Lexington’s educators and School Committee members have reached a tentative agreement after more than a year of contract negotiations, which culminated in an all-day bargaining marathon on Thursday. The agreement includes changes to compensation, benefits, and workload that have been sticking points throughout the process, and provides for continued half-day Fridays at the elementary level to allow for teacher collaboration time.
“We have reached a tentative agreement with the LEA after 13 long months at the bargaining table,” Superintendent Julie Hackett wrote in an email to LexObserver. “I appreciate the hard work of everyone involved, including those at the bargaining table and all those who assisted behind-the-scenes. I’m grateful that we can now focus our full attention on the students we’re here to serve.”
“We had 10 hours of negotiations and ended with a handshake, which was awesome,” Lexington Education Association President Avon Lewis told LexObserver. “Some of the big pieces — we have a number of things around workload which we are super excited about. We are excited to have a pathway for secondary educators to get to the lower class numbers we’ve been advocating for for a long time.” On compensation and benefits, “It brings us back to the competitive area where we were previously.”
“I feel like we have climbed Mount Everest over the last year, and we have finally reached the top,” School Committee member Larry Freeman, who represented the group in negotiations, told LexObserver. “Now that we have this tentative agreement, I feel like all the hills, valleys and bumpy roads — it was all worth it. Now the students of Lexington have a smoother path to getting the best education in the Commonwealth.”
“I work full time, but I also have children in the district. So a lot of their concerns – they did not fall on deaf ears for me, or anyone on the school committee,” Freeman said. “But we also had to balance that against, you know — the budget.”
“We recognize how awesome our teachers are and we never forgot that during this process,” he said. “I think that helped us get through it.”
A memorandum of agreement is currently being drafted. That document must then be ratified by both LEA members and the full School Committee. Both are expected to happen in the next few weeks. The agreement will impact about 800 licensed professionals, including teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians. Separate agreements cover other positions including administrative assistants, student support instructors, and technology specialists.
“I feel really confident that the team held strong on issues that really matter to membership,” said Abby Chaffer, an English teacher at Lexington High School who has been active in advocating for educators but hadn’t yet heard the details of the agreement.
Chaffer joined a rally outside the high school Thursday morning, as the negotiation session was getting started. “I can’t afford to even look into buying a house or starting a family” on a teacher’s salary, she said, becoming visibly emotional. “It’s a really hard choice to do this job.”
“I wish I could tell you how many hours I work beyond the contract hours” said fellow English teacher Sophie Blum. “The only reason I can do it is that I don’t have kids. I’d like to be able to do my job and not sacrifice myself in the process.”
“We’ve been seeing the stress that our teachers have been under this entire year,” said Gabriel Savir, an LHS student who joined the demonstration with classmate Anjali Agarwal. “We know that Lexington schools are a main reason that people move here,” Agarwal said. “Definitely a majority of students” support the educators.
“This agreement only happened because of a tremendous collaboration with the community, and then the School Committee,” Lewis said. “An enormous amount of work went into this and I am grateful for everyone who helped get us here.”