Reaching Agreement in the Newton Public Schools

Mediation to Rebuild Working Relationships Among the Teachers, School Committee, and Administration

The Newton Public School System educates more than 11,000 students with almost 1,000 teachers. Although one of the best systems in the state, labor relations in the late 1980s and early 1990s were plagued by a poor relationship between the School Committee and Administration and the Newton Teachers Association. The interactions got so bad that the teachers "worked to rule" as part of their bargaining strategy, something that all parties acknowledged was not good for the teachers, the administration, the parents, or the children.

CMI Concord Group was asked to help rebuild the working relationship between and among the parties. Starting with an initial three-day joint training workshop co-facilitated by Paul Cramer, we taught the parties how to use an "interest-based" or "principled negotiation" process for resolving their issues. As a result, the parties created a "procedural contract" for how negotiations would be conducted and memorialized that in negotiation "ground rules." The parties then used these ground rules to change the process from acrimonious positional bargaining to a more interest-focused dialogue. Joint data gathering teams produced information on legitimacy; small brainstorming groups inventing options for discussion in the larger group; and the "Newton Five" became a sub-group to maintain communication and the working relationship whenever issues arose between contract talks.

Since the beginning of the interest-based process the parties have successfully concluded three additional contracts. They have managed through difficult issues regarding health care costs, and recently agreed to try jointly to reduce costs by sourcing pharmaceuticals from Canada.

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