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Tensions remain between Swampscott teachers, education association

Swampscott teachers rally in front of Swampcott High School as they fight for a fair salary increase. (Spenser R. Hasak)

SWAMPSCOTT — Tensions are still high between the Swampscott school administration and the teachers’ union, regarding the teacher contract negotiations.

Last week, the administration sent out a flyer with “some facts regarding the contract negotiations.” In the flyer, they stated that after weeks of “inaccurate and misleading information being put forth by the Swampscott Education Association (SEA),” they felt “compelled to set the record straight.” 

“Union leadership has shown an unwillingness to negotiate meaningfully,” the administration stated in the flyer.

The administration stated it never offered a 0 percent pay increase for teachers and there have been several proposals made between April and October that the SEA turned down. Union leadership is demanding a 3 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which, according to the administration, would cost the town $3.1 million over three years.

Teacher compensation and benefits are “more than fair,” the school administration continued. About 54 percent earn between $75,000 and $100,000, 33 percent earn between $50,000 and $74,000, 5 percent earn more than $100,000, 61 percent are at the top of their pay scale, some retire with sick-leave buyback checks of more than $25,000 and up to $50,000, and 72 percent of family healthcare costs are covered.

“There are so many awesome things happening in our district because of the work from our teachers, but this is a municipality and we don’t control the town budget, so this is bigger than us,” Swampscott School Committee Chairwoman Gargi Cooper told the Item on Tuesday. “We are doing the best we can to continue to run our excellent programming and to continue to support our excellent teachers.”

A few days after the flyer was sent out, the SEA sent out a rebuttal with several fact clarifications. They stated they have gone into the bargaining sessions “ready and willing to conduct meaningful negotiations,” but it has been a one-sided process with little input allowed from the SEA bargaining team.

“We have had tough bargaining years, but I have to say this has been the toughest I have seen it,” said Rebecca Bucklin, who has been teaching in Swampscott elementary schools for two decades. “Nobody is looking to be paid like a rock star or superstar. We are just looking to get paid a fair wage increase.”

Regarding the offered proposals from the administration, the SEA stated it is looking for an across-the-board percentage increase that is similar to a cost-of-living increase, not the allowance of teachers to move down a “step” on the payscale, which was first proposed by the administration in April.

“Because teachers move down steps for each year of experience, they earn more money each consecutive year (topping out at step 12),” the SEA stated. “With 64 percent of teachers at the bottom step in a lane, there are many whose salaries are going to look the same each of the three years.”

For the 3 percent annual COLA, the SEA stated its costing estimates were closer to a $2 million range over three years, not $3 million as stated by the administration. With the average cost of living increase at 2.5 percent a year in Massachusetts, according to SEA, it is hoping to gain some financial footing with the 3 percent proposal.

“Teachers need and deserve a pay increase for positive reinforcement for the job well-done and more importantly to feed our families and pay our bills, which are increasing every single day in Massachusetts,” said Mary Casey, a 23-year teacher at Swampscott Middle School.

The SEA also had rebuttals to the administration’s statement of “more than fair” teacher compensation and benefits. It stated teacher pay scales max out at $91,472, meaning those who perform second and third jobs within the district earn additional monies. Teachers, it continued, only reach the top of the pay scale through years of experience, which in town usually means 12 years or more.

The sick-leave buyback was removed from the contract 24 years ago, stated the SEA, and at the time teachers could opt into a 403B account (similar to a 401k), or keep the buyback. But, as teachers continue to retire each year, those still eligible for that dwindle, it stated. 

At the end of the rebuttal, the SEA stated the town’s increase in Chapter 70 funding, about $609,000 for this fiscal year, which wasn’t mentioned in any of the negotiations. Lynn was recently able to settle its teacher salaries contract by using its increased Chapter 70 funds, it stated. 

“New teachers hearing all this trouble with the administration and getting a fair contract are probably thinking, who would want to work here?” said Lisa Green, a 20-year teacher at Swampscott High School. “It makes it an unattractive place to come work in and the administration has to realize that.” 

 

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