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North Suburban News

UPDATED: Reading Teachers Continue Fight for New Contract

Nov 07, 2018 10:42PM ● By Dan Marra

Updated: On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the Reading School Committee and the Reading Teachers Association reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year, collective bargaining agreement. Both parties will now review the final agreement and take votes to finalize the process.  The agreement will take effect once both the Reading School Committee and Reading Teachers Association have ratified the contract.  The details of the agreement will be released at that time.

READING – Last year, during the contentious Proposition 2 ½ override vote, the Reading Teachers Association (RTA) partnered with town officials to support the passage of that vote. Now, the teacher’s association finds itself at odds with school and town administrators.

The RTA and the Reading School Committee have been in talks for a new contract since the spring, but with negotiations stalling, the Reading teachers have been working this year without a contract.

As mediation began Wednesday, Nov. 7 between the School Department and the RTA, more than three dozen teachers showed up outside of the district headquarters where the meeting was taken place to voice their displeasure over the contraction situation.

“This definitely concerns me,” said Reading resident and parent Kristen Lachance. “With the override vote we had last year I had hoped the teachers would reap those benefits. We have an incredible group of teachers at the schools and we want them to stay in town.”

According to the RTA, the average teacher’s salary in town is $8,556 less than the average teacher salary across the state. The RTA also claims that their teachers work more days, attend more after-school meetings (30 a year in Reading, 10-20 in comparable districts) and pay more for health benefits  (split is about 70/30 in Reading versus 80/20 across the state).

In a statement, the Reading School Department said that it has “offered fair and reasonable terms, including proposed financial terms, throughout the negotiations with the Reading Teachers Association.”

According to the School Committee, there are a number of areas where the two sides agree, and that the committee is  “balancing the many goals of our district that are impacted through this process and continues our commitment to fiscal sustainability, attracting and retaining staff and teachers, and the achievement of our district mission and vision.”

However, the RTA did not agree with the initial contract offered by the School Committee, voting it down by a ratio of 5 to 1, saying in a statement, “It is easy to see why our town struggles to retain experienced teachers when they can move to a neighboring district and get an immediate raise in salary, have the employer pay a larger percentage of insurance benefits, and be required to attend fewer after-school meetings.”

The RTA would not expand on what it considers “comparable” districts, but compared to neighboring communities, Reading’s retention rate does lag behind some other communities. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE), for the 2017 school year, Reading had a retention rate of 86.1 percent, falling behind neighboring communities in Wakefield (90.1), Stoneham (90.3), Winchester (91.4), Wilmington (87.9) and Woburn (95.4).

However, while the average teacher salary may be less in Reading than the state average, when compared to those same towns, Reading teachers fair a little better. During that same school year, according to the DOE, Reading teachers had an average salary of $74,407. Compared to Wakefield ($73,902), Stoneham ($72,302), Winchester ($75,752), Wilmington ($76,087) and Woburn ($79,061), teacher salaries are a little more on par.

The RTA continues to push for a better contract from the town and with mediation under way; it is unclear how much longer teachers in Reading will be without a contract.

“Reading needs to become more comparable in salary, working conditions and benefits in order to be able to retain and attract quality teachers and administrators,” the RTA said in a statement. “This is not a want. It is an urgent need. We cannot continue to watch as our respected colleagues leave for other districts, and we do not want to see the quality of public education in Reading jeopardized.”

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