To: Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School District Stakeholders
Recently, the Hathorne Teachers Federation (“HTF”), the Union representing teachers and other professional staff at Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School, disseminated a letter to members of our school district community, including officials in our sending communities and others. The letter contained some unfortunate distortions and mischaracterizations that we feel constrained to correct. The HTF statements are reproduced below along with our responses.
HTF: Our union has been engaged in contract negotiations with the ENSATS School Committee for more than ten months.
The HTF did not schedule a meeting with the District until May 2022, despite suggestions from the Superintendent-Director that negotiations should commence earlier. When we finally met with the HTF, they refused to sign negotiation ground rules that had been used for years and insisted on conducting bargaining in public. HTF went so far as to file with the State Labor Board to try to force the District to agree to negotiate with a group that would include people who are not typically part of bargaining. The Labor Board agreed with the District and dismissed the HTF’s charge. This process consumed several meetings held from May through October 2022. The first session to discuss substantive proposals was not until November 15, 2022. So, the union has not actually been engaged in bargaining for much more than 3 months after coming to the table very late in the year.
HTF: We have sounded the alarm to district leaders that our school community is in crisis due to high teacher turnover…
The school community is not in crisis. There were 7 resignations during the 2022-23 school year among the 183 bargaining unit members, these resignations were for a variety of reasons not atypical for a vocational school district. In general, the District has not struggled to fill open positions. The crisis narrative has been entirely the product of HTF messaging.
HTF: The Superintendent, School Committee Chair, and School Committee members refuse to listen to us. We have made no progress in resolving any substantive issue that teachers have brought to the table.
School officials, including the Superintendent and members of the School Committee, have listened intently to the presentations of the HTF members at the bargaining table and at our school committee meetings. The District has responded with meaningful counter proposals to many of the substantive proposals by the HTF. Determining what the HTF considers substantive proposals has been a challenge as many of the 39 proposals put forth by HTF address matters outside of typical subjects of negotiations. However, some progress is being made, as the HTF very recently offered to withdraw 23 of their proposals to focus on more pertinent items, and there have been some tentative agreements reached.
HTF: When Essex Tech’s teachers say that our crushing workloads do not allow us to best serve those in our classes, that means that students from your community are dealing with these issues.
We recognize that teaching is a challenging profession, especially in these times, but teachers are not being crushed by work at our school. Compared to other schools, teachers at Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School have a favorable working environment; they enjoy a state-of-the-art facility, average academic class sizes of 18.4 students, and in many of the larger classes there are two licensed teachers assigned. In addition, the District supports teachers through a $50,000 course reimbursement account, an additional $39,500 in vocational specific professional development of their choosing, district-wide professional development, and technology to make them better able to and more effective at meeting the requirements of their jobs.
HTF: When we raise safety concerns caused by the rapid expansion of the school population, we are voicing concerns for the safety of students from your community.
The District has expanded gradually over time in an attempt to accommodate the many families in our communities who want to send their students here. The expansion has coincided with the creation of increased learning space and the addition of staff. The basis of the claim that there are safety concerns is a mystery to us. The District has a comprehensive security program using over 164 security cameras, 4 security officers, electronic door locks, electronic door sensors, and a dedicated school resource officer from the local police department.
HTF: When we say that fair wage increases are needed in order to combat increasing teacher turnover, we are telling you that students from your community are losing teachers that they care about on a regular basis.
The District’s teachers are among the top 2 or 3 highest paid on the North Shore whether looking at starting or ending salaries on the pay scale, even before the astronomical increases sought by the HTF. (For example, the 2022-2023 Salem top salary is $91,264 and the 2022-2023 Lynn top salary is $93,294; in comparison the 2021-2022 Essex North Shore top salary is $97,848). We believe our salaries are competitive and our teachers are paid well compared to other districts. As indicated above, a teacher retention rate of over 96% year over year does not suggest that many students are impacted by the loss of the most valuable teachers.
In conclusion, the School Committee is proud of the school and the many dedicated teachers and other staff members who go the extra mile to serve our students and families. We remain hopeful that the HTF will see fit to avoid creating distractions of this kind and devote more of its efforts to reaching an agreement at the bargaining table that addresses legitimate issues and provides fair compensation that our taxpayers can afford.
Mark B. Strout
School Committee Chair
Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School District School Committee
565 Maple Street | Hathorne, MA 01937
(978) 304-4700 | EssexNorthShore.org
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