Thus far, with regard to planning for the re-opening of schools in the fall, I had imagined that the key parties would be the Newton Public School administration, the School Committee, and the Newton Teachers Association. After all, these folks have a long history of working together for the good of the local community, and, even when disagreements arose, we could be confident that they were all knowledgeable about local circumstances and priorities. But another party now seeks to come to the table, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, of which the NTA is an affiliate.
At a recent meeting, the MTA suggested that the NTA and other local unions should defer to the MTA on a number of important issues. They proposed that local unions should “share statewide demands that MTA is bargaining with DESE with Superintendents and school Committees and frame that we are bargaining within this context.” (Note: DESE=Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.)
There is certainly a place for the MTA to have discussions with the state, but the long history of local control of the schools suggests that its role should be advisory or supportive in nature for each district’s union, not prescriptive.
For example, the state has determined that a three-foot separation between desks in schools is adequate for safety purposes. The MTA disagrees and thinks it should be six feet and states that local unions should insist on this parameter.
Do the people of Newton think that this kind of item should be bargainable by the local union? The guidelines set by the state are based on the best scientific information available to it, including consultation with epidemiologists, pediatricians, and others. Do we like the idea that such items should be open for negotiation based on a conclusion reached by the state union? Whatever difficulty might exist in the district to have classes with a three-foot separation would be compounded many times over with a six-foot separation. Indeed, such a requirement might just kill any chance of a full return to school.
The MTA says, too, that the local unions should bargain to “rescind all layoffs.” In the case of Newton, a number of aides on one-year contracts were laid off because the school administration felt that the capabilities of those people were not consistent with the needs of the students in the new environment. Why should the local parties agree to this item?
The NTA has enough on its local plate without ceding control to the state union. And the NPS and School Committee have enough on their plate without having a fourth member of the party dropping in.