WEA and school committee continue to negotiate contract


Photo//courtesy of Kate Lemons

Farrah Zerola , Co-Features Editor

Note: All information provided by teachers in this article was elicited  by the reporter in interviews on behalf of Wildcat Tracks.


   Weston Public School (WPS) teachers have been working without a contract for eight months. This is due to the fact that the teachers’ union, the Weston Education Association (WEA), and the Weston school committee and administration cannot reach an agreement on a contract that will determine pay, working conditions, and other issues for teachers for the next three years.

   While the two groups have struggled to find agreement in several areas, the most significant issue requiring resolution is teacher salary. The WEA’s most recent offer was a 17.25% increase over the next three years, a number based upon current inflation and the cost of living. This is a 10.75% total increase from the last contract. The school committee’s most recent offer was a 9% increase over the next four years, a number based upon the budget and available funds provided by Weston property taxes. This is a 3.25% total increase from the last contract.

   Currently, teachers are being paid what they were being paid for the 2021-2022 school year, the last year of the most recent three-year contract.

   “We are being paid last year’s wages, so all of the efforts to keep up with inflation are falling behind by the day,” said English teacher Michael Kelley.

   The school committee and WEA have met 19 times within the last year to try to come to an agreement, but little progress was made. Because of this, the school committee requested mediation.

   “The school committee felt that we were at an impasse. The state came in and they did a full investigation and they agreed,” said chair of the school committee Kenneth Newberg.

   The school committee and WEA met for their first two mediation sessions on March 22 and 23.

   It has been harder to negotiate this contract than it has been in the past due to the inflation caused by Covid.

  “If you go by inflation, teachers can’t even keep up with the cost of living. The last time we had to negotiate, inflation wasn’t that high,” said history teacher Angela Lee. “I know financially there is a bottom line and if they pay teachers more they might not be in the budget, but their offer is disappointing.”

   Because teachers’ salaries and the overall school budget are provided largely through money generated from property taxes, large increases in teacher pay could require higher taxes, but there are other factors that make this budgetary situation challenging.

   “Weston parents have high property taxes in part because Weston has a lack of industry and an excellent school system, and so the tax base is the residents’ property taxes as opposed to other towns with more industry and businesses who also pay a lot into it,” said WEA action team member and science teacher Janet Kresl Moffat. “I’m sympathetic to the fact that Weston taxpayers want to be sure that their taxes are being well spent, but I don’t think that treating the teachers poorly is going to benefit anyone in the long run.”

   When it comes to pay, many factors have to be taken into account, including seniority and the yearly salary increase. The quality of Weston education comes largely from the many years of experience teachers have. According to the Weston Education Association (WEA) website, about 65% of Weston educators have worked at Weston for 12 or more years. This means that these teachers no longer receive a yearly pay increase based solely on years of service as they do each of their first 12 years, so their salary only increases based upon the increases that are negotiated in the contract.

   “We have one of the highest salaries in the state on average, but we also have one of the highest veteran teacher populations. The way that salaries work is the more years you teach, the higher you are paid,” said Lee. “So if you take the average of our pay but compare that to a district where the teachers are younger, then it can be argued that we are already being paid very high. However, the number of years experience that the teachers at Weston have is not being averaged in.”

   And Covid has not just affected inflation and teachers salaries. The WEA also wants to negotiate aspects of the work day and sick and personal leave.

   “I think Covid made people focus more on some things that we’d like to work on to improve, so there are some issues that came up as a result of Covid that also makes things difficult,” said WEA president and Weston Middle School history teacher Edward McLoughlin.  Some of these issues include allowing teachers to use a portion of their sick days to care for sick family members and guaranteeing that elementary teachers have sufficient prep time during their work day.

   Although little progress has been made regarding a pay increase, some of these other aspects of the contract have been negotiated more successfully.

   “We have made substantial progress on their proposals regarding sick leave and elementary prep time,” said Newberg.

   Another complication with this situation is the overall awareness of it, both within the school and the community. The WEA argues that the school committee is not allowing enough input from the public.

   “Part of the beginning of the bargaining process was that we didn’t agree to ground rules, so we didn’t agree to any sort of privacy stipulations in terms of what can be discussed in the community and the public,” said WEA action team member and French teacher Celeste Loia.

   However, the school committee is not allowed to disclose certain information regarding the negotiation process.

   “We always want public input, and we always receive public input. We read and respond to most if not all of the emails we receive,” said Newberg. “One of the issues is that because negotiations occur during executive sessions, which are private, we can’t reveal certain things that are happening. This is the way that our law requires that we go about it.”

   Within the school, many students do not know what is going on. Teachers are not allowed to initiate conversation with students, and some simply do not feel comfortable talking about it with students even if a student were to ask. 

   “I can’t initiate conversations with students about it or advertise what’s happening, but I’m allowed to answer questions that students ask me,” said Kelley.

   The purpose of this is to avoid conflict, just like teachers avoid talking about politics or religion in their classes.

   Although the school committee and WEA have their differences, they are working together to reach the same goals.

   “We want to make sure that our students have the best experiences that they can have at Weston schools, and get the best education that we can provide, so we are working hard to find those common areas to move closer to a contract,” said Newberg.