Published January 15, 2020

WAKEFIELD — While some educators stand near town schools holding signs that say they don’t have a contract and that they deserve respect, one School Committee member last night answered back.

Following is a statement read by Tom Markham, chair of the School Committee’s Labor Relations Subcommittee, at the school board’s January 14 meeting:

“The teachers of the Wakefield Public Schools are employed under a collective bargaining agreement or contract negotiated every three years by the School Committee and the teachers’ union, Unit A of the Wakefield Education Association, an affiliate of the Massachusetts Teacher Association.

“Although the current teachers’ contract expired on August 31, 2019 with regard to the 2019-20 school year the terms and conditions, including work calendar and schedules, employee rights, grievance procedures, and the teacher salary schedule remain in effect until a new contract is put in place.

“The negotiations teams of the School Committee’s Labor Relations Subcommittee and Superintendent and the elected leaders of the teachers’ union have been meeting since last winter in an attempt to appreciate and improve the teaching and learning environments of the Wakefield Public Schools, which includes fair and much deserved wage increases.

“Please know that teachers are being paid for their work this school year and paid at a higher base wage than last year. Teachers, like all unionized school employees, are paid off a salary schedule that has built in salary increases each year, based on years of service and post graduate education standing. The increment on this schedule increases teacher salaries, depending on years of service and education level, is between 2% and 5% per year. Unresolved in these contract talks, in terms of wages, is how much of a raise would be granted due to cost of living adjustment and any other adjustments to the overall scale itself, such as a base salary market adjustment to keep Wakefield competitive with other like, comparable or proximate towns.

“These contract negotiations have been respectful and professional in nature with an eye on jointly improving teaching and learning conditions of the schools and developing a fair salary and compensation package. While some of these negotiation sessions have been productive, others have not. After not reaching an agreement before the end of last school year, our two teams decided to take a summer break and resume talks in earnest in the fall. That occurred, and the two negotiations teams have been meeting regularly throughout the fall and winter. In between those sessions with union officials School Committee members on the Labor Relations Subcommittee and the school administration meet in strategy and bargaining preparation sessions. The teachers’ union representatives meet in similar strategy and bargaining preparation sessions among themselves.

“The full group of both teams, having met regularly since mid-September, continue to share ideas and concerns about student achievement, teacher expectations, wages, benefits and working conditions, including salary increases, and have tentatively agreed to several items.

“We have had a busy schedule of negotiations during the past few months and had planned on all day session for Saturday, January 4. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling glitch we were unable to meet on that Saturday, but have scheduled new sessions in the coming days and weeks in a joint, genuine effort to agree on terms, conditions and wages that are fair, appropriate and suitable to the outstanding teaching faculty of the Wakefield Public Schools. Our talks will resume with a concerted focus on completing an agreement within the next several weeks.

“There is nothing more fundamental to free speech than for Americans to gather on public ground, holding a sign or two, sharing a message of common or individual interest in a peaceful and engaging manner. The School Committee and the administration recognize the teachers’ right to free speech and understand and share frustration with the pace of the negotiations process. None of the teacher protests have interfered with the safe and timely arrival of students, the flow of traffic patterns for parents or other employees arriving to work, and we thank the teachers for this well-formed and notable protest. While some of our negotiations have been slow, most have been enlightening and informative in helping the teams appreciate the concerns and ideas brought forward by each group. We have more work to do, but the School Committee and administration remain committed to fair and affordable wage increases and teaching conditions that will best support students in their classrooms and teachers in their workplace. We look forward to resuming our contract talks within the next week and concluding our collective bargaining within the next month or two,” Markham concluded.