This Monday, Newton students are back in their classrooms following a 15-day strike and a hard-fought four-year educator contract between the Newton Teachers Association, Newton School Committee and Mayor Ruthanne Fuller. This teachers strike was the sixth of its kind in Massachusetts since 2022 — it is also the largest and longest strike, impacting a total of 12,000 students from 22 Newton schools.

The deal was announced on Friday, Feb. 2 after Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Christopher Barry-Smith, at the School Committee’s request, agreed to increase the NTA’s daily fine from $50,000 to $100,000 in the event it proceeded past this week. This fine originates from Massachusetts’ law prohibiting public employees and employee organizations from striking, encouraging or condoning any “work stoppage.” 

Ultimately, the financial penalty has amassed $625,000 in court-ordered fines. Both the NTA and the School Committee have agreed that the teachers association will pay a minimum of $275,000. However, a judge will decide if the NTA must pay its full penalty, and if the money will go towards Newton public schools or the state.

In a Feb. 4 Instagram post, the NTA announced that 97% of its members voted to ratify the new contract, and the organization expressed its satisfaction with its provisions. Some of the new provisions highlighted by the NTA include “humane” paid parental leave and an increase in paid family leave. The post also emphasized higher wages for “Unit C” employees, such as aides and behavioral therapists, and added payment for teachers who voluntarily substitute classes.

Mayor Fuller expressed that the increased pay will not force the district to lay off current employees. Instead, the necessary funding came from Newton’s operating budget and “the use of one-time funds in a judicious manner that doesn’t create fiscal cliffs,” she explained. 

School Committee Chair, Chris Brezski, added that the contract is “competitive” and that Newton educators and the greater district should “feel good about it, that this is something that’s going to allow us to provide what we need for our kids.”

These discussions have also created a path for the NTA to continue advocating for 220 minutes of preparation time for elementary school teachers. While the School Committee does not recommend this additional time, the NTA’s post clarified that it has the “ability to reopen negotiations on this subject to push for the prep time all educators deserve.”

“We’re all breathing a sigh of relief,” Mayor Fuller said in a Feb. 2 press conference. “We’re certainly getting ready for Monday morning, but also in the coming days I ask for the help of everyone here in Newton in finding ways to reflect and reconnect, to learn from each other and to heal.” 

As a result of the strike, the Newton community found itself divided alongside the NTA and the School Committee. While numerous families showed their support for the NTA by bringing meals and rallying alongside the educators, tensions thickened amongst parents as the strike progressed. Some urged the teachers to return to their lesson plans and one claimed a lawsuit in the Middlesex District Court. 

Lital Asher-Dotan, a mother of three, filed an emergency motion to the court, expanding on the detriment that the two-week strike has had on her children’s education. She expressed the damage that she felt the strike had on her child’s chances of being accepted into college and how the shortened athletic season negatively impacted two of her children who are involved in sports. Furthermore, she said that both she and her husband work full-time and are unable to supervise their children adequately. 

To make up for the 11 missed school days, the School Committee has unanimously decided to use four days from the district’s February break. However, the committee has yet to determine where the remaining seven days will come from given that Massachusetts law requires all districts to hold 180 official school days.

“Those days on strike, for us, were work days, hard days standing out in the cold, not knowing how much longer we had to hold the line. And now we must work 11 more days,” NTA president, Mike Zilles, wrote in a Feb. 3 statement. He acknowledged the difficulty of having to make up 11 school days on the heels of the difficult strike but reminded the organization that the NTA and School Committee’s return to work agreement is “realistic” as it ensures full pay to educators, provided the full school year is complete.