Beleaguered by months of teaching remotely, the COVID-19 crisis, ongoing systemic racism and now budget cuts, teachers and Education Support Professionals from more than 30 local educator unions, as well as faculty and staff from the UMass campuses, are planning car caravans and rallies during a “Week of Action” from Monday through Thursday of next week. They are demanding the funding needed to educate students safely when public schools and colleges reopen.
“We can’t support and educate our students safely without the necessary funding,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy. “Our students’ lives and education have been turned upside down, particularly affecting immigrant students, those from low-income communities of color and students with disabilities.
“Both COVID-19 and the recent protests against police brutality have laid bare the consequences of systemic racism for students who historically have been left behind,” Najimy continued. “There is great wealth in the Commonwealth. We cannot compound the problem by failing to fully fund public education and address the acute needs of all of our students.”
In more than 50 districts, from Pittsfield to Franklin, hundreds of teachers and other educators have received pink slips informing them that their contracts will not be renewed next year. Those can be rescinded, but only if the federal, state and local governments come through with the funding needed to safely reopen schools.
Many more layoff notices are expected on Monday, June 15, which is the statutory deadline for notifying teachers in their first three years of service if their contracts will not be renewed. Deadlines for notifying other teachers, Education Support Professionals and other staff members vary and are determined by local contracts. The state does not track how many notices have been sent, and it will take more than a week to collect that data district by district.
UMass Unions United, a coalition of unions from the UMass campuses, is also planning actions for next week, hosting a caravan of cars on June 17 to tell the UMass Board of Trustees to “Put People First.”
MTA Vice President Max Page said that if necessary, the state must raise taxes on very wealthy and profitable corporations to fund public schools and colleges.
“The net worth of 17 billionaires in Massachusetts increased by $11 billion between March 18 and May 19, at the same time COVID-19 cases were skyrocketing along with the unemployment rate,” Page said. “The Legislature cannot say there isn’t enough money in the state for public schools and colleges. We can show them exactly where to find it.“
Educators have very clear ideas and demands about how to reopen schools and colleges in a way that protects the physical health and safety and social and emotional well-being of educators, students and families. Najimy said the MTA will soon be releasing a set of members’ principles that has emerged from the thousands of conversations that MTA members have been involved in across the state.
A list of Week of Action events is posted at facebook.com/massteacher/events.