ANDOVER, MASS. (WHDH) - After nine months of bargaining, the union representing Andover teachers said Thursday they are going on strike.
The Andover Education Association said its members voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize a strike. School officials soon announced schools would be closed Friday, adding schools will remain closed for the duration of the strike.
“Unfortunately, it was coming,” said parent Donna Ballou after the education association’s announcement. “We knew it was coming.”
“As residents, we’ve been watching it,” Ballou said. “The teachers were fighting for what they fairly deserve and they’re not getting it. So, this is their last resort.”
A key sticking point in current contract negotiations centers on pay raises for instructional aides and teachers. In its statement, the education association said it is also seeking protections for educator preparation time, longer lunch and recess periods for young students, access to paid family and medical leave, “and greater educator voice in curriculum decisions.”
“The town can easily afford the financial proposals we have put on the table,” the education association said. “The dynamics of bargaining, however, have made clear that the School Committee would rather exert its perceived power over educators and our union than settle a fair contract in a timely manner.”
In a message to the school community, Andover’s School Committee chair said officials have filed a petition with the state Department of Labor Relations to stop the strike.
Chair Tracey Spruce continued in her statement, saying “We are incredibly disappointed in this decision by the AEA to take this illegal action that unfairly disrupts the education of our students.”
“The School Committee bargaining teams have negotiated in good faith to reach contracts that are fair to all educators and staff and we urge the union bargaining team to immediately come back to the negotiating table and work with us in good faith to reach agreement,” Spruce said.
While it is illegal for public employees to go on strike in Massachusetts, public school educators in several communities outside Andover have moved forward with strikes in recent years.
In Brookline, schools were closed in May of last year due to a strike.
Educators in Malden and Haverhill took part in a pair of simultaneous strikes last October.
Woburn educators went on strike in late January this year.
Back in Andover, the Andover Education Association continued in its statement Thursday.
“We have nothing to hide and no agenda beyond making sure that we have the staff and the resources to maintain the high quality of education we deliver,” the education association said.
“The teachers aren’t getting a fair shake in Andover,” said Andover parent Chris Graham. “They’ve been at the bargaining table since last January and unfortunately it has come down to this because our School Committee does not seem to have the teachers’ interests in mind.”
Spruce, the Andover School Committee chair, said school committee negotiators met with the Andover Education Association as recently as Wednesday night to discuss the school committee’s most recent contract offer.
“Unfortunately, the AEA bargaining team abruptly ended negotiations last night without responding to the School Committee’s offer,” Spruce said.
Spruce said another bargaining session is scheduled for Nov. 14.
Following their strike vote, Andover educators plan to picket outside their schools on Friday morning before holding a rally at 12 p.m. on the Andover Town Common.
While schools will be closed, Spruce said officials will make boxed breakfasts and lunches available for pickup for students at Bancroft Elementary School in town between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
Spruce said athletics and theater rehearsals for students may also continue during the strike.
“Please contact the coaches and/or director for more information,” Spruce said.
Transportation will additionally continue as usual for students who do not attend an Andover public school but who use district transportation.
“We understand that this is a severe disruption to the lives of our students and families and we will continue to provide new information as it becomes available,” Spruce said.
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