Visibility Grows as Contract Talks with Educators Continue

Less than four weeks until the expiration of their current contracts, members of the Bedford Education Association are escalating their public posture at meetings, on social media, and on street corners.

Meanwhile, the Bedford School Committee early Tuesday evening released an information statement, replete with conciliatory language, but with some phrasing that indicates differences remain.

Contracts with the unions representing teachers and education support professionals expire on June 30.

On Wednesday morning, dozens of educators clustered at key locations near schools – the early shifts at Mudge Way and The Great Road and the middle school parking lot, and later at the west intersection of Davis and Concord roads – a short walk from Davis School. They carried signs (“Bedford Educators Deserve Fair Contracts”) and waved at passing cars.

Union members and supporters are also being urged by their leadership to comment at Monday’s meeting of the School Committee and Tuesday’s Special Town Meeting, which unlike board and committee meetings, does not set aside time for comments unrelated to warrant articles. (A proposal to transfer $500,000 from free cash to the reserve fund is intended to cover a current school budget deficit.)

At a School Committee meeting last week, a BEA officer said the two sides are still “far apart.”

Tuesday’s letter, signed by Bedford School Committee Chair Sarah Scoville and sent by email to families and staff, is the district’s first official comment on the talks since they began. The School Committee has met almost 20 times in executive session for the purpose of discussing bargaining strategy.

“The School Committee is committed to reaching agreements with the BEA on educator contracts that are both fair and competitive,” the statement said, noting that since December, there have been 17 negotiation sessions with the association. These talks have “the shared goal of successor contracts,” to begin on July 1.

One new development is “a special executive session for June 12 to which we have invited members of both the Select Board and Finance Committee.” This shows, the statement says, that “we continue to listen to and carefully consider the concerns of our educators.”

“We anticipate being able to share additional information following that meeting,” Scoville’s letter added.

The letter presents “the values that the Bedford School Committee has been and continues to be committed to,” including being “well-positioned as a district to attract and retain a high-quality educator workforce.”

Union leaders and rank and file have been warning in recent weeks that educators are leaving the district for better pay.

Other “values” enumerated in the School Committee letter are negotiating “with the best interests of students in mind;” maintaining “the high standard of excellence and inclusive access to educational opportunities” in the context of “fiscal stewardship;” and a “commitment to and practice of clear communication and collaboration.”

 “The offers that we have put forward align with these values and put Bedford in a competitive position within our regional education marketplace for the next three years, particularly when considering Bedford’s average per capita income and comparative community wealth,” the statement reads.

BEA Instagram posts today suggest the significance of that last clause. They write that Bedford ranks 12th with a starting teacher pay of $52,885 among the towns they used for their comparison. Districts offering more are Belmont, Carlisle, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, Lynnfield, Sudbury, and Wayland. But Bedford also ranks behind Billerica, Burlington, and Nashoba Regional in Bolton.

Similarly, Bedford’s final pay scale step at $108,213 trails Belmont, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland, as well as Billerica, according to the spreadsheet of selected towns posted by the union.

The BEA is also advocating paid parental leave “to help Bedford stay competitive.”

The School Committee letter concludes, “[We] thank our educators for their continued dedication to the education of our students and the community for their ongoing support of our schools.”

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Maurizio Salato
June 6, 2024 11:18 am

Bedford has always invested in the school system, which is a big part of the values offered by the town. As a taxpayer and a parent with children in BPS, a competitive pay for teachers is my priority. Having a pay scale that falls behind pretty much every single neighbor community is not acceptable, IMHO.

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