State schools

Brookline teachers go on strike, a rare work stoppage in state schools

UPDATE: The Brookline Teachers Union and School Board reached a tentative contract agreement early Tuesday, May 17.

In a rare gesture of defiance and frustration, teachers went on strike Monday morning in Brookline, marking only the second time educators in Massachusetts have gone on the picket line in more than a decade.

Hundreds of educators in red shirts banging drums and cowbells appeared outside the high school, along Route 9 and at local elementary schools, saying they wanted the school board to accept pay raises based on the cost of living as well as more time preparing for classes. Chief negotiator Eric Schiff, a high school guidance counselor, said the teachers had been demoralized by the school committee’s reluctance to accept their proposals, including one that could help hire and retain various teachers.

“We’re in these buildings every day,” Schiff said, pointing to a new high school building and Brookline’s overall wealth. “We come to the table with proposals not only to improve teaching, but also to improve learning.”

The last time any of the state’s unionized teachers walked off the job was in Dedham in 2019, for a day. In Massachusetts, it is illegal for public sector employees to go on strike.

Over the weekend, Brookline teachers were offered a six-year contract retroactive to 2020. This includes a salary increase of 6% for the first three years and an increase of 8% for the following three years. These increases are in addition to an increase of almost 4% already offered to experienced teachers.

The weekend negotiations ended without a resolution at 4 a.m. on Sunday. Later that same day, Superintendent Linus Guillory sent an email to parents announcing that the district was canceling school on Monday.

“The district has made the difficult decision to close all schools,” he wrote. “There just won’t be the staff capacity to run all the schools safely, and [the district] provide the structured instruction required by the state for the day to be legally considered a school day. »

Guillory added that officials were “committed to reaching an agreement” and that mediation could continue until Monday evening.

Teacher Zach Broken Rope was one of the first to arrive for the strike at Brookline High School. He carried a sign saying he had to work part-time as a bouncer, Lyft driver and DoorDash delivery person to supplement his teaching income and pay his bills.

Noting his Native American ancestry, Broken Rope also said he was most embarrassed by the school board’s lack of action to establish contract policies that would help keep diverse new hires on board.

“They gave [us] a pink slip three years ago, along with another 70 percent of other teachers of color in the district,” he said. “We ask them to commit to fairness and justice, which they claim care as a district. And so we ask to commit in writing.”

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, released a statement saying it supports educators at Brookline, who are approaching their third year of working without a contract.

“A tiring pattern of endless negotiations has set in, revealing an environment where the concerns and needs of educators – which mirror those of students and the community – are ignored,” the union said.