Local Government and Politics, News

Swampscott teachers and school district at odds over new contract

Swampscott Superintendent of Schools Pamela Angelakis. (Item Fi)

SWAMPSCOTT — Teachers say the proposed new contract offers no raises for the next three years. But the administration insists that is untrue.

Nearly two dozen teachers attended Wednesday’s School Committee meeting to support Nancy Hanlon, president of the Swampscott Education Association, as she read a statement to the panel and Superintendent Pamela Angelakis. Hanlon expressed the union’s frustration over negotiations.

“We have been without a contract since the start of the school year,” Hanlon told the Item on Thursday. “We were supposed to have started bargaining a while ago. It’s unsettling to start a new year without a contract.”

The contract expired last month, Hanlon said, and the district is offering no raises or annual cost-of-living increases. 

“We want to see a fair salary increase, whatever is comparable to other cities and towns,” Hanlon said. “When you look at salaries across the state, Swampscott teachers are medium, right in the middle. We want a fair contract, which includes a cost-of living-increase for educators, so we are able to continually improve our skills through education and training.”

At the meeting, Hanlon told school officials that no school system in the area has agreed to 0 percent increases and “neither will we.”

“Although we do not question the town of Swampscott’s appreciation and respect for our efforts in the classroom and in the broader community, we do not understand why this is not reflected during our contract negotiations,” Hanlon said in the statement, which was obtained by the Item.

Angelakis and School Committee member Amy O’Connor declined to be interviewed.

In a joint statement they said the teachers’ union leadership has mischaracterized the contract negotiations.

It is true there is no updated contract, they said, but the previous contract remains in effect, meaning educators maintain their seniority and job security.

“The union leadership’s claim of no raises is untrue, as most teachers will continue to earn increases under the existing contract, many teachers even earning multiple increases,” the statement said.

School officials also said they offered more than a dozen dates over the summer to negotiate, but the union rejected them. Wednesday evening’s public statement from teachers was “virtually the only thing we have heard from union leadership since before school let out,” school officials said. They added they didn’t see those rejections as “bargaining in good faith.”

When asked about the date rejections, Hanlon said there were about six union members with conflicting summer schedules, which made it difficult to schedule a day to negotiate with school officials. Since school started, the parties have yet to meet.

“It’s hard to schedule such important meetings with so many people involved,” Hanlon added.

Swampscott teachers work 182 days a year, among the lowest in the state, and more than half of the 221 teachers earn salaries between $75,000 and $99,000, said the school administration statement. All teachers receive the same compensation package and wages are not impacted by performance, the administration added. 

“Even a 0 percent cost-of-living increase is the equivalent of a 1.5 increase to the salary expense under the current salary system as the result of step increases,” said the statement. “Our teachers have not seen a wage freeze even during the great recession.”

Still, the average teacher salary in Swampscott is $77,344 while their counterparts in Lynnfield make $84,173 or 9 percent higher, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. 

Step increases are one of three ways wages rise annually, school officials stated.  They are earned by completing another year of teaching, typically between 3.2 and 6.3 percent. There are also longevity bonuses for those who have stayed beyond threshold years, 2012, 2015, 2020, and 2025, and in some cases there are compound longevity bonuses.

But Hanlon disagreed.

“Step increases are different than a raise,” Hanlon told the Item. “The money is not about a percentage increase or raise but about salary advancement as teachers spread maximum potential earnings over the years.”

The district said other ways wages rise are through further education or so-called lane changes. Teachers get more pay as they earn credits towards a Master’s degree. Typically, the increases are between 1 and 5 percent, they said. 

Those hikes will continue to be earned even without a new contract.

The administration said they routinely must trim the budget to accommodate the more than 2 percent annual growth in salaries, but now they have to look at it as their largest allocation.

Hanlon said it is early in the negotiation and the district’s proposals are still preliminary. There’s still time to bargain, she said.

Meanwhile, the administration said they will continue to attract and retain great teachers.

“But if our budget continues to balloon because of compensation contracts, it can only mean fewer teachers and larger class sizes, which is a bad scenario for our students and teachers,” school officials stated.

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