In war of words, striking Newton teachers, school leaders point fingers as talks fail to

The union said the School Committee rejected a plan that would have had the support of its members. The committee — which includes Mayor Ruthanne Fuller — said union leaders demanded a “take-it-or-leave-it” deal and walked out of a Sunday afternoon bargaining session.

“This is a dreadful night,” Fuller told reporters Sunday night. “It is not what the School Committee and I expected, or were working for… I’m increasingly worried that the union leadership is losing sight of the fact that the decision to go on an illegal strike is hurting our children.”

In a statement Sunday afternoon, the union said it was “deeply disappointed” the School Committee rejected its proposal, which members said would have addressed their concerns and would have been ratified by the union.

“School Committee Chair Chris Brezski, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and Superintendent Anna Nolin had an opportunity to end this strike. They failed to seize that opportunity,” the union statement read. “NTA members will be on picket lines Monday and continuing to advocate for what our students and educators need and deserve.”

The union is also facing more fines as Middlesex Superior Court Judge Christopher K. Barry-Smith ordered the union to end its strike by 8 p.m. Sunday or it would face a $50,000 fine for each day the union continues to walk picket lines.

During a press conference Sunday night, union members said they would continue their strike and blasted school officials and the mayor for their handling of the contract talks.

“They’re committed to beating us, to beating up the educators of the Newton Public Schools,” union president Mike Zilles told reporters. “That is their goal, plain and simple.”

The stalemate appeared to be a reversal from just a few hours prior, when the Newton Teachers Association and the School Committee had made public some of their proposals for a new contract Sunday afternoon in apparent last-ditch efforts to reopen the city’s schools in time for Monday morning.

Nolin, who assumed her post in July, indicated in a letter to residents Sunday that a “lack of trust” was getting in the way of reaching a new deal.

“Fundamentally, the NTA leadership has transmitted to me that the past few years that trust has been a major issue between all parties in Newton,” Nolin said in the letter. “I think we can all agree that we are seeing that lack of trust play out in negotiations as well.”

She was sharing the School Committee’s proposals publicly Sunday, she said, to “signal my own trust” with the union and her “serious intention to back many of their values and asks as they are good for our system and our students.”

The Newton educators union, which represents about 2,000 teachers, aides, and other school staff, walked off the job Jan. 19 after more than a year’s worth of talks failed to broker a new contract. The most recent agreement ended Aug. 31.

The average teacher in Newton earned about $93,000 in the 2020-2021 school year, according to the most recent state data. Union officials have said the city has the financial resources to increase spending on the city’s schools.

The union’s proposal included a “compromise on COLA [cost of living increases] while maintaining competitive offer for NTA educators,” Zilles said in a text message.

The proposal also adds social workers, so that by September 2026, there will be one full-time social worker at each of the elementary and middle schools, as well as the city’s early childhood program. It also calls for additional hours for classroom aides and phasing in caps on English and science high school class sizes, according to Zilles.

The union said the School Committee had to approve its agreement by Sunday afternoon to have enough time to prepare for a return to school Monday morning.

School Committee chairperson Brezski told reporters late Sunday afternoon that the union had presented a cost-of-living demand that was “neither affordable nor sustainable.” If approved, the union proposal would have forced the layoffs of more than 70 educators and support staff, he said.

Fuller said it could also require layoffs in other city departments. Union officials have said their proposals wouldn’t require cuts.

The School Committee’s counterproposal Sunday included a compounded cost-of-living increase of 11.7 percent over the life of the contract, 60 days of paid parental leave, and more hours and higher wages for classroom aides, he said. Nolin also committed to social workers in the elementary schools and reducing high school math and science class sizes, he said.

“The NTA president’s response was ‘take it or leave it,’ and walked out of the room without any discussion, without any negotiation… this was not bargaining in good faith,” Brezski said.

Union members rejected that characterization at their press conference Sunday night.

Teacher strikes are illegal in Massachusetts, and the work stoppage by Newton’s educators is the state’s longest in decades. The Newton teachers union has already been fined $375,000 for continuing to strike.

Union officials have pledged to continue the strike despite the order and the fines if a deal is not reached.

John Hilliard can be reached at

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