Finally: Teachers, Educators Ratify Three-Year Contract With School Committee

Photo: The BEA is Belmont’s largest employee union with 500 members.

The members of three of four bargaining units of the Belmont Education Association have this month ratified new three-year contracts with the Belmont School Committee, all retroactive to September 2017, the start of the current school year. The new contract comes four months after the two sides told the public they had reached a tentative agreement.

The contract will cover approximately 500 union members, of which 330 are teachers and educators in Belmont’s six public schools and those working in the district. The BEA employee contract is the largest in the town; at $26.2 million in fiscal year 2018, it just under half of the school budget of $53.0 million. 

Only Unit C, which represents approximately 18 administrative assistants and secretaries, remains unresolved. John Sullivan, the association’s president, said the members “should vote in the next month.”

Sullivan said educators in Unit A, which is made up of teachers, will receive an annual 2 percent cost of living adjustment under the terms of the contract. There is also “improved language in the areas of teaching and learning,” he noted. 

The MOAs of the three units are below:

BREAKING: Teachers’ Union, School Committee Reach Tentative Contract Agreement

Photo: Belmont Education Association logo.

After working without a contract for the past two and a half months, representatives from the union representing Belmont’s teachers and the School Committee told the Belmontonian they had reached a tentative multi-year contract.

While attorneys for both sides are hammering out the final wording, a contract will be presented to the union membership and the school committee members “soon,” said John Phelan, superintendent of the Belmont School District.

“We have come to an agreement,” said John Sullivan, president of the Belmont Education Association on Tuesday night.

A joint press release will be issued with the contract’s details including salary and benefits “before Thanksgiving.”

The contract will cover approximately 500 union members, of which 330 are teachers and educators in Belmont’s six public schools and those working in the district. The BEA employee contract is the largest in the town; at $26.2 million in fiscal year 2018, it just under half of the school budget of $53.0 million. 

The last three-year contract between teachers and the town ended on Aug. 31, just days before the school year began.

Sources said the delay in forming a contract was due to benefits and added responsibilities being asked of educators rather than salaries.


Belmont Educators Come Out In Mass To Support Contract Negotiations

Photo: Kristen Bell speaking before the School Committee and her colleagues.

Approximately 125 teachers and educators jammed into the Community Room at the Chenery Middle School Tuesday night, Sept 26, to demonstrate its support of its union – the Belmont Education Association – before the Belmont School Committee as the two sides attempt to hammer out a multi-year contract in the next month.

“As educators and union members … we stand with our negotiators in support of our vision of the schools our students deserve,” said Kristen Bell, a first-grade teacher at the Wellington, Belmont resident and an official with the union, who spoke before a sea of colleagues in red T-shirts and school committee members during its scheduled meeting.

The past contract between teachers and the town ended on Aug. 31, just days before the school year began.

The BEA and the school committee have two remaining agreed-to negoitating sessions to resolve salary and benefit differences and craft a contract for the 500 union members, of which 330 are teachers in Belmont’s six public schools.

Bell said the union is seeking to:

  • Ensure curriculum-based learning is free from distractions and excessive mandates.
  • Allow time for educators to think, plan and collaborate in meaningful ways.
  • Provide educators the appropriate level of influence over decisions with their schools.
  • Maintain consistent and qualified instructional coverage for students, and 
  • Ensure the town continues to attract and maintain “exemplary educators.” 

While neither side would reveal how far apart they remain on wages and benefits, the union and school committee have only encouraging words about the talks. School committee members and teachers greeted each other with smiles and the amenity of friends. 

“We have faith and hope [the school committee] will reach agreement before the end of October,” said Bell. 

In a statement from the School Committee, Chair Lisa Fiore said she was glad to hear that the BEA supports the work on both sides.

“As with all union negotiations, the balance we always try to strike is supporting our educators and being accountable to our taxpayers,” she said.

Belmont Schools Face ‘Significant, Negative Impact’ in Fiscal ’16 Budget; Loss of 22 Positions, Larger Class Sizes

Photo: Teacher and staff represented by the Belmont Education Association listening to District Superintendent John Phelan present the fiscal 2016 school budget to the Belmont School Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Belmont students will face “significant and negative impacts” if the Belmont School Committee approves an available revenue budget for the next fiscal year leaving the town’s top-rated schools with an anticipated $1.7 million shortfall, according to Belmont District Superintendent John Phelan.

The current budget would force Phelan to eliminate up to 22 full-time positions including teachers and staff, allow classroom sizes in all grades to exceed the School Committee’s own benchmarks for effective teaching and increase the number of “frees” and study halls for middle and high school students.

“It would be problematic for the district to function as a Tier 1 district under this budget,” Phelan told the Belmontonian Thursday, Feb. 12.

