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Letter: TTA Responds To School Committee Chairperson Statement

To all Stakeholders in Public Education:

As a body of highly educated professional adults, we believe the time has come to inform the residents who all have a stake in Tewksbury Public Schools. So, why are we writing this letter now? At the most recent town-wide PAC meeting on Monday January 10, 2022, the Chairman of the School Committee stated that he would be responding to the Association’s “red” slides at the School Committee meeting on January 12, 2022. He was referring to a Tewksbury Teachers Association post on Facebook which outlined the current proposals with an explanation or rationale for those proposals. Both parties have agreed to make all proposals public. To ensure transparency, we would like to state the facts. We strongly believe that settling this contract, in collaboration with the School Committee, is in the best interest of the students of Tewksbury Public Schools. Our students deserve our collective best!

This process of negotiating began last February (this is not a misprint). As an Association we met in 2020 remotely in order to be prepared, we had meetings with all teachers at all grade levels, and the ground rules of negotiating were the subject of a meeting on February 4, 2021. Here we are a year later and no resolution.

In the most recent School Committee meeting on the evening of January 12, 2022, the Chairman used his pulpit to state that the Committee had not walked away from negotiations. He made this statement in a forum that we were unable to rebut. The Chairman’s statement is simply not correct. When a mediator has to be brought in to finish a job that could otherwise be done by the parties involved, that is a form of walking away. The TTA and Tewksbury School Committee are not even in the same room anymore during these meetings. Seeing as it is impossible to have the same table in two different rooms, it is clear the School Committee has, indeed, walked away from the table. The Teachers Association believes and has believed all along that we could come to a fair resolution. For the record, the Association did not agree with bringing in a “paid” mediator because we had confidence in everyone’s ability to come to a resolution that both parties could agree upon. That is what negotiation is!

When the School Committee decided to end direct discussions with the Teachers Association, and employ a mediator, this was actually detrimental to the bargaining process. A mediator is not there to help encourage both sides to compromise; he essentially plays the role of messenger, telling each side what the other side said. This in fact takes away the ability for both sides to plead their case and engage in productive dialogue in order to find some common ground – especially when the mediator from the Department of Labor Relations does not know the details of how Tewksbury Public Schools run. This is why the Tewksbury Teachers Association was not inclined to enter into this form of negotiations. We felt strongly that we could continue to engage in discussions to ensure a reasonable outcome.

As stated in the Tewksbury Teachers Associations release of the current negotiation sticking points, one of those points is the fact that the School Committee has proposed assigning pre-K to 4th grade teachers recess and lunch duty. Currently, those teachers are the only ones that do not have a lunch/recess duty to date. Instead, these grades have hired lunch and recess monitors and have been functioning that way for more than 25 years. However, it is very important to note that all teachers in grades 5-12 have at least 30 minutes more, on a daily basis, of preparation time than teachers in grades pre-K – 4. We have a few concerns with this proposal. First, adding recess and lunch duty will further decrease the amount of time these teachers have to prepare lessons, analyze data, correct student work, meet with ancillary service providers as legally mandated by IEPs, collaborate with grade level teams, communicate with parents and guardians, prepare materials for dynamic lessons, meet with principals for important discussions regarding teacher/student growth, prepare work for absent students, and complete many other important tasks. It would seem that the School Committee believes, instead of taking part in all of the aforementioned, vital teaching activities, a better use of our time would be to supervise students eating lunch and playing at recess. It is the Teachers Association’s belief that it is in the best interest of students to give these teachers time to create the best lessons and learning environment for their students. These teachers are creating the foundation for learning that the upper grades are, and will continue to, cultivate and grow, yet they currently have the least amount of time to do so.

In the interest of negotiating in good faith, and as a way of compromising, the Teachers Association proposed that the pre-K to 4th grade teachers would agree to one of either lunch or recess duty per week. To date, the School Committee has stated that they will not include such language regarding how many lunch and/or recess duties teachers can be required to do. It is also important to note that the teachers in grades 5-12 do have a specific cap on how many lunch duties they are required to do whether that be in the contract or due to extensive past practice. The Teachers Association tried to explain to the School Committee the negative impact that the loss of this valuable time would have on student learning. The School Committee proposed taking 15 minutes per week away from professional learning community (PLC) time to make up for the 25-45 minutes every day (125-225 minutes per week if there is no limit) if we agreed to the current School Committee proposal on the table. The Teachers Association does not feel this is an acceptable compromise, and to date, even though the TTA has proposed three separate ideas to resolve this, the School Committee has not offered any other suggestions in order to try and move toward a compromise with regard to this issue.

Finally, our youngest students are by nature the neediest when it comes to the need for teacher attention. Obviously our teachers have chosen this profession because they love children; however, just like parents, teachers need a break to breathe and recharge. That duty-free lunch and recess time allows teachers the time to not be “on” as well as take care of their own human needs. In this time of Covid, we constantly hear about the need for self care. Taking more preparation time away from teachers is not beneficial to student learning or healthy for teachers that are already working without adequate time to meet all of the professional responsibilities and human needs.

It should be further stated that the Association has done the research and there are very few districts that have their teachers supervising the eating of lunch. We have viewed many agreements from surrounding towns and it is clear that most districts have in their bargaining agreements language to the effect of: “A teacher’s primary responsibility is to teach.” There are four other areas of concern on which the Association and the School Committee cannot reach an agreement thus far; however, it should be noted that lunch duty is the key to unlocking those other four doors. The School Committee simply does not see how detrimental it would be to impose another duty on the elementary teachers of this district.

In closing it should be stated that in the history of the Tewksbury Teachers Association, we have never failed to reach an agreement with the School Committee nor have we ever failed to ratify an agreement. It would seem suspect that this time is an anomaly. We believe the difference-maker is the fact that the Tewksbury Teachers Association took a vote with the entire membership (which is over 350 strong) of No Confidence in our Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent who was recently named the Interim Superintendent of Tewksbury Public Schools, which certainly causes the Tewksbury Teachers Association some concern. This vote of No Confidence passed by an overwhelming 82%. [ed. note: That correspondence is downloadable below.] In addition to that statement of fact, when we asked the School Committee and its chair to have an outside investigation we were denied and this Vote of No Confidence was largely viewed as frivolous. If this is in fact the case, the Teachers Association hopes that the School Committee can agree to put personal feelings aside in order to focus on what is most important and that is the students of Tewksbury. The Tewksbury Teachers will continue to advocate for a contract that ensures the best possible teaching and learning conditions because that is what we believe the students of the Tewksbury Public Schools deserve.

In Partnership,
Tewksbury Teachers Association

Coverage of the School Committee meeting in question is here.

The full documentation released by the School Committee is here.

Hear Chair Keith Sullivan’s statement here.

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