Newton Teachers Strike Update: $100K Daily Fines Begin Sunday Night

NEWTON, MA — A Middlesex Superior Court judge said fines against the Newton Teachers Association for a strike that is illegal under state law — already totaling $625,000 — will increase to $100,000 a day starting Sunday night if the two-week work stoppage is not settled by 8 p.m. and schools do not reopen on Monday.

Judge Christopher Smith-Barry on Friday afternoon also delayed, but did not rule out, what he called the “exceptional remedy” of binding arbitration aimed at forcing the sides into a deal five months after the last teacher contract expired.

Smith-Barry’s decision comes amid renewed hope that the sides are nearing a deal.

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“We’re getting close to an agreement with the Newton Teachers Association after a bunch of us pulled an all-nighter. I believe we can come together soon and settle the few outstanding issues,” Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said on Friday.

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(More on Patch: Newton Teachers Strike Update: Overnight Talks Crash With No Deal)

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Smith-Barry also said the NTA would be obligated to pay the $625,000 in fines it has already incurred during the strike unless there is reason to reclassify them on Monday so that they are viewed as legitimate fines instead of something abstract that will not have to be paid once an agreement is ultimately reached.

The judge said the new fines would be imposed each day as long as a deal was not reached as long as each side participated in “good-faith negotiations.”

“A sincere effort to reach a common ground,” he said of his “good-faith” definition. “That’s what I’m concerned has been lacking over the course of the past two weeks. Anytime any side says, ‘This is it, we can do no more,’ you are either truly at an impasse, in which I suppose that can be sincere, or if you say it and move that is not a sincere effort at reaching common ground.”

Smith-Barry said that he hopes it will not come to that.

“If what you predicted at the beginning of this hearing is true,” he said of the progressing negotiations, “then I guess the increased fines won’t kick in.

“But I have approached this hearing presuming that the goal is to avoid being back here ever again, including next Monday and every other day.”

Negotiations resumed on Friday after a marathon overnight session ended with no agreement and more harsh words from the NTA because of what they said was the School Committee revisiting some issues it felt had already been decided involving “social workers and altering other agreements affecting the working conditions of educators and the learning conditions of students.”

Among the stumbling blocks, according to the NTA, was a late attempt to “extract more than $1 million from educators.”

“The Committee showed no interest in healing rifts or truly ending this strike — a strike that
would not have occurred had the School Committee settled this contract at any point during the 16 months of negotiations that preceded the strike vote,” the NTA said Friday morning. “The NTA is prepared to settle a fair agreement and reasonable return-to-work agreement that fosters the rebuilding of relationships across the school community.”

The School Committee issued a statement late Friday morning saying the sides were “extremely close to settling a contract” and that it is “optimistic about the progress we’ve made toward a return to school on Monday.”

The School Committee said the $1 million the NTA referenced stemmed from “compensatory services and court fees” because of the strike.

“It is our responsibility to determine how those costs will be paid,” the School Committee said.

All school buildings remain closed — and all school sports, arts and drama programs, after-school care and community education programs are canceled — amid the strike.

All missed school days will have to be made up this academic year before June 30.

The School Committee on Thursday unveiled a plan that would have students make up at least four of those days during the upcoming February vacation with additional days potentially made up during April vacation after the Patriots Day holiday — which includes the Boston Marathon route going through the heart of the city.

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