Frequently Asked Questions
March 1, 2023 (updated March 3)
This FAQ will be updated as more information becomes available.
Collective bargaining for all five units of the Wellesley Educators Association (WEA) began in February 2022. While progress was made, agreement could not be reached before the most recent contracts expired at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. After bargaining stalled in the Fall, the School Committee petitioned the Department of Labor Relations (DLR) for mediation in December, seeking assistance from a state-appointed neutral mediator after more than 10 months of bargaining.
The DLR retained oversight of negotiations but directed the School Committee and the WEA to resume bargaining to narrow the number and scope of unresolved items and report back to the DLR at the end of February. The parties have met four times since then, including on February 26 and February 27. The parties have not yet reached agreement on any of the five contracts that cover the vast majority of WPS staff including teachers, nurses, department heads, directors, assistant principals, paraprofessionals, teaching assistants, secretaries, and other staff members.
What happens next? (updated March 15)
On Thursday, March 2, the DLR informed the School Committee and the WEA that it has determined that an impasse exists in accordance with state law, and that a mediator has been assigned to the negotiations.
The parties have scheduled three mediation sessions, for March 17, March 22, and April 6. The School Committee will continue to keep the community informed to the extent that it is able to, while following the DLR guidelines surrounding the mediation process.
Where do the negotiations stand?
On February 15, the School Committee presented a compensation package that spans four years and offers an approximately $9.23 million increase for the members of all five units (Unit A through Unit E). The School Committee informed the WEA that this was a generous and fair compensation proposal that met the budget parameters set by the Town. More information on this proposed compensation package is below.
Also in February, the School Committee brought forward a package that included proposals on issues that are of significant interest to the WEA: parental leave for all members and due process for members of Unit C, which serves teaching assistants and paraprofessionals. The WEA has not yet agreed to the few remaining School Committee priorities that have been discussed throughout the negotiation process.
The counter proposals that the WEA brought forward on February 26-27 and revised on February 28 include a request for a compensation increase of approximately $11.71 million over the same four-year period. The parties are approximately $2.47 million apart, on compensation alone.
What are the remaining issues?
The open items relate to compensation as well as other contract language proposals from both the WEA and the School Committee.
The financial package School Committee offered on February 15th would span four years, through Fiscal Year 2026, and include both a one-year and a three-year contract to comply with state law. Recognizing the impacts of high inflation, the School Committee’s goal was to provide fair and appropriate increases while working within the budget parameters set by the Select Board and Town Meeting. [More information on the Town budget process is below.]
The Committee also prioritized its Unit C (Teaching Assistants/Paraprofessionals) proposal to provide additional resources to these important members of the WPS team.
Under this agreement, teachers and staff who are working their way up the pay scale through annual steps would receive an average of between 18.5% and 33.5% pay raises over the four-year period, depending on their unit. Average pay increases would be as follows:
- Unit A (Teachers/Nurses): 27.18%
- Unit B (Directors/Dept. Heads/Asst. Principals): 18.5%
- Unit C (Teaching Assistants): 29.42%
- Unit C (Paraprofessionals): 33.5%
- Unit D (Secretaries/Other): 28.06%
- Unit E (Administrative Assistants/Accounting Coordinators/Other): 23.94%
In addition to annual steps, salary tables in Unit A have “lanes” that allow for higher compensation depending on the level of education completed, ranging from bachelor’s degree to Ph.D. Employees who move on steps or lanes benefit from an additional salary increase. Salary tables can be found in each of the most recent contracts; for example, the Unit A tables can be found on page 58 of the 2019-22 Unit A contract.
Longevity: Long-term employees who are on the top step may be able to benefit from longevity payments, depending on the eligibility requirements in the contract. This rewards staff for longer-term employment and lack of movement on steps.
What about the paraprofessionals and teaching assistants?
The WEA has focused heavily on its desire to increase compensation for members of Unit C, and the School Committee’s proposal fully supports that direction. The members of this unit include teaching assistants, paraprofessionals, and nursing paraprofessionals. They are paid on an hourly basis and are eligible to receive Town benefits. Most positions are scheduled to work between 6.2 and 6.5 hours per day over 182 work days with one paid holiday per year.
With the School Committee’s proposal, Unit C teaching assistants who are still advancing on steps would receive an average total increase of 29.42% over four years. Unit C paraprofessionals who are still advancing on steps would receive an average total increase of 33.50% over four years.
The School Committee has also offered to add three paid holidays, bringing the total number of paid holidays to four.
How does the compensation for WPS teachers and staff compare with other districts?
The School Committee’s long standing approach has been to provide a level of compensation that allows the Wellesley Public Schools to attract and retain high quality teachers and staff. To that end, the Committee regularly tracks salaries and hourly rates of more than a dozen top-performing “cohort” districts, including Weston, Concord, Lincoln, Brookline, Lexington, Needham, and Newton.
The most recent data provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) ranks Wellesley number 10 of 317 districts in Massachusetts in teacher pay, with an average salary of $101,508 in the 2019-2020 school year. This average salary is due to both higher salary ranges as well as a large number of veteran teachers who have reached the top of the pay scale.
DESE does not publish data on pay for paraprofessionals and teaching assistants, but the School Committee has previously set pay scales after tracking hourly rates in other districts. Wellesley fared very well in this 2021 article that compared hourly pay for these positions in several similar districts.
Why can’t the School Committee agree to the WEA’s full proposal?
The WEA’s compensation request would not work within the budget parameters set for the School Committee by the Town.