Making the first public presentation of the fiscal 2016 budget before the School Committee and approximately 75 teachers and staff at the Chenery Middle School, Phelan presented an overview of its fiscal year 2016 budget in which the district would run on the best estimates of the available revenue from state and town sources.

Under the town’s estimates, the schools will receive $47.5 million in fiscal ’16 under the current Town Meeting approved 58/42 budget “split” in which the district receives 58 percent of total revenues.

Belmont is already doing a great deal of what it has, said Phelan. Where the average annual expenditure per student statewide is $14,571, Belmont has become an educational destination for homebuyers spending roughly $12,800 a year.

In the presentation, Phelan told the committee the district finds itself facing several “pressure points,” the most immediate is the skyrocketing increase in enrollment. In just the past five years – 2009 to 2014 – the student population in kindergarten to 12th grade has increased by 317 students to 4,222 in October, 2014.

And the forecast is that an additional 408 students will enter the district by 2019, a ten-year increase of 723 pupils. For comparison, the Wellington Elementary School has approximately 440 students.

Phelen said the increasing population has also bumped up the number of students requiring assistance in English Language learning by nearly double in two years, 117 in 2013 to 222 in 2015. Because about 80 of those students are not very proficient in English, the state requires Belmont to hire new staff to provide 2.5 hours of “small group instruction.”

Also in the overall population is a growing number special education students. The major component of the current year’s $500,000 school deficit is nearly $950,000 in unanticipated costs associated with special education. And those costs will increase in fiscal 2016 with the rising number of students entering the district.

When calculating the new costs required to the current “pressure points” and moving the current level of staff and teachers into the new year, the schools will need $49.2 million just to “stay current.”

But with rising costs and stagnate revenue, Phelan said schools will be unable to meet the demands of the residents and students for a top-tier education as it attempts to fill the $1.7 million gap.

“With enrollments going up, and the number of positions staying steady if not being reduced, I would be hard pressed to say we can continue what we are doing,” Phelan told the Belmontonian.

The cuts would be deep and substantial: 22 full-time positions from teaching, staff and aids would be cut, a further reduction in material and supplies, trimming professional development, forego building maintenance, increase the fees to rent school property and a large increase in student and family fees for sports, clubs and full-time kindergarten.

What isn’t seen in the cost cutting will be more students in each classroom, less programs and idle teens “sitting on benches in the high school and in study halls at the Chenery,” said Phelan.

“This can only negatively impact student learning.”

The solution in Phelan’s eye and, in previous discussions with the School Committee, is to enthusiastically support the proposal outlined last month by the Financial Task Force to request the Board of Selectmen to place a three-year, $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the ballot to fund the enrollment issues facing the district.

“That is the solution,” he said.

John Sullivan, a Palfrey Road resident, Belmont teacher and president of the Belmont Education Association which represents district teachers in union negotiations, told the board that despite a highly trained and capable staff, class size impacts the day-to-day experience of students.

“If Belmont wants to maintain a high-quality student experience, one that puts Belmont High in the top 10 percent of high school state-wide, then the fiscal year ’16 budget, and future budgets, need to address the increase in enrollment,” said Sullivan.

Belmont Schools, Teachers Union Sign Three-Year Deal

Limitations to Belmont’s financial future and job security trumped demands for big pay increases as the Belmont School Committee and Andy Rojas, chair of the Belmont Board of Selectmen, approved three-year labor agreements with the four bargaining units represented by the Belmont Education Association on Tuesday, June 24.

“There’s been a relationship of honest communication and trust established that we can build upon,” BEA President John Sullivan told the Belmontonian after the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting held at the Chenery Middle School.

“We hope that the process producing these agreements has helped deepen relationships based on trust and mutual understanding that will support teaching and learning through the life of these contracts,” said a press release dated Wednesday, June 25 that was signed by Belmont School Committee chair Laurie Slap and Sullivan.

After a year-long negotiation, the union and the committee reached the tentative agreements on Thursday, June 12 with the BEA units approving the four respective agreements on Wednesday, June 18.

The four units comprise teachers (Unit A), directors and assistant principals (Unit B), clerical employees (Unit C) and paraprofessionals (Unit D).

On the salary front for teachers – that makes up the largest BEA unit with approximately 300 members – most of the increases over the next three years will be going to the most senior of the teachers. Those with 14 or more years of service, known as “top spots,” will receive the bulk of increase:

  • Year one, only the “top” educators will receive a 1 percent increase,
  • Year two a 2 percent increase for the top educators while those with 13 years or less will receive a 1 percent increase, and
  • Year three, top step educators will get a 2.5 percent with the less-senior educators receiving 1 percent again.

