‘This has gone too far’: Frustration is palpable as Newton teachers strike hits 10th day

Local News

The Newton Teachers Association said there’s about a $15 million gap between the union and the school committee’s proposals.

Striking Newton teachers rally outside the Newton Education Center last week. Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Newton schools will remain empty for a tenth school day Thursday due to the historic Newton Teachers Association strike, schools said.

City officials, educators, and parents are frustrated as they work to get schools open for Friday, which will mark two weeks since the start of the strike.

“We’re trying to solve real problems in the schools,” NTA negotiator Ryan Normandin said on Wednesday. “To go back (to schools) before we start to solve those problems would be irresponsible.”

The Newton Teachers Association said there’s about a $15 million gap between the union and the school committee’s proposals. The School Committee said $12 million of that is related to cost of living adjustments.

Normandin, a math and physics teacher at Newton South High School, said that Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has the money needed for NTA’s proposals, and that School Committee Chair Chris Brezski should ask for it.

“Chris Brezski and his school committee need to advocate more aggressively to the mayor to get those funds, and we would again encourage the mayor to come to our negotiations. She came once for the first time last night. She was not present today.” Normandin said.

Brezski spoke to WBZ about the strike, at one point breaking down in tears.

“This has gone too far,” Brezski said. “We need our kids back in school, and only the union can unilaterally make that decision.”

The School Committee said they raised their proposed cost of living adjustments for aides, which they said is “a harder job today than it has ever been.”

“The School Committee remains focused on reaching an agreement that is competitive and sustainable. Signing a contract we cannot afford is not going to improve outcomes for students, and will consume resources that our teachers are asking for to reduce class sizes and add mental health supports,” they said in a statement to parents. “We are still negotiating and doing the hard work every day to settle this contract. We again ask the NTA to let our kids go back to school.”

Normandin, standing in front of a dozen grim-faced teachers, said that the union is not budging on demanding a “humane” parental leave policy, “livable” wages for aides and behavioral therapists, and a social worker in every school.

“The School Committee did the same thing that they’ve been doing for 16 months,” he said. “In a meeting this evening, the School Committee reiterated their position. They don’t have enough money to settle this contract … there needs to be an ask of Mayor Fuller.”

Some parents turn to court, some to the picket line

The union says they have the support of parents, while other parents have turned to the courts to reopen schools as the strike stretches on. Two families have filed emergency motions to an injunction to end the strike, court documents show.

Parent Lital Asher-Dotan, who has three children in Newton Public Schools, filed one of the motions. In another document Wednesday, she requested “damages in the six figures per student, which are growing daily.”

Another family also called for a judge to impose more strict financial penalties and for the arrest of union president Mike Zilles for criminal contempt on Tuesday.

Asher-Dotan took to a press conference to share the “daily toll” the strike is taking on students.

“Open the schools now,” she said in a video posted to YouTube. “It is now a significant infringement of our children’s right to education, guaranteed by the Massachusetts law. This issue extends beyond the inconvenience of schedule. It’s about the future and wellbeing of our students.”

These requested damages are on top of already mounting fines against the teachers union for the strike, which is illegal. The union will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, but Normandin said that’s not a concern.

“The fines for us are not going to impact whether or not we return to the classroom,” Normandin said. “We are committed as we have been from the beginning to stay out as long as it takes to ensure that when we return, our students and our educators have what they need to be safe and to be successful.”