Photo: Belmont teachers rally for new three-year contract
Before a sea of red-clad co-workers last week, Bethany Fitzsimmons put forth what most people are not willing to reveal to the public.
“I’m a 20-year employee,” said Fitzsimmons, a professional aide at Winn Brook Elementary. “And I made $29,000. Twenty years in Belmont. $29,000. OK, I am sorry, that’s embarrassing,” she told more than 100 members of the Belmont Education Association who gathered along Concord Avenue adjacent to the new Belmont High School.
With contract negotiations stalled after nearly a year of negotiations, members of the Belmont Education Association have stepped up public events and direct action to push the Belmont School Committee towards what they believe is a reasonable offer to help fairly compensate members for several years of stagnate wages which assisted the town and school committee in balancing past budgets.
BREAKING: The first group of Belmont educators have reached an agreement during the current negotiations with the School Committee on Monday, June 6. The agreement between members of Unit B – made up of assistant principals and system wide directors – and the committee has yet to be announced although it appears the group has agreed to a 80/20 split to its insurance policy over the next three years. More to come.
Described as one of the “the connective tissue that holds the Beaumont public school system together” by her “comrade in arms” Burbank teacher and Unit A’s Clifford Gallant, Fitzsimmons noted during the current talks to produce the next three year contract, Unit D personnel – which includes aides, paraprofessionals, administrative and classroom assistants – are being offering a 50 cents an hour increase.
Her dedication to the profession requires Fitzsimmons and many of her fellow Unit D colleagues to work multiple part-time jobs to continue to do the work they love.
“We qualify for fuel assistance. We qualify for food stamps. We are insured through the Affordable Care Health Insurance because the insurance the town is offering is too expensive. I am a 50-year-old woman and I live at home with my father because I cannot afford my own [place],” Fitzsimmons said.
“So how is it possible that in a town like Belmont, you have employees that qualify for federal and state assistance? That is embarrassing and that should not be happening,” she said to the cheers of members and residents.
Speaking before the membership, BEA official and Belmont High teacher Marc Lefebvre said time has run out for nothing short of a new contract.
“Why now? Why this time? Don’t we deserve a modest cost of living? Why don’t we deserve to keep our benefits stable? Why don’t we deserve a little more time for professional learning and collaboration? Why does [the school committee] seem more interested in power then smoothing he extraordinarily difficult task of educating the children of this town. I think I can tell you why. Because they believe they’ve got us into a corner and they hope we’ll think we’re out of options.
“But we are here today to say we are done, done with protracted negotiations, done with hoping they’ll respect what we’ve been through these past few years,” said Lefebvre. “We’re sending a very clear message that the time to settle is now, time for them to be responsible is now and it’s time for a fair contract.”
“At a time when educator morale is low, when the hiring season is busier than I had ever seen, and experienced candidates are scarce, we need this contract settled and you need it settled now,” said Elizabeth Baker, a Unit B representative and district director of science, health and tech education.
Supporters of the union cause came out to voice their concerns. Resident, parent of two students and Town Meeting member PJ Looney said fairness transcends political differences as teachers should be treated as the valued members of the community they are.
BHS senior Angus Abercrombie who graduated Saturday pointed to his teachers who taught him not just about facts and data but about the world around him.
“Your job is not just to create the next generation of workers, it is to create the next generation of voters. You taught me about my history, about my country and about the power and responsibility that I have to change it. And knowing that is the real reason I’m here because there is nothing else I can morally be doing on a Wednesday evening than standing here and supporting you,” Abercrombie said.