Erving teachers advocate for better pay amid negotiation impasse

  • Erving sixth grade teacher Mark Burnett, lead negotiator for the Erving Teachers Association, speaks to the Erving School Committee about contract negotiations for teachers. The previous contract expired on June 30. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2022 6:44:24 PM
Modified: 9/21/2022 6:43:46 PM

ERVING — After beginning the school year without a contract, more than 20 teachers and paraprofessionals advocated for better pay during Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.

Led by lead negotiator and sixth grade teacher Mark Burnett, members of the Erving Teachers Association, clad in black, aired their positions during the meeting’s public comment period. This advocacy was initiated after staff and the School Committee “could not quite come together on an agreement for different points from both sides” after negotiations extended from January through May, Burnett explained.

The current impasse, he summarized, relates primarily to the lack of a wage increase at or above 2%, falling below the standard for town employees and the reasonable expectation to offset an increasing cost of living.

“During this time not only have we faced the challenges of a global health pandemic, but we have seen unrelenting and historical inflation scaling upwards of 9%,” Burnett said during a speech to the committee. “Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to settle a contract with a cost-of-living increase that reflects the value that Erving Elementary School educators bring to our district, and our contract expired on June 30, 2022.”

School Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Eichorn said in a written statement on Wednesday that she cannot comment on ongoing negotiations.

“We cannot discuss the details of the negotiations, as that is confidential until we settle,” Eichorn wrote. “We plan to negotiate in good faith with the Erving Teachers Association to provide a fair contract for Unit A. We deeply appreciate the talent and dedication our teachers provide at Erving Elementary School.”

Before he came before the School Committee, Burnett said committee members from the district and beyond “could be more aware of how difficult the job has become,” citing physical and mental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as primary causes for hardship. Particularly given these circumstances, Burnett argued there “ought to be some parity for everybody” when considering how certain town employees saw substantial wage increases during this budget cycle.

“You may not know that three positions in town — the town treasurer, the fire chief and town administrator — received wage increases of 16%, 20% and 25% this year,” Burnett said during his speech. “Do we think that is wrong? No. They work hard, they advance their knowledge in their profession through advanced coursework and put in more hours to do their job well. But, you know who else does all of those things, too? The people in this room.”

Selectboard Chairman Jacob Smith expressed that it is “misleading” to heed these figures as direct wage increases. He explained that for the town administrator and fire chief positions, the drastic-looking change is a result of the projected fiscal year 2022 budget contrasted with what has been budgeted for fiscal year 2023. In reality, he said, the FY23 budget was projected based on what had actually been spent in FY22, a figure that was considerably greater than what it had previously been projected to be. The increase from what was actually spent in FY22 to what the town plans to spend in FY23 is around 2%, according to Smith.

The budget also reflects an increase in treasurer office hours from 25 hours per week to 30 hours per week, as well as a 2% adjustment to base wages. Additional changes include a $500 increase to the treasurer’s expenses and an account created for $800 in Ameriflex fees.

“All three positions received the same percentage increase to their rate of pay from FY22 to FY23 as other employees,” Smith summarized.

Burnett noted he and his colleagues also want the addition of a salary lane for teachers who have taken advanced graduate courses, as they put in “a great deal of work … taking those better courses and reaching the next level.”

“Besides a realistic wage increase, we are being denied a salary lane for those of us who have reached 60 advanced graduate credits,” Burnett said in his speech. “This is equivalent to a doctorate or double master’s degree. Our request was denied by your committee because it was deemed too costly.”

Burnett said advocates “strongly disagree” with the notion that a wage increase of less than 2% is fair, particularly when considering that Erving is “sitting on just under $10 million in a savings account, according to its fiscal year 2023 proposed operating budget.” Erving’s operating budget shows approximately $9.3 million in its General Stabilization Fund.

“I hope each of you find your voice to say, ‘Enough. It’s time to settle a contract that shows that we value our schools and our staff,’” he told the School Committee.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com. Chris Larabee contributed to the reporting of this story.


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