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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – It may be chilly outside, but there is a feeling of warmth, and of relief, moving through the Shrewsbury schools this morning, as the Shrewsbury Education Association reached a tentative agreement with the Shrewsbury School Department on a new contract. To say that the teachers I’ve spoken to are elated at that idea might be an understatement. I know for certain that after several days of standing in sub zero weather in town center holding “Fair Contract” signs, none of the people I spoke with were too excited about doing it once again.
This has been for many, one of the toughest contracts to negotiate – not because of the parties involved, but rather due to the reality of what funds were available, and the already onerous class sizes that were becoming all too common throughout the district. Clearly, with a finite pool of resources, you cannot increase positions, and increase compensation at the same time. For that reason, the teachers have been working without a contract since the prior agreement expired, and the frustration was clearly evident, if not in casual conversation, than by the “Fair Pay” buttons which adorned most of the staff.
Getting this behind us is going to be a huge achievement. School Committee Chairperson Sandy Fryc spoke of working towards an agreement “…consistent with the competing concerns of the needs of teachers, class sizes, and budget limitations.” She went on to indicate that the Shrewsbury School Committee “fully appreciates the hard work of both sides to reach a tentative agreement,” and noted that they are “cautiously optimistic that it will be ratified by the SEA membership” within the next few weeks. The tentative agreement was confirmed by excited members of the SEA leadership team, and it’s just great to see everyone on the same page, and working as always in the best interest of the children of Shrewsbury.
I know I speak for many in sending along special kudos to SEA co-presidents Lori Blasioli and Gary Chalmers, to my former colleagues on the Shrewsbury School Committee, the Human Resources Team, and of course to Superintendent Joe Sawyer for all of their incredibly hard work in getting us to this tentative agreement.
Still, some teachers re rightly concerned that while the contract is great, it is only a small part of the issue. According to Oak Middle School teacher Derek Pizzuto, “…contract or not, the kids are getting shortchanged by our massive class sizes – as much as I’m happy to have a contract, I think it is terrible that Shrewsbury has among the highest class sizes in the state. I know that we have lost a lot of the “extras” amid a 25% increase in workload, along with some of the basics like individual attention that you can give to a kid when a class has 22, but not when a class has 33.” He added, “I am truly stunned by how this town holds on to a tax base that cannot sustain the quality of services they like. We have over 20% of our 8th grade class applying to private schools – it may reach the point where our public school becomes the place for those who cannot afford to go elsewhere.” Clearly it has been a frustrating year for many, and that is understandable. In the end, the two issues of pay and class sizes remain inextricably linked and inversely proportional, and this seems to be the reality of a governmental system in which growth in spendable money is capped at 2.5%. Of course, I have added many times that having grown up in a state without prop 2.5, and seen my own family members have to move because they could no longer afford to pay $15k per year in property taxes, their school districts actually have many of the same issues, and as such the problem is far more complex than some might initially believe.
We cannot obviously discuss any of the specifics of the contract which was reached, as it will be first formally announced to the SEA membership. Once we are authorized to share any of that information, you know I will be delighted to pass it along.
To my loyal Shrewsbury Lantern Readers, just remember that you heard it HERE first! Fortunately, the main stream media folks motor my paper by the hour…and no doubt will have their own stories later today.