Andover School Committee Chair Tracey Spruce (file photo).

The 2023-24 school year began Wednesday with heavy rain and a chance of labor strife.

Andover Public Schools and the Andover Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers, have been meeting since January to hammer out a new deal. Despite what the school committee chair called “steady but slow” progress over 20 bargaining sessions since January, teachers went to work this week without a contract.

Andover School Committee Chair Tracey Spruce devoted most of her welcome back message to families to an update on the negotiations, noting the district had already finalized pacts with food service and custodial staffs, as well as administrators and hoped to finish its agreement with AEA “in an equally collaborative and efficient manner.”

“Progress has been steady but slow, and we remain optimistic we can reach a fair and reasonable agreement.  We are committed to continuing our ongoing efforts to bargain in good faith with each union as the school year begins,” Spruce said. “Our guiding principle is, as always, what is best for Andover Public School students – and this will remain the cornerstone of our approach to bargaining as negotiations proceed.”

While the sides have negotiated behind closed doors, AEA has said throughout the collective bargaining process the district is over-spending on administrators at the expense of teacher salaries while ignoring high turnover and poor morale.

The 2022-23 school started with high-profile disputes between school boards and unions representing teachers in Massachusetts. Following a year of negotiations, Melrose educators averted a strike after reaching a three-year agreement a day before they planned to walk off the job. Teachers in Haverhill went on a four-day strike, and Malden teachers went on a one-day strike in October. Brookline teachers also went on strike for one day last year.

Those union essentially broke state law, which prohibits classroom teachers from striking. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has been lobbying to change the law to allow teachers to strike.

The Andover contract that expired this summer took 27 bargaining sessions over 15 months to negotiate, including three meetings with a state mediator as a deadline to get a deal in place neared. Wages and class scheduling were the major sticking points. The final deal had a 1 percent cost of living increase in the first year, a two percent raise in the second year and a 1.5 percent raise in 2022-23.

The expired contract also increased reimbursements for graduate studies from $1,500 to $2,000 and improved parental leave benefits.

Under the expired contract, Andover teachers earned between $51,792 and $113,146 last year, depending on education, continuing education credit hours and service. Teachers can also earn stipends for picking up extra duties and are partially reimbursed for completion of continuing education credit hours.

File photo: Andover School Committee Chair Tracey Spruce

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