On March 25, 2022, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) submitted an on-the-record proposal to the Brookline School Committee (BSC) in lieu of a mediation session that had been canceled that day. The concept behind the proposal was to create more stability in our schools by settling the current contract for Units A and B (9/1/2020-8/31/2023) AND the successor contract (9/01/2023-8/31/2026) for Units A, B and Para at the same time. In addition to the value of the substance of the proposals, the BEU sees many benefits for both sides to enter into the non-traditional agreement between the BEU and the Public Schools of Brookline. However, on April 8, 2022, the School Committee rejected the proposal outright. In an all to familiar approach, they showed no interest in exploring the idea with us with an eye toward working creatively with us.
The BEU and the BSC have been engaged in collective bargaining for the better part of the last four years. For three years in a row, teachers have started school with an expired contract. It is past time to introduce more stability than this into the school system.
TIMELINE — THE CONTRACTS ARE EXPIRED AND DO NOT MEET CURRENT NEEDS
- In the winter of the 2018-2019 school year when Andrew Bott was superintendent, the two sides entered into bargaining of a successor contract to the 2016-2019 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with an end date that coming August. Protracted negotiations were still underway during the following 2019-2020 school year when Covid hit in March.
- While the BSC and the BEU were bargaining the first COVID MOA, both sides agreed to a one year, money only contract that covered that current 2019-2020 school year.
- A second Covid MOA was negotiated, now for the 2020-2021 school year, and now with a second another interim superintendent, Jim Marini, in the district. The MOA was settled in December of 2020 only after the BEU was forced to engage in a one day strike to get the district to agree to six foot distancing in classrooms.
- Bargaining resumed for the successor 2020-2023 CBA but was sidelined when the BSC triggered a clause in the COVID MOA that would cut distancing in the 2nd MOA to three feet. Sessions on Covid matters concluded with no agreement in March of 2021. The district implemented three foot distancing as the original second COVID MOA allowed them to impose a change after a limited number of sessions.
- Negotiations resumed for the 2020-2023 CBA in May and June of 2021 with several marathon sessions. During these sessions, the current rate of inflation was raised as a key concern by the BEU. In an effort to get an agreement, the BEU consolidated over 15 pages of non-wage proposals for improving schools into five proposals addressing pay, hiring and retention of staff of color, preparation time, and a joint labor-management committee to analyze the “teacher day” as defined in the CBA. The BSC only countered with wage proposals that didn’t come close to keeping up with Cost of Living increases as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and rejected out of hand the proposals dealing with staff retention and unsustainable workday obligations.
- A paraprofessional agreement was reached, however, and ratified on June 30, 2021.
- In October 2021, with a new superintendent, Dr. Guillory, a 3rd Covid MOA was settled with the school committee with CBA negotiations suspended because the District had said they would not negotiate COVID and the CBA simultaneously.
- In November 2021, CBA negotiations began again. While the BEU submitted the same proposals that had been on the table in May and June, the BSC added completely new proposals that significantly curtailed union rights, exercise of professional judgment by teachers, and lengthened the contractual workday for elementary (k-8) teachers. When the BEU wouldn’t accept uncompensated added work time or pay in general that didn’t even keep up with inflation, the BSC filed for mediation, which the BEU opposed. Initially the Board of Labor Relations agreed with the BEU that the two sides had not met enough times for there to be a mediator assigned, the BSC forced the issue by being unwavering on pay increases that were half the rate of projected Cost of Living over the life of the contract and by refusing to rescind the late-added items of extending the school day and diminishing the rights educators and the BEU.
EXCELLENT SCHOOLS WITH FAIR CONTRACTS ARE FOUNDATIONS OF THE TOWN’S FISCAL HEALTH
As the sides prepared for mediation, the BEU formed a data team that looked closely at the town’s financial picture and demographic trends in order to see if Brookline was as “broke” as the school committee claimed in negotiations sessions. We also looked at the stability of school staffing because the core of schools is its educators.
In regard to town revenue, even aside from the $25+ million dollars that the town has spent to acquire property this year, the BEU found that the town of Brookline has the ability, capacity, and obligation to increase ad/or reallocate revenue to fund what the BEU has demanded at the bargaining table.
- Over the last five years, the town of Brookline has amassed an annual excess of $5.9 million in tax receipts than estimates used for the purpose of fiscal planning.
- Brookline’s tax rate is well below the state average. It is 31st lowest in the state.
- Thus, while tax bills may be high due to high property values, the cost of owning high priced houses in Brookline is well below the cost in other districts.
- “Living well” costs less in Brookline than it does elsewhere, and because of this, there is an excess capacity to tax under Prop 2.5 of close to half a BILLION dollars in the town of Brookline.
- Residents in town have seen their median household income increase almost 14% between fiscal years 2016-2019 while teacher cost of living (COLA) increases during that time averaged less than half of that. In fact, income growth in town from FY2010 through FY2019 increased almost 42.5% while salary growth for teachers with a masters degree at top step only increased about 23%.
BROOKLINE EDUCATORS ARE LEAVING
Clearly there is an ability and an argument to increase revenue in town, but there is also a need to weigh how existing revenue is allocated.
It is well known that property values on which revenue depends are driven by the quality of public schools, and that quality is first and foremost a reflection of the quality of teaching. Our classroom educators and related service providers are our students’ greatest source of stability in a school system that has had 6 superintendents in 7 years and an unusually high turnover of principals and central administrators.
In the absence of a contract that is more fair, Brookline’s educators, including much needed teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service providers, are leaving the district. Before COVID hit, Brookline had the lowest rate of retention among peer districts with just under 85%. For reference, Newton was at 89% and Wellesley, Needham, Lincoln / Sudbury, Lexington, and Concord / Carlisle were over 90% staff retention rates. Through February of this year, Brookline remains among the lowest retention rates of peer districts at just under 83%. Weston and Wellesley are comparable in these numbers, but both have CBA’s where top earners make more than Brookline teachers. Districts such as Newton and Concord Carlisle pay their veteran teachers more than Brookline as well.
SETTLING LONG-TERM, FAIR CONTRACTS IS GOOD FOR BROOKLINE
On April 19, 2022, the Select Board released $3.5 million of federal Covid emergency funds to the schools. Now it is time to agree to a fair contract. Past time.
All budgets and all contracts commit to costs that stretch into the future and it is past time that the first priority be a commitment to the teaching staff. The BEU’s current proposal makes this planning easier than usual by giving the town even more time to reallocate and/or increase revenue. This includes using federal emergency Covid funds as a bridge to shifting its priorities to providing such supports.
The union’s idea that the School Committee rejected proposed settling two contracts for a total of six years (two of the years are already in the rear view mirror) which would have begun to erase the labor strife and uncertainty that teachers, administrators, and district leaders have endured for too many years. The cost of this labor peace proposed by the BEU would have been less than 3% per year with increases can be back loaded to allow time for much needed overrides and / or a true needs assessment and stakeholder review of where money is being spent and why by town leaders. These needs in the buildings have been identified by educators and outside reviews such as the most recent assessment of the Special Education Program Review which noted significant shortcomings in staffing levels and opportunities for all students, general and special ed, to access adequate academic and social emotional support.
Brookline schools have been a shining light in the state for a long time. In order to begin the work to build them back to where they should be, accept this contract proposal and let us get back to work with job security and retention fears allayed. The BEU proposals help provide the foundation on which educators can address the needs of the district and make it everything it once was.
— Eric Schiff, Chair, for the BEU Negotiating Team