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Q&A With Tewksbury Teachers Association President Connor Bourgoin

The Carnation recently spoke with Tewksbury Teachers Association president Conner Bourgoin to learn about priorities and progress on Tewksbury contract negotiations. Because of ground rules between the District and the TTA, specifics are scant, but residents can draw some conclusions about the union’s priorities.

School Committee chair Keith Sullivan didn’t respond to a request for comment. He and other District negotiating team members remain at the table.

Tewksbury Carnation: How long have negotiations been ongoing?

Conner Bourgoin: They have been ongoing since the beginning of the year, with ground rules being agreed to in January and initial negotiation meetings starting in February.

TC: Can you outline the main sticking points?

CB: Unfortunately, because of our ground rules, I cannot speak to the specifics of the main issues; all of the proposals brought forward in negotiations are meant to directly help the students.

TC: There’s a finite amount of money available to the schools. Are you concerned about other contracts, such as the aides, being negatively impacted by the TTA’s negotiations?

CB: I am not, as there are clear funds available on Tewksbury’s town website according to the yearly budget. The Fiscal Year 2022 numbers distinctly allocate percentage raises to respective groups (aides, secretaries and custodians).

It is also important to note that, while compensation is of great concern, the TTA is equally interested in other issues that affect our students’ day-to-day lives in our schools.

Editor’s note: Residents can review the town’s FY22 budget in depth here. The budget does break down budgeted salaries in detail here.

In addition, all town employee salaries, including teachers, are public record and available in the town’s annual report; the most recent 2020 report lists school department employee salaries beginning on Page 281.

TC: Is the TTA concerned more with money, more about conditions/terms of work or is it a balance?

CB: The TTA is concerned with many different issues, but most importantly, at this time, the TTA is highly concerned with the integrity of good-faith bargaining. Bargaining, in all forms, requires give and take from both sides and a true desire to find middle ground. The TTA is hopeful that this attitude can continue and keep the process moving forward.

TC: What are you hearing from parents, and is it your perception that many have written to the school committee and/or administration on behalf of the teachers?

CB: The TTA is grateful to those parents, guardians and community stakeholders who have reached out to us in support; furthermore, the TTA is grateful for those parents who have either spoken at school committee meetings in support of educators or who have otherwise had conversations with District stakeholders. We are hoping that parents and other town stakeholders have reached out to School Committee and the District to have their voices heard. The TTA’s contract having just expired, has only recently gained public interest and engagement, so we hope to see an escalation in support for teachers and aides who strive to support all students every day.

Editor’s note: Residents can watch all School Committee meetings on Tewksbury TV’s YouTube channel.

TC: How do Tewksbury teachers’ salaries compare with the salaries of teachers in neighboring districts?

CB: We are really looking to attract and retain the highly qualified educators this district prides itself in and our community deserves. That means remaining competitive — not only with our base teacher pay, but also for clubs, coaching staff and extracurricular activities. Making sure all positions are well funded and supported is key in making sure there is a place for all students no matter their interests.

Editor’s note: The Mass. Department of Education publishes statewide teacher salary averages. Tewksbury ranked at 189 among 313 districts for the 2019-2020 school year, with an average salary of $79,769 for 261 FTE teachers. Wilmington teachers average $84,590 with 272 FTEs , while Andover’s 479 educators average $91,896. Billerica led in 19/20 among neighboring towns at $92,504 with 370 FTEs. Salary averages are affected by seniority; towns that retain teachers and have many in top pay bands skew higher.

TC: Do you feel standouts are effective? Some might argue that they’re confusing to younger students.

CB: I feel standouts are a great way to showcase solidarity, while also engaging the community in what’s going on within their respective public schools. Public actions are a great way for parents to talk with their students about the bargaining process and what they would like to see happen in their schools.

While our two negotiations teams may have a group of around 12 members in each, such events as standouts are a great way to showcase the fact that we are representative of 355 teachers and aides districtwide.

TC: Is there a possibility, in your opinion, of a work to rule, picket line or some other action short of a strike, which is illegal?

CB: While the TTA certainly hopes we would not need to reach such last resorts, we need to stand by our members and by our students. The TTA has every intention of making sure this contract is negotiated in good faith and in a timely manner. That is the only way to ensure we keep making progress for staff and students alike.

TC: Tell residents about the TTA — what else does it do for members besides negotiations?

CB: The TTA is a union that aims to protect educators’ working conditions. This includes collaboration with the District and School Committee when problems may arise, as well as bargaining contracts.

On a community level, the TTA fundraises and organizes for its students and community members. This includes, but is not limited to, raffle ticket sales to fundraise for the Tewksbury Teachers Association Scholarship, which are for students aspiring to move onto higher education, all the way to food drives, in which members donate canned food and other household goods. The TTA wants to affirm that, while fair working conditions are important, the TTA cares deeply about the entire Tewksbury community.

TC: What didn’t we ask that you would like residents to know?

CB: The Tewksbury Teachers Association is a membership of empathetic, caring, hard-working teachers and aides who truly care for the students of Tewksbury and want to see them succeed. We are with your children every day, watching them learn and grow and helping them in every way we can. Our bargaining is the best way we have to ensure that we can do our job in the way we feel best meets the needs of your kids. The TTA fully believes that fair educator working conditions yield strong student learning conditions.

Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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