Chelsea teachers staged a “walk-in” on Monday as part of their efforts to demand what they consider to be a fair contract.
Teachers, staff, educators, and community leaders rallied outside the district schools on Monday morning before walking into the buildings together.
The most recent contract between the district and Chelsea Teachers Union Local #1340 expired at the end of the last school year. According to Kathryn Anderson, president of the union, the teachers’ top negotiation priorities include making pay competitive with nearby districts, paying paraprofessionals for translation services, reducing class sizes, and providing prep periods for all members, including weekly preps for paraprofessionals.
“I think the Chelsea community stands with us and recognizes how important the demands are for getting students the services they deserve,” said Anderson.
She said the support and participation from teachers across the district was high for the walk-in, and helped to show that there was unity among teachers beyond the leadership of the union.
Anderson said she believes one of the biggest issues on the school side is that there is a mindset locked into constant budget cuts over the years, and that some might not fully believe that Chelsea is going to see a major bump in Student Opportunity Act (SOA) money in the coming years. The SOA money coming into Chelsea is estimated to double from $70 million to $140 million over the next six years, and after the six-year phase, the increase from the state will become permanent.
Low pay, teacher retention, and high class sizes are all issues that are intertwined and could be solved through the smart use of the SOA money, Anderson said.
“There’s a huge difference between class sizes of 32 kids and 24 or 20 kids,” said Anderson.
She also noted that the teacher retention rates are lower than in surrounding communities, and that the pay for Chelsea teachers plays a big part in that.
“If you are looking a mile away, and they are making 16 percent more, it can be hard to convince people to stay,” Anderson said.
The next negotiation sessions between the schools and the union are scheduled for Nov. 8 and 15. Anderson said there has been movement on some issues, but that there are still issues where the two sides are far apart.
“Negotiations between Chelsea Public Schools and the Chelsea Teachers Union are ongoing,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Almi Abeyta. “I can assure you that we are working in good faith to reach an agreement. I fully expect that we will reach an agreement that is fair and equitable both for staff and for the community.”
School Committee member Marisol Santiago said that all the teachers, paraprofessionals, and all the members of the school district are valuable stakeholders in the process, and that it is important to have a good negotiation process to make sure both sides have their needs met.
“We all have to keep in mind the various stakeholders and plan for the future,” she said. “It’s critical to do that respectfully, because everyone wants the best for the community.”
Santiago said she did see positives from the teacher walk-in held at the schools on Monday.
“I’m glad to see that great organizing is happening that is building out a stronger community that benefits us all,” she said.