Haverhill Schools to Remain Closed Even as Both Sides Say They Came Close to Agreement Tuesday

Haverhill Education Association President Tim Briggs answers media questions. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill schools remain closed to students a third day even though both the school administration and teachers’ union said they believed an agreement was close at hand Tuesday.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta told staff “There were several times today that I truly believed the Haverhill School Committee and HEA (Haverhill Education Association) were going to reach an agreement.” Responding to a question from WHAV Tuesday night, union President Tim Briggs agreed.

“We were here. Our room was full in there. We had gotten food. We literally were almost to the point of calling out for champagne and then, all of a sudden, what we expected was coming back was the offer that was there on Sunday,” he said.

Briggs said, beyond money, the union seeks a contract that puts into writing language giving teachers a say in teacher and student safety, systems to keep teachers informed of happenings with students and other safeguards. A statement from Massachusetts Teachers Association President Max Page and Vice President Deb McCarthy Monday characterized those issues as “pay equity, safety in schools, the need for smaller class sizes, the need for sufficient time to prepare coursework and collaborate with colleagues, the need for greater diversity in their education workforce and the need to raise the pay of education support professionals above the poverty level.”

Meanwhile, Newburyport Superior Court Judge James F. Lang strengthened his restraining order Tuesday by issuing a preliminary injunction against the teachers to cease their strike taking place in violation of state law.

Reached by telephone, School Committee lawyer David M. Connelly told WHAV the judge’s order could lead to a ruling of contempt of court with associated fines. He added he cannot discuss specific areas of dispute because of ongoing mediation, but said chief sticking points in talks are “primarily compensation issues.”

School Committee negotiations Chairman Scott W. Wood Jr. also noted pay raises during a late Monday press conference.

“We do believe that the financial proposal that we’ve offered, which would cost the city over $20 million over the next three years, that proposal would bring us up to speed on an average salary with similar urban school districts throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he said.

Briggs said the mention of $20 million is misleading since a school district of more than 800 teachers typically would command such a payroll. He added, that even a 1% cost of living raise would exceed $600,000.

Malden educators, who also went out on strike at the same time as Haverhill, reached agreement with their city Monday. Before doing so, Gov. Charlie Baker referred to both Haverhill and Malden when saying his “hope is that parties can come to terms and put the contract basically in place and get kids and teachers and staff back in school.” Referring to schools closing during the pandemic, Baker added, “We all know what happened when kids didn’t go to school.”

Mediation is scheduled to resume Wednesday afternoon.

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