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With contract talks stalled, HTA takes case to the public

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HARVARD — Contract negotiations between the Harvard Teachers Association (HTA) and the School Committee that have been ongoing since October have stalled, and the teachers have decided to take their case to the public.

At the April 10 School Committee meeting, the chairman of the association’s negotiating team, Kathleen Doherty, presented the teachers’ case in public for the second time, reiterating points she had made at a previous meeting.

”I am here with a number of my colleagues to speak on behalf of the educators of the Harvard public schools,” she said.

About 40 people, mostly teachers, packed the Town Hall meeting room. All of them left shortly after Doherty spoke.

The teachers’ public campaign began in February when Doherty, a ninth grade history teacher at The Bromfield School, wrote a letter that was published in local newspapers outlining the negotiation problem from the teachers’ point of view.

Doherty then spoke at a School Committee meeting. Her message on Monday was basically the same, only with backup. Three other teachers and The Bromfield School’s nurse also addressed the board.

Wyatt Holt, who has taught at The Bromfield School for three-and-a-half years, said contract negotiations had added to the stress of moving into a new home about 35 miles away.

Richard Tabor, who has taught eighth grade math in Harvard for six years, said he and his family also live in another town because housing here is too pricey.

”We can’t afford it,” he said.

The offer on the table amounts to a pay cut, said Holt.

”A three percent raise won’t cover it,” he said.

Sharlene Tuttle presented two slants, that of a teacher and of a parent. She related a story about her daughter’s first day of school more than a decade ago. A longtime kindergarten teacher, who has since retired, said “just the right thing” to her new pupil.

When the child announced, “I think I will take the bus home,” Judy Lorimer said, “That’s very courageous of you.”

The anecdote illustrates how important experienced, caring, dedicated teachers are to children and parents, Tuttle said. All three of her children have attended the school she now teaches at.

Ramae Phillipou, the school nurse at The Bromfield School, has been with the system for 20 years and lives in town. She had a different issue to air.

Despite educational credentials that equal, and sometimes exceed, those of the teachers, school nurses are often not paid on the same scale, she said. Citing responsibilities and serious illnesses they must deal with, she said other area districts offer “pay equity” to align nurses’ and teachers’ salaries. She thinks Harvard should do the same.

For their part, the teachers’ have said they and the committee do not agree on the insurance premium question, but Doherty said the impasse goes beyond that.

”The issue is not simply health insurance benefits, but overall compensation,” she said.

Teacher salaries in other high-performing districts Harvard is comparable to are higher, she said. Experienced teachers with master’s degrees get about $9,000 more in those other communities than those with similar credentials here.

The association contends that Harvard is at a disadvantage in this scenario. Drastically cutting benefits will make things worse.

That’s bad timing, Doherty said, when massive teacher retirements are anticipated statewide.

She also said the association does not buy the argument that because other town employees’ health plan contributions have been hiked from 10 to 30 percent, the teachers’ should, too. That is the wrong comparison, said Doherty. Teachers mulling a move to Harvard will compare pay and benefits to those of teachers in other communities, not town employees, she said.

”The negotiating team wants to finish what we started before this school year ends,” said Doherty. “We are here tonight to show you that we represent our members, and that they are behind us.”

The teachers are willing to compromise, she said, “but we can’t do it alone.”

With negotiations set to resume, she said the association wants to work with the committee “in the true spirit of good-faith bargaining.”

School Committee Chairman Willie Wickman confirmed that intent.

”We anticipate that both parties will continue to (do so) until a settlement is reached,” she said.

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