Dozens of Watertown teachers and a number of parents came to the School Committee meeting Thursday to ask them to settle the teach contract, but committee members said they too want a deal, but the money just is not available in the town’s budget.
Teachers are in their second year without a contract. A deal was early this year when the Watertown Educators Association — the union — approved the deal but in April the School Committee voted it down.
For the past eight months negotiations have been ongoing, but both sides hinted that a deal is not close.
School Committee Chairman Anthony Paolillo read a response to a letter sent to the board by parents asking for the contract to be settled.
“The School Committee is adamant that we will not enter into any agreement with the Watertown Educators Association that would cause additional jobs to be lost going forward,” Paolillo said.
While teachers have not received cost of living increases due to not having a contract, Paolillo said that nearly half have received 5 percent step raises given for years of service.
He added that teachers union has not agreed to proposals presented to them in recent months.
“We have not asked teachers to take a pay cut, but rather less of a pay increase,” Paolillo said. “The Watertown Educators Association has rejected this several times. Other unions in Watertown have voluntarily negotiated concessions in order to preserve jobs.”
Debora King, president of the WEA, said that teachers offered a deal for 0 percent raise the first year, a one percent increase midway through the second year (this school year) and 2.5 percent the third, but that was rejected by district officials.
School officials have also looked at other areas in the contract, she said, including the step raises and creating a two-tier pay scale.
“The School Committee continues to use the scare tactic that teachers will be fired (if a raise is approved), yet new administrators continue to be hired,” King said. “This year they are focusing on step (raises) even though they have been in the contract for decades.”
King said she worries about a two-tier pay system being set up.
“They have proposed a second tier, a tier for future hires who would earn 20 percent less than others in the district,” King said.
Frustration for Parents and Students
Parents and students expressed their concerns about children’s education being hurt because the contract negotiations have dragged out. Teachers have moved to “work to rule” where they do only tasks required under the contract.
Alex D’Amico, one of the Watertown High School advisors, said students in advanced classes have been affected by the teachers’ policy of not coming in before school.
“Several classes require student to go in early and take tests, and do labs,” D’Amico said. “Now, it is more difficult to get in early. We have to do it over two days, which means less time reviewing at the end of the year.”
Parent Laura Segal said the students are the one who will be hurt in this fight.
“At the end of this, the teachers will have jobs, you (the School Committee) will have your jobs,” Segal said. “The students are the ones who are losing.”
Hosmer parent Victoria Grafflin said she agreed with the School Committee’s stance.
“I support the School Committee position regarding the commitment to not losing teaching positions for teacher compensation,” Grafflin said.
She noted that the average teacher salary in 2009-10 was $71,000, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website. She added that everyone has had to absorb increased health care costs.
School Committee member Christopher Beach said he shared the parents concerns, but said the School Committee does not have the money to fund the contract.
"We get on the School Committee because we love the schools," Beach said. "Unfortunately we are in tough economic times."
Paolillo said the School Committee wants to settle the contract as much as the teachers, and said it would be resolved soon. No date has been set up for the next official negotiation meeting between the WEA and the district’s negotiating team, he said after the meeting.