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  • Edrina Laude

Newton Teachers’ Strike: A Pause in Learning

Seal of Newton, MA


On February 5, 2024, students in Newton Public Schools returned to class after teachers in the school district were on strike for eleven days. Although the strike began in late January, teachers and the Newton School Committee have disputed over teachers’ contracts since October 2022 due to issues including wages, classroom sizes, parental leave, and the number of social workers in schools.


The Newton Teachers Association, also known as the NTA, demanded a decrease in classroom size and an increase in school social workers, wages, and the length of parental leave. Newton’s mayor, Ruthanne Fuller (D-MA), stated that the demands of the NTA would cause a tax increase for citizens who just voted against a tax surge in 2023. Additionally, the school committee voiced that carrying out all of the NTA’s requests would lead to staff layoffs not only during this school year but  for years to come. However, the NTA insisted that the city does have the financial resources needed to carry out these demands without increasing taxes or laying off school staff. Union Representative Mike Schlegelmilch told WGBH, “The money is already there in the surpluses that the city has been running year after year…So, what we're asking for is the school committee and the mayor could settle this contract anytime.” Despite the Newton School Committee and Fuller’s arguments, on February 2, a preliminary four year agreement was reached with funding coming from the city’s operating budget and one-time funds. The agreement fulfills most, if not all, the NTA’s demands. Some features of the contract include increased pay for all aides, additional social workers at elementary schools, and enhanced family leave.


Although students are now back in classrooms, the strike has had a devastating impact on parents and students in Newton. With eleven missed school days, families are concerned about how schools will make up for this missing instructional time, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic already created educational setbacks for students across the country.


In addition, during the strike, close to 100 parents and students wrote letters to a Middlesex Superior Court judge to end the teachers’ strike, which was deemed illegal due to a Massachusetts state law declaring public employees, including teachers, unable to strike. In these letters, many parents also detailed their difficulties in arranging care for their children while they worked. One mother expressed, “...It's affecting the job, how we're doing it, because I have to reschedule meetings.” Additionally, two families filed lawsuits against the NTA, stating that the strike has risked students’ potential college acceptances and invoked emotional distress


Due to the illegality of the strike, the NTA has been fined 625,000 dollars. Within the contract deal, the NTA agreed to pay this fine directly to Newton Public Schools. However, one Newton parent, Lital Asher-Dotan, is seeking a portion of these fines to be paid to Newton Public Schools students and their families due to a judge’s statement declaring students victims of the strike. Asher-Dotan wrote, “While the court is addressing the compensatory relief and restitution to the Newton Public Schools, that pales in comparison to the loss and damages sustained by Newton Public School students and their families stemming from the illegal strike.” However, the NTA president, Michael Ziles, doubts that Newton students will receive any financial compensation from the union. Ziles explained, “If a judge ordered us to, we’d have to, but I don’t think we will. I don’t think they have standing in court.”


Despite the strike being over, the topic of public employees’ ability to strike has resurfaced. As stated previously, public employees, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters, are not allowed to strike in Massachusetts due to their status as essential workers. After the occurrence of illegal teacher strikes in multiple Massachusetts towns, some state politicians are looking at legislation that would allow some public employees to strike. For instance, Massachusetts State Representatives Mike Connolly (D-MA) and Erika Uyterhoeven (D-MA) have sponsored legislation that would give public employees, excluding public safety employees, the chance to go on strike after six months of contract negotiations.


Connolly says that although legislation is currently enacted to prevent these strikes, they are still occurring. By reversing current legislation, Connolly says the state could “...reduce the number of strikes by incentivizing both sides to be productive in negotiations.”


Yet, Governor Maura Healy (D-MA) has spoken out against reversing anti-strike legislation. With educational loss from COVID-19 still impacting students across the country, Healy explains, “...kids have been through enough in terms of learning loss and the like.” Additionally, some Newton parents expressed to Boston.com that their experiences with the recent strike in their city have affected their views on public employee strikes, especially due to the lack of state intervention and educational harm for students. 


In the end, when looking at post-pandemic inflation and career burnout across the nation, it is important to ensure that teachers and aides are being reasonably paid and receiving competitive benefits. However, there is no doubt that lengthy teacher strikes are detrimental to students, especially those who are still struggling after COVID-19 educational disruptions. Now, it is up to legislators to strike a balance between providing a high quality education to students, sensible wages and benefits to teachers, and taxes that are acceptable to their constituents. 



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