By Vincent Cross
On April 8, educators in Southbridge rallied at Town Common park in opposition to a new contract which proposes harsh cuts to benefits and poor working conditions for Southbridge Public School teachers.
At the rally teachers and community members gave speeches condemning the measures the state is taking to cut back on benefits and highlighting the importance of uniting and fighting together.
“The state purposefully takes over poor working-class towns like Southbridge because they believe our families won’t care how the district is run, but at least in Southbridge they’re beginning to discover just how wrong they are,” one teacher said in her speech.
Southbridge Public Schools is one of three districts in the state of Massachusetts that is currently controlled directly by state-appointed receivers rather than by a locally elected school committee or superintendent. State receivership of Southbridge began in 2016 when a state-mandated review declared that administrative incompetence and mismanagement was the principal cause of the district’s academic dysfunction and stagnation.
Rank-and-file educators have borne the brunt of the state’s “reforms” in the district. This includes the replacement of the “step and lane” salary scale. Tenure and advanced degrees (such as Master or PhD.) no longer receive automatic pay raises, instead a “merit” based pay scale has been implemented. Administrators now decide which teachers receive raises and which do not.
In the latest round of contract negotiations the state has proposed slashing budgets of the school districts it manages. Southbridge educators have been working without contract for nearly a year as they refuse to capitulate to the state’s new contract which seeks to slash sick days in half, cut bereavement days, and “flexibilize” various other facets of working conditions within the district.
“The state has no real plan in Southbridge. They take over districts near major cities and try to cut as much as they can so that the contracts can be used as the new ‘benchmark’ when negotiations happen in Boston, Worcester and Springfield,” one educator told Tribune.
School districts have utilized the pandemic as a tool to justify drastic cuts in both wages and benefits, and to stonewall teacher demands during contract bargaining. In Worcester, educators are currently working on an expired contract while administration has stopped negotiating.
The unity among Southbridge educators has demonstrated that together with the support of the community they can demand fair wages and contracts and must being ready to defend them as the State attempts to privatize public schools and the contracts of the educators that work within them.
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