“We Expect More. We Deserve More”

 

by Chris Wangler

November 15, 2022

Dressed in red, dozens of Waltham educators jammed the Cannon Lecture Hall recently to press the school committee for a new contract. 

The Waltham Educators Association (WEA) has roughly 800 members. With inflation sky-high, the union is seeking a cost-of-living increase and a modernized parental leave policy.

Roughly half a dozen veteran educators spoke, all Waltham residents and almost all parents of schoolchildren in the district. 

They told the school committee about their strong commitment to students and disappointment at current negotiations.

COLA Increase

“Two percent is not respectable,” said Jen Laforest, a teacher and parent of four who went to Waltham schools and has taught in them for decades. 

As negotiations continue, she asked the school committee to show the same flexibility and commitment that Waltham teachers did during COVID for the children of Waltham.

The WEA action happened as districts across the state have made headlines with contract deals, including one following an illegal strike. 

“Teachers are keenly aware of the settlements that districts near us have recently ratified,” said WEA co-president Ryan Hoyt, a fifth grade teacher at Northeast.

Waltham has been negotiating with the WEA since winter 2021. The teachers’ contract ended at the end of August. 

The WEA balked at the city’s initial offer of 0.75% each year over three years. The situation isn’t dire quite yet, according to union leaders, but they’re intent on avoiding a long negotiation.

“We’re still a long way from where we need to be,” said WEA co-president Nate Rono [at right in photo, with Ryan Hoyt, left].

Marisa Maddox is a longtime WHS biology teacher who settled in Waltham to raise a family of three. “Every day this continues, our morale suffers,” she told the school committee. 

She serves on numerous committees to help students, but said her salary after 15 years is “at the bottom of the pack” compared to other districts. 

Updated Parental Leave Language

The WEA is also seeking a modernized parental leave policy reflecting current realities and what’s being offered elsewhere.

“Times are different,” Ryan Hoyt of the WEA said. “Families look different than they did when this language was written” in 2003.

He said Waltham teachers must use earned sick days after having a baby. In other districts and the private sector, parental leave is more generous—and sometimes separate from sick days.

And fathers get less. Like other male teachers, Waltham dad and longtime WHS teacher Mike DiLuzio only got one week of leave when his kids were born. 

He said Waltham’s policy is “kind of put to shame” when compared with Belmont and Cambridge. “We expect more,” the veteran educator said. “We deserve more.”

Abigail Latona has taught in Waltham for 10 years and settled in the city to raise a family. She got 30 days off after her son was born. She said elsewhere the amount is “double that time or more.”

“We are being given less than the bare minimum and it’s unacceptable,” she said.

Student Advocates

It’s not just teachers who addressed the school committee on November 2.

Gustavo Dominguez, a Waltham High School senior who wants to be an engineer, said he was unable to take a physics course in person. “Not investing in teachers directly affects students,” he said.

WHS junior Michaela Chugkowski said her teachers go the extra mile without being rewarded. 

“Teachers who are not getting what they need can’t give students what we need,” she said.

Declining Morale and Departures

Teachers were lauded as frontline heroes during COVID, but they said they’re feeling underappreciated now.

As morale slips, longtime educators such as WHS teacher Russ Sorin are now considering leaving as the city struggles to attract and retain educators. “I can’t believe I’m actually saying this,” he told the school committee.

“Several veteran teachers have left Northeast Elementary in the middle of the school year,” said Kelly Fitzpatrick, another veteran educator and parent.

“Money speaks. They’re leaving for more money,” she said.

Veteran teacher, Waltham resident and mom Kristen Amarante gave several examples in which city custodians and police officers were paid overtime, but educators were not.

“Is their personal time more valuable than ours?” she asked.

The school committee did not respond to public input comments made by educators at the meeting. Since the WEA action, the school committee met to discuss the contract situation last week and will meet again this week.

“We’ve had a very productive, professional tone in our negotiations and we are making progress,” said WEA co-president Ryan Hoyt. “We would just like to see it move a little bit faster.”

Watch the full November 2 Waltham School Committee meeting