Teachers to vote on new contract

MIKE LABELLA/Staff photoTeachers from Haverhill’s Nettle Middle and Golden Hill Elementary schools gather Monday morning outside the schools for a walk-in — to protest the delay in the teachers union vote on a new contract.

Teachers in Haverhill public schools are expected to vote Thursday on a new, three-year contract that offers a 5.5% pay increase over three years, along with a restructuring of longevity pay, tuition reimbursement and improved working conditions.

“We have a contract that benefits new and veteran teachers, in terms of increased wages and improved working conditions and it is a great step in the right direction toward continuing to make Haverhill a better place to teach and learn,” said Anthony Parolisi, president of the Haverhill Education Association, the teachers union.

The contract calls for pay raise of 1.75 percent in the first and second years of the agreement, and a 2 percent increase in the third year.

Parolisi said his union's negotiation team met for more than three hours Monday with the School Committee negotiation team to finalize an agreement following last week’s postponement of a vote by the union.

Parolisi said the union's contract negotiation team believed it had come to an agreement last week with the School Committee contract negotiation team on a new contract.

“On Wednesday (of last week), we learned through the city solicitor there was misunderstanding over the contract in that they had a less-costly interpretation than we did and that they needed more time to understand how much our interpretation would cost,” Parolisi said. “Their issue wasn’t necessarily that they would not pay for it, but that they did not know if they could pay for it, so they needed time to research it to see what the difference in cost would be.”

Parolisi told said the matter was ironed out during negotiations on Monday.

“They identified the areas that needed to be addressed and made the necessary adjustments so our interpretations of the language are in sync,” he said.

Teachers across the district had staged a “walk in” Monday morning outside their schools in support of a new contract they expected would be put up for a vote last week but was delayed.

Parolisi said that Monday’s walk-ins were a response to last week’s forced cancellation of a vote on a new contract. The walk-ins feature teachers standing outside schools before the school day began and carrying signs to bring attention to the contract issue.

Now, the union is preparing to ask its members to vote on a new contract on Thursday, with voting taking place in each school building.

“This is a big step and I’m relieved I can now put it to members for a vote to see if it’s something they will accept,” Parolisi said. “I believe it’s a good contract that members will benefit from and I believe they should and will ratify it.”

The School Committee will have to vote to approve the contract as well, he said.

Parolisi said that for the first time, the contract includes a provision for teacher tuition reimbursement, something teachers have been asking for.

“They (school officials) will re-allocate $40,000 from the professional development budget and offer tuition reimbursement of up to $420 per teacher, per three-credit course, per year,” he said. “The important thing is we used to have nothing and now we have something.”

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta said the contract rolls teacher longevity payments into the salary scale, thereby allowing teachers to access pay increases at a “greatly accelerated” rate.

“We think it is a fair contract, which will benefit our teachers and our schools,” she said.

In terms of working conditions, Parolisi said the contract includes an improved mentorship program for new teachers, to help them develop and improve their skills.

“Additionally, teachers who work on an hourly rate outside of the contract will see the rate increase from $30 to $35 right away, for work such as teaching summer school, working after-school programs or writing new curriculum over the summer,'' he said. "Then it will go up to $40 by the end of this contract.

“We also have an agreement to form a committee that will work through the school year to review school schedules and work to establish equity and consistency for teachers at all levels in terms of case load, prep time and scheduling,” he said.

He said the goal is to to establish equity for teachers, just as the the district wants to provide equity for students.

“We don’t think it’s fair that a grade-five teacher at one school has different expectations than a grade-five teacher at another school,” Parolisi said.

He said the previous contract expired June 30, and that since the start of the new school year, teachers have been working just over a month without a contract.

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