both affordable and appropriate; in truth, it’s actually a good deal for the district. Each year, quite apart from 35% enrollment growth, the district embarks on new initiatives and endeavors while refusing to allow time in the teacher day for these to take place. We have been remiss in not insisting that we be compensated for this expansion of services in the Brookline school system. Instead, we insisted that time be carved out of the day and workloads be adjusted in order to make these things happen. Again, we have repeatedly been told that “collective bargaining agreements are not the place for these manageable workload protections.” So Brookline has gotten all this great programming while we have not demanded that it be paid for. The town has been expanding the school system offerings while setting educator COLA’s at low levels of inflation, and thus has not had to go to the residents for overrides. Well now inflation is high, and we need COLA’s that reflect that. We have also heard that “there is no money for these COLA’s”, and while we disagree, we can respect that the budgets for School Year 2021 and 2022 have been set.
We also respect that the budget for next year is being worked on right now and we will insist here and moving forward that budgets reflect the priority that educators be paid minimally for the rate of inflation; and also for any and all additional programming that comes with each school year. Brookline needs to make a decision about what it can offer students in town and what that actually costs; educators do the work to make the programming function, we will not also bear the cost of the programs on our backs any longer.
To this end, we remain firm at 9% over three years, but recognizing current budget commitments we would offer the following redistribution to our previous proposals:
YEAR ONE (2020-2021) 2% COLA retro to 9/1/2020
YEAR TWO (2021-2022) 2% COLA retro to 8/31/2021
YEAR THREE (2022-2023) 5% increase on ALL MONEY ITEMS IN THE CONTRACT
Year three involves a budget that has not been made yet, and we know that budgets are more than line items, they are statements of priorities.
Our research has uncovered some “line items” that could be addressed to show that educators and education is a priority in Brookline.
- The difference between the 6% and 9% COLA proposals is about $2.6M over the life of the contract with most of that falling in the last year (2022-2023) Over the past three years, Brookline has UNDERESTIMATED local receipts by an AVERAGE of almost $5.9M per year. Should this pattern hold, half of this underestimation would fund the dollar difference in the two contract proposals.
- In our research, we looked at state reported finances of surrounding districts, including Brookline. The average spending of “free cash” as a percentage of the operating budget was just over 7%. Brookline’s was just over 4% putting it 11th out of 15 districts. We looked at the same for “stabilization fund” dollars, and Brookline uses those monies for just over 2.5% of their budget while the average among the 15 districts is almost 6.5%, leaving Brooklne in 10th place. Brookline operates with debt as 5.9% of its budget placing it 11th (or 4th lowest) of these communities where the average community has debt as almost 10% of its budget.
Brookline is among the wealthiest municipalities in the commonwealth and current budget priorities are designed to facilitate three things.
- Limit meaningful discussion of monetary priorities and additional expenditures by proscribing an arbitrary allocation of revenue through the school-town partnership.
- Maintain low a property tax rate
- Maintain a Moody’s AAA bond rating before anything else.
The following data confirms the above and shows that there are untapped resources in town that would allow for full and robust funding of the schools and staff. With over 80% of school funding going to staffing, there is no debate that Brookline schools ARE the educators, paraprofessionals, and administrators that make up the culture and “feel” of the building. When we state that there is “wealth” in Brookline, it is because we know that:
- Brookline ranks 23rd out of 351 in per capita income ($95,466) according to the DOR
- Brookline ranks 27th out of 351 in property value per capita ($476,107)
- Yet Brookline ranks 313 out of 351 in terms of property tax rate (9.8%)
- Brookline has a prop 2.5 tax levy ceiling of over $700M. Their actual tax levy is just shy of $275M. What this means is that over the years since proposition two-and-a-half became law, Brookline property values have increased almost half a billion dollars more than taxes have been increased. Brookline has a gap of almost 65% between what they could be taxing and what they are taxing under Prop 2 1/2. That puts them 1st among the 15 communities referenced above in unused tax capacity, where the average “untaxed capacity” is 48%. If the town is indeed “broke”, then it is by choice.