On Friday night, Newton Public Schools and the Newton Teachers Association confirmed the two parties had reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract.
The union and school committee still have to formally vote to approve the contract, but the tentative agreement signals the end of the ongoing teacher strike and a return to class on Monday.
"I hope that when we go back to the schools on Monday — when our students, who we love so much, go back to the schools on Monday — that we remember that we are the Newton Public Schools, and that we fought tooth and nail for the schools that our students, teachers and families deserve," Ryan Normandin, a teacher and member of the union's negotiations team, said in announcing the deal Friday.
"We're all breathing a sigh of relief," Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said. "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."
The strike began on Jan. 19, when teachers said they reached a breaking point after more than a year of unsuccessful contract negotiations with the school committee and complained of chronic underfunding. The list of sticking points was broad, with disputes around pay for teachers and instructional aides, benefits, class sizes, and the hiring of more social workers. In particular, the union called attention to the low pay of teaching assistants, who receive a starting salary as low as $26,000 a year.
Full details of the new contract were not immediately available on Friday, but the teachers union announced benefits including higher starting pay for paraprofessionals, 40 days of paid parental leave, and increased student access to social workers.
Throughout the strike Mayor Fuller, Newton School Committee Chair Chris Brezski and the Newton Teachers Association disputed how much the city could afford to spend without raising taxes.
"The money is already there in the surpluses that the city has been running year after year,” union representative Mike Schlegelmilch said early in the strike. “So, what we're asking for is the school committee and the mayor could settle this contract anytime."
But Fuller and Brezski repeatedly countered that assertion, accusing the union of making proposals “not grounded in any economic reality” and counting on money that simply doesn’t exist.
As the missed school days mounted, some Newton residents lost patience with the strike. At least three parents, citing harm to their children, filed lawsuits seeking a court order to reopen the schools. On Tuesday, a group of city councilors held a press conference even though they are not involved in the negotiations and do not oversee the district budget.
“This strike has to end,” Council President Marc Laredo said. “We need to get our kids back in the classroom and we need to do it now.”
While schools will reopen Monday, the school committee still needs to plan to make up lost classroom time caused by the strike. State law requires the school year to end by June 30 and include at least 180 days of instructional time. The district’s originally scheduled last day of school, June 14, only provides for 10 additional school days before July 1. On Thursday, the school committee voted to cancel four vacation days during February break and left open the possibility of canceling other vacation days as well.
Also to be resolved are court-imposed state fines against the union that have been accruing because it is illegal for public employees to strike in Massachusetts. Those fines totaled more than $625,000 as of Feb. 2. On Friday afternoon, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Christopher Barry-Smith said he would enter a judgment on Monday at noon for the fines.
The Newton standoff is the sixth teachers’ strike in Massachusetts since 2022. That includes educator work stoppages in Andover, Brookline, Haverhill, Malden and Woburn. The Newton strike is also the largest so far, affecting 12,000 students and 22 schools. And unlike the other teachers’ strikes that lasted between one and five days, Newton’s is the longest by far.