Bedford Teachers Union Vice President Says Sides Still Far Apart

Dozens of Bedford Public Schools educators attended Tuesday’s School Committee meeting. Image: /BedfordTV

The vice president of the Bedford Education Association declared at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting that the teachers’ union and the committee are “still far apart on a contract agreement.”

Patricia Flaherty-Dawson, a second-grade teacher at Davis School, said “we are concerned about the short amount of time remaining.” Contracts with the teachers as well as paraprofessionals expire on July 1.

Referring to a tradition of town support for education as the “Bedford Way,” Flaherty-Dawson added, “The Bedford Way is not to go into next school year without a contract.”

Dozens of educators attended the meeting in the Bedford High School large-group instruction room. Flaherty-Dawson spoke during the “public comment” period, which normally is not used for dialogue. The School Committee and School Superintendent Cliff Chuang did not reference the negotiations during the remainder of the open meeting.

Flaherty-Dawson repeated the public position of the unions that members’ pay has fallen behind the rate of inflation, exacerbated by the 2020-21 academic year without a cost-of-living increase. 

“We thought that when the financial climate became more stable, Bedford would do right by its teachers,” she said.

“This is not an 11th hour request. We requested in February 2023 to begin the bargaining process,” she continued. “Despite our long term signaling, we feel we have not been heard. We are at a critical juncture.”

Acknowledging the current education budget deficit, Flaherty-Dawson said the town has the “financial resources” to “commit to a contract that will allow our education support professionals to make a living wage.” She said the School Committee “will need to explain this to the Finance Committee and make budget requests.”

Richard Donnelly, who has been on the BHS faculty for more than 20 years, was the other teacher who spoke, warning of a drain on teachers migrating to other districts with better pay. 

“It used to be that Bedford hired away from other schools. Things have changed,” Donnelly told the School Committee. “You are facing a situation where you are going to be losing your talent, the teachers whom your children want to have. You can stop this.”

A few parents also addressed the issue during the comment period.

“I don’t know exactly where both sides are, but I would ask that you honor the Bedford tradition of honoring teachers and what they do,” said Erin Campbell. “I would like my taxes to support my children’s teachers.”

Rosie Brennan, who is an elementary school teacher in North Reading, said “the town must keep pace with the financial strain our teachers are facing.” 

Tony Luongo said Town Meeting invests in equipment and facilities, and “there’s no better way to invest in this town than supporting our teachers.”

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