Every year, the School Committee must develop a budget that meets guidelines set by the Select Board and is approved at Town Meeting, while also balancing the expectations of the community to provide an excellent public education. The guidelines set by the Select Board are directly connected to the limitations set in state law by Proposition 2½, which limits the annual property tax increases that a Town can impose on its residents.
As noted above, over the years the Committee has invested in its educators and staff with highly competitive compensation packages. The Committee’s most recent proposal to the WEA represents the amount the School Committee can afford to allocate to compensation for Unit A – Unit E for fiscal years 2023-2026.
Given the Town’s significant support of the schools and its employees through the years, including an override of Proposition 2½ in 2014 and debt exclusions in 2014, 2020, and 2021 to fund new elementary school buildings and middle school renovations, the School Committee is not supportive of either petitioning the Select Board for additional funding or petitioning the voters for an override, which would likely be required to make up any shortfall. (Another way to make up for significant shortfalls is cuts in level service, including staffing levels or expenses.)
OTHER OUTSTANDING ISSUES
What other items are being discussed in negotiations?
While the Committee and the WEA have tentative agreements on 44 items (34 items raised by the WEA, 9 items of mutual interest, and one item raised by the School Committee), there are still issues under discussion that go beyond compensation.
The School Committee has put forward a package proposal that addresses major interests of the WEA on the topics of parental leave as well as new due process language for Unit C, the bargaining unit for teaching assistants and paraprofessionals.
Parental Leave: The Committee has agreed to equalize the leave opportunities for all parents, allowing for any new parent to have the opportunity to take up to eight weeks of parental leave to be paid out of available sick leave or other accrued leave (personal days, vacation time depending on the unit). The most recent contract (2019-2022) offered three weeks to the non-birthing parent but eight weeks to birthing and adoptive parents. The SC’s proposal does not distinguish between a parent who has given birth and one who has not. If both parents are employed by the district, each could have the full entitlement of parental leave. The proposal also offers up to sixteen weeks, again to be paid out of available sick time, for multiple births. This language would provide for benefits that exceed state and federal requirements.
Due Process: The School Committee has agreed to the WEA’s following proposed language in the Unit C contract: “after the completion of an initial 90-day probationary period, no employee shall be disciplined or dismissed during the current school year without just cause.” (Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Paraprofessionals (Paras) are still subject to appointment on an annual basis.)
What about other issues?
Other issues raised at the bargaining table include:
Elementary Specialists: The WEA has requested that as of July 1, all specialist teachers at the elementary level (art, music, library, physical education) be guaranteed 1.0 FTE positions at each elementary school. The School Committee cannot support this request. In all instructional positions across the district, staffing levels are determined by current enrollment, student needs, and programming/curriculum.
The School Committee’s analysis shows there would be significant budgetary impact to this request, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, with no additional instructional time for students. Wellesley’s system of small neighborhood schools means that there are usually not enough students to support 1.0 full-time equivalent specialist teachers at each location. It has been the practice for decades for many of these specialist teachers to travel between buildings. As part of its fiduciary responsibilities to the Town, the School Committee must retain the right to staff these positions efficiently.
It should be noted that given the move from 7 to 6 elementary schools in the fall of 2024, the School Committee has offered to form a task force to further examine the issue of specialist staffing in partnership with the WEA.
Elementary Planning Time: It is important to note that the School Committee has no plans to take away any of the individual planning time currently used by teachers and has in fact added 40 minutes of individual prep & plan time each week to elementary classroom teacher’s schedules this year. Elementary classroom teachers currently have access to significant time during the school day over and above the contractual individual planning time.
Weekly, elementary classroom teachers have 25 minutes each morning between 8:05 & 8:30 when they cannot be assigned student supervision duties. They also have 90 minutes when their students are in Spanish and an additional 200 minutes when students are in other specials. One 50 minute block is used for a collaborative team meeting, leaving 365 minutes, just over 6 hours, that teachers can use for individual planning during the school day in a given week. The time allocated for prep and planning has exceeded the contractual time for years. The School Committee recognizes and respects the need for individual prep and plan time.
On February 27, to further demonstrate its strong interest in getting to an agreement, the School Committee offered to codify the contractually required minimum individual prep & plan time for elementary classroom teachers from 120 minutes a week to 150 minutes a week.
What requests did the SC have entering negotiations?
The School Committee entered negotiations with the following requests. Currently, we have an agreement on the fourth item below:
1) After school support for students: At the elementary level, the School Committee requested to add language that would quantify the amount of time teachers would be expected to stay after school for student supervision and safety reasons. This request has been withdrawn.
At the secondary level, the School Committee has requested that classroom teachers offer and post in advance a time when they will be available to students for 35 minutes at least one day per week. This would benefit WMS students in particular who may be reluctant to ask for dedicated support after school.
2) Before school supervision: The opportunity to have Literacy and Math Specialists, as well as, elementary specialist teachers (Art, Music, Library, Spanish, and Health and Fitness) provide morning supervision duties.
3) Additional hour of collaborative time – repurpose one hour of Wednesday individual prep and plan per month to a one hour collaborative team meeting: To achieve this, the WEA proposed eliminating the 1 hour per month after school staff meetings on Thursdays. This would result in 10 fewer hours of contract time during the school year. The School Committee is agreeable to this elimination of Thursday staff meeting time to support collaborative team meeting time.
4) Reclassification of three staff members: Agreed to by the WEA via an Memorandum of Agreement that became effective on July 1, 2022.