LHS Teacher Contracts Still In Negotiations

Siya Setty and Allison Ma

On Oct. 25, teachers and students alike expressed their concerns regarding the absence of active teacher contracts during the Lexington High School committee meeting.

The meeting underscored an issue for teachers that has persisted since the start of the 22-23 school year. Teachers have been working without active contracts, which has left them dealing with issues like an overwhelming number of students, lack of COVID-19 sick leave, and insufficient salary increases not fully adjusted to the rising inflation rates. To raise awareness about the situation, teachers and students have been wearing red on Tuesdays.

When the Lexington Educators Association (LEA) polled staff, they found an equal amount of concerns regarding compensation and workload.

“This is unusual, in my experience, to have it split fifty-fifty. [It shows how] stressed folks are about workload,” Dr. Avon Lewis, LEA president, said.

Currently, math and social studies teachers teach up to 125 students or about five courses. Feeling overworked, many teachers are bargaining for all secondary teachers to have a cap of 100 students across four courses.“Post pandemic, education is changing, the needs of students are changing, and meeting the needs of individual students is more important than it’s ever been. But having 125 students means I have a lot of individual needs that need to be met,” Kelly Anderson, a math teacher and avid spokesperson for reducing teacher workload, said.

Additionally, teachers have limited prep time allocated to plan lessons and prepare materials for their classes. This has interfered with their ability to help students outside of class time.

Another critical issue is the absence of COVID-19 sick leave for teachers. Previously, teachers were given five days of COVID-19 sick leave that did not count towards their accrued sick leave count.

“Teachers really want to keep that as long as the pandemic is here, where basically COVID is its own category. It doesn’t count against sick leave. And our administration, as far as I understand, would prefer that teachers do have to use sick leave, if they’re taking any sort of medical related absence, including COVID,” Kerry Dunne, LHS History Department Head, said.

The absence of COVID-19 leave for teachers means they would need to use their accumulated sick days if they or a dependent contract COVID, leaving fewer sick days available for other medical leave in the future. This could lead to teachers taking unpaid time off or coming to school sick.

An even more pressing issue may be the lack of salary increases for teachers.

“I’d say the biggest thing for sure, is money. Teachers typically are pushing pretty hard to get a two percent or maybe three percent cost of living increase. But right now, the cost of inflation is seven or eight percent,” Dunne said.

Due to the high cost of living in Lexington, many teachers cannot find housing in or near Lexington. This has, in turn, increased commute time. Commuting long distances on a daily basis may be a deal-breaker for some of her new hires, leaving Dunne worried about retention.
Many students are advocating alongside teachers for the renewal of active contracts. Anjali Agarwal, an LHS senior, was one of the first students to publicize the situation as a speaker at the school committee meeting. She has spoken about the stress teachers face when working without a contract, and how it impacts the school’s success, teacher livelihood, and quality of students’ education. She and Nathaniel Dvorkin, another LHS senior, have prioritized student solidarity surrounding the situation.

“By refusing to acknowledge that there were actual systemic problems that teachers are facing, that by design, [teachers] don’t have the capacity to be the best educators they can be…we [students] are suffering because of it, too,” Agarwal said.

Students who have seen their teachers struggle without an active contract believe that these issues have impacted more than just their school day.

“They cannot do their jobs effectively, they cannot be healthy. Teachers are literally deteriorating, their health in all aspects is deteriorating, because they don’t have the protections they need, because they don’t have a valid contract, and because they’re asked to do so much more than what is required of them,” Dvorkin said.

At the time this article went to press, contract negotiations were still ongoing.