Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Cambridge educators protest Feb. 15, 2022, outside School Committee offices. A new contract means no need for cold-weather rallies. (Photo: Marc Levy)

It would be a brutally cold morning for supporters of district teachers and administrators to congregate outside schools, raising signs and chanting – but for now they don’t have to. 

Temperatures and tempers cooled off in recent weeks, as Cambridge Public Schools and the Cambridge Education Association agreed to terms for a contract for Units A and B (teachers and administrators) that runs through Aug. 31, 2026. It will date retroactively to Sept. 1.

The School Committee approved the contract after more than a year of negotiations. Staff had been working without contracts since August. A tentative agreement reached Nov. 8 led to a CEA member vote to confirm over three days starting Nov. 29. Eighty percent of members voted, president Dan Monahan said, and 90 percent of those members voted in favor.

A major highlight of the contract – and the main reason for increased costs – is the addition of 30 minutes of instructional time for students in grades K through 8. Students in grades 9 through 12 will have an additional five minutes of instructional time, with an additional 25 minutes for “principal and teacher-directed collaboration time” beginning next September.

The district has wanted to increase instructional time for years, committee vice chair and budget co-chair Rachel Weinstein said.

Monahan said the additional time “for scholar support and instruction has tremendous potential to improve outcomes for our scholars from pre-K through 12. The inclusion of educator-driven collaboration time will help our educators maximize their ability to deliver the multitiered, complex instruction our scholars need.”

The contract also adds three hours of out-of-school professional learning time for educators, bringing the total to 38 hours annually beginning this year.

Other highlights include an early release day before winter break; stopping personal days from being deducted from sick leave; changes to the peer evaluation program; and increased funding for the Educators of Color Coalition group. 

The contract increases hourly rates for summer school teacher and principals, tutoring and  curriculum development.

Impact on Budget

The approved budget keeps the focus on students, said committee member Jose Luis Rojas, noting the impact it will have on spending decisions. 

“This will have big implications into our budget for fiscal year 2024,” he said, warning that the district won’t be able to take on new initiatives because the bulk of the budget increase “is investing in our most valuable resource, which is our staff and our time.”

The cost to the city over the next three years of the contract will be roughly $3.7 million in the 2024 fiscal year, $12.8 million in the 2025 fiscal year and $4.4 million in the 2026 fiscal year, for an approximate $21 million.

Raising teacher pay

Under the contract, teacher salaries will increase 2.5 percent this academic year, 3 percent next year and 3.5 percent the following year, said district director of communications Sujata Wycoff. The current average salary will rise to $118,938 by the end of the contract from $100,474, she said.

“We made a small dent in the educator pay penalty,” Monahan said. “This is historically lower wages for educators as compared to other professional knowledge workers in the region.”

The large increase in the 2025 fiscal year is due to the additional instructional time, said the district’s chief financial officer, Claire Spinner. That will increase teacher salaries by 8 percent.

Weinstein, the committee vice chair, said the district was “bringing our teacher salaries up significantly … making us again one of the highest-paying districts in the commonwealth.”

There was a high-percentage vote of approval for this contract, committee member and budget co-chair Fred Fantini said, showing “that it was worth the effort to spend a lot of time getting things right, both for the School Committee and for the teachers association. I’m confident now that we’re in the top 10 of Massachusetts and salary and benefits, which is where we should be.”

What’s next

The district and the CEA can relax during the winter holidays, but will be back at the negotiation table in the new year, as the current contract for CEA Unit C (clerks) ends in June and Unit D (substitutes) and Unit E (paraprofessionals) contracts end in August 2024.

“The CEA has already begun our preparations,” Monahan said. “We’ll be ready to hit the ground running as soon as the new School Committee is in place.”