Yet those increases have been tampered down by the effective dates of the jump in salaries; increases in the first year will not begin showing up in pay packages until the 113th day of the year, with similar delays in the subsequent years; 109 days in year two and 121 days in year three.

“So the one percent increase in the first year is really about 80 cents to the dollar,” said Sullivan, a teacher at Belmont High School who led the union’s 10-member negotiating team.

“We believe the compensation picture has stayed within the projected available revenue that will be coming to the school department over the next three fiscal years,” said Belmont District Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston who participated in his final committee meeting before department from his three year “interim” position on June 30.

While the contract’s pay compensation increase is sparse for most teachers – two percent over two years – the membership approved the union’s package overwhelmingly, said Sullivan.

“We had a lot of questions on salaries in our meeting last week,” said Sullivan, having met with his membership for an hour before the votes was taken last week.

Modest increase in salary

“There was faith in the team and trusted the work that we had done with the school committee. … [the] compensation package allows Belmont to say competitive in retain and attract highly-qualified teachers,” said Sullivan.

In a recent Boston Business Journal report, Belmont teachers ranked 30th in state according to salary information from 2011 with an average teacher’s salary of just lower than $80,000.

“We remain on that upper level of compensation with other towns so we are competitive,” said Sullivan.

The relatively modest pay increases for Belmont teachers in this contract is based on the acceptance by both sides that the town is unlikely to see any appreciable increase in available revenue for the foreseeable future.

The realization Belmont relies heavily on residential property taxes – whose increases are limited to 2 1/2 percent annually – while lacking the capacity to generate tax revenue from new growth such as commercial real estate or fees restricted what the union could ask for and the town to give.

“The agreements provide for compensation in line with projected annual School Department revenues for fiscal years 2015, 2016, and 2017,” said the School Committee press release.

Both the committee and Sullivan said the most important issue facing the sides was that the district “remains committed to attract and retain a highly qualified staff that meets the needs of our students,” according the committee’s press release.

The other major agreement achieved in the contract is job protection for paraprofessional such as teacher’s aides. The new contract states that at the end of the 2015-16 school year, no [paraprofessional] who has successfully completed five years of service can only be dismissed with “good cause.” In addition, a new evaluation system will be jointly negotiated during the upcoming school year.

“We have a highly-dedicated group of professional aides that does a great job supporting students. It’s a sign of respect and [they] feel better with their position within the district,” said Sullivan.

In addition to the job protections for the aides, the agreements also provides the standardization of clerical personnel job classifications and pay-for-performance benefits to directors and assistant principals, said the press release.

The agreement continues the “step and lane” salary schedule in which teachers receive pay for years of service and education level they achieve.

Kingston said while he continues to believe “step and lane” compensation is “unsustainable,” he said this contracts mitigates the formula by acknowledging the limits on revenue growth.

Both sides agreed that employing in part the principles of interest-based bargaining – in which both sides expressed their underlying interests for each request – greatly assisted the negotiation process.

The committee and the town will also be created a Joint Labor-Management Committee to “continue addressing district-wide issues of mutual concern,” said the press release.

“It’s building on the relationships we’ve established so we won’t have as many items in three years with the next contract,” said Sullivan.

“We don’t want to put everything on hold for three years,” said Slap.

The specific details of the agreements are available on the Belmont School Department’s website under the School Committee tab in the next few days.

School Committee, Teachers Set to Sign Three-Year Contract Tuesday

After nearly a year of weekly negotiations and late-night meetings, the Belmont School Committee and the Belmont Education Association, the agent for Belmont’s classroom instructors, will sign a new three-year memoranda of agreement at the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, June 24.

The contact will be signed by BEA President John Sullivan. The BEA represents the district’s school teachers, assistant principals, coordinators, teacher aides/instructional support staff and campus monitors.

Sources contacted by the Belmontonian would not go into detail on the specifics in the contract including the percentage salary increase or whether the two sides have agreed to continue the “steps and lanes” salary schedule. Steps refer to how many years a teacher has been teaching, and lanes refer to how much education the teacher has.

Under the current three-year contract, set to expire on Aug. 31, first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree received $46,546 in fiscal year 2014 while a first year educator with a PhD would earn $55,788. At the top end, a PhD with 15 years of work experience makes just under $100,000.

Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston – who is leaving his position on June 30 – has been publicly critical of the steps and lanes schedules as pay increases are automatically given to educators without consideration for performance. Other critics contend an across-the-board pay increase would be a fair substitute of the current structure.

Supporters of the current pay schedule say that it provides transparency as they are based on easily quantifiable measures ensuring equitable salaries without biases towards teachers and allows those educators to plan for the future by giving them a reasonable assurance of their yearly income.