No end in sight for teacher wage disputes

Teachers' union and school committee fail to come to terms in mediation.

Failed mediation between the MVEA and the district follow demonstrations in support of Island school employees and numerous attempts at contract negotiation. — Abigail Rosen

Updated @ 4:30 pm

After going to mediation and failing to come to terms, the Martha’s Vineyard Education Association (MVEA) and the school committee remain at odds in their contract negotiations.

Along with compensation, the teachers union and the committee also disagree over the attempt to renegotiate the health insurance plans of school employees, according to MVEA reps. As previously stated in a letter to The Times, Island teachers say they are struggling to make ends meet: “With inflation rates soaring, our previously negotiated wages have not come close to keeping up with the cost of living.”

Gina Patti, Oak Bluffs School teacher, MVEA co-president, and spokesperson for the teacher’s union in its negotiations with the school committee, reiterated that the union’s wage proposal has been met with resistance by the school committee.

The three-year contract proposal by the MVEA called for a 6 percent salary increase for year one, with 4 percent increases in year two and three– taking into consideration the unprecedented work put in by Island teachers in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We thought we might have come to a tentative agreement at the last [meeting],” Patti told The Times. “Unfortunately, mediation failed.” Patti said the union made a counteroffer to the district’s proposal.

The school committee’s “best and final offer,” said Patti, was significantly less than the union’s proposal — a 2 percent increase for the first year, followed by a 3 percent increase for years two and three. 

The MVEA, willing to negotiate, countered the offer, and proposed a 2 percent salary increase for year one and a 3.25 percent increase for the following two years. The district refused to budge.

Eighth grade math teacher at the Oak Bluffs School and negotiations team member Eve Heyman said that the union did what it could to come to terms. “We were hoping to come to a resolution,” adding later, “it’s hard not to take it personally.” 

Immediately following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, school staff “worked in ways they never have before,” Patti said. “[They] did jobs they’ve never done before, on platforms they’ve never worked with.” With similar sentiment, Heyman added, “the children were sent home on Friday, March 13, and on Monday, March 16, there were lessons ready — from home.” 

Heyman said the MVEA has experienced overwhelming support from the families of students, but feel a lack of support from the school committee, and a general disregard for the work Island teachers exhibited during the pandemic. The members of the teachers’ union have stayed updated on the negotiations, but as far as the facts being disseminated to Island families, the bullet points get lost in the mix. “I’m not sure the public understands what’s going on completely, yet,” she said.

The MVEA held a unionwide Zoom meeting on Thursday, May 19, with more than 180 participants, said Patti. A vote for the approval of the district’s 2 percent offer was met with 98 percent against. Additionally, 87 percent voted to “support the process with action,” when union reps requested feedback on how to proceed. “Never have I seen that much support in a union here,” said Patti. 

Kate DeVane, chair of the all-Island school committee and co-chair of the negotiations team for the towns of Martha’s Vineyard, called the clash a “tricky situation.” DeVane told The Times that the committee has a “fiduciary responsibility” to not just the teachers and school employees, but to the community. The two rounds of mediation, said DeVane, have “been an attempt to offer something the teachers would think is acceptable.” 

Referring to a recent agreement between the committee and non-teacher school employees, such as custodians and food service workers, that ended amicably and in general in favor of the employees,  DeVane said it was in the best interest of the committee to “look at the bottom of the payscale and make sure [non-teacher school employees] are comfortable.”

DeVane said that because teacher’s salaries are already higher than those of other school employees, meeting the MVEA’s proposed increase would cause strain on the schools and taxpayers. 

The union representatives pointed to recent discussion of $2 million in excess and deficiency funds for MVRHS. That required the district to distribute $900,000 in unused funds back to the towns. “It’s really hard to sit in these meetings and be told there’s no money,” said Patti, “when it appears there is money.” 

The school committee was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, and in a continued effort to come to some sort of resolution, the MVEA and the school committee will begin a formal fact-finding and arbitration process. That would typically involve legal representation and an objective third-party panel. No date has been set.

An early version of this story had incorrect information about the percentage increase being sought by teachers -Ed.


  1. The school committee needs to have educators on their board. They do not. Teachers are being asked to work with the public amidst a pandemic, while school violence is at an all time high. Schools are short on teachers and staff because they cannot afford to live on the island and stay on the island. Maybe the School Committee members should each spend a week in a classroom and see what’s really going on. Not only have schools been understaffed all school year; there are very few, if any substitute teachers available and willing to fill in. When police officers and upper level administrators are being asked to fill in and cover for teachers that’s a sign of a huge problem. Who’s doing their jobs? There’s a trickle down effect that is going to have a very negative impact on our island. Invest in education, please! The future of the island is depending on it and our children are the unfortunate victims.

  2. The school committee seems to have plenty of money to blow on lawyers trying to overturn a decision about a stupid idea that some snake oil salespeople sold them.

  3. A critical point that needs to be understood for the context of this article is the difference between a COLA and a raise. Teachers are not asking for a raise; they are asking for their Cost of Living Adjustment to more closely align with the inflation rate so that their purchasing power does not decrease year after year. The purpose of the COLA is to make sure that a salary is not lowered by inflation. Social Security works the same way and is giving 5.9% for 2022. Teachers only get “raises” by gaining additional educational certifications (a master’s degree, a doctorate, or some steps between) and putting in years of service.
    It would appear then that the actual point of contention is whether or not the School Committee negotiators agree that inflation is more extensive than two percent. The Bureau of labor statistics says inflation year-over-year from April was 8.3%. Is their argument that inflation has been significantly LOWER on Martha’s Vineyard? Why should teachers (or any town employee) be expected to do the same work for less this year than they earned last year?

  4. The school committee is an embarrassment to this island. The fact that they wouldn’t even budge on their initial offer when the MVEA made a generous concession in their counter offer is a disgrace.

  5. I applaud the school committee for the favorable contract for non- teacher employees, but I’m confused why they are not  giving the same respect to our teachers.
    Our children are the future. They face unprecedented turmoil and uncertainty. Along with parents, teachers carry the weight to educate, nourish, and protect these  curious minds . Our society depends on the diligence of teachers to spark a child’s inquisitive nature, to help them formulate language and assist them in adjusting to a complex society.
    With the onslaught of covid our schools and teachers have been under extreme stress. This is not a time to financially and emotionally punish our teachers. Instead we should praise their dedication, show them the respect they deserve, and provide them with a fair cost of living adjustment .

  6. and as much as I love, respect and appreciate our island police. Most of them at least. Have you seen the salaries our officers receive? I cannot speak on other towns but I have seen the Edgartown salaries. Something needs to change.

    • Mike– you know, the police put themselves in harms way every day.
      For some reason, I think (an opinion here) that if a gunman was in one of our elementary schools, the islands entire force would not assemble and stand in the hallway listening to children getting murdered and bleeding to death for 45 minutes while hoping the gunman would eventually run out of ammo.
      I don’t know what police get paid in Texas, but if my local police officers have the potential to confront a sociopath who is bent on killing children, and are willing to risk their lives to save those children, you better believe that I think their salaries are worth it.
      In the case of the Robb school massacre, they said they were waiting for a key.
      Two shots at most from a standard police issue handgun would have blown that lock right off 5 seconds after the police arrived.
      I hope every one of those 19 police officers standing in that hallway get prosecuted.

      • Don, this has nothing to do with the senseless tradgedythat occurrd in Texas. And don’t forget, defenseless teachers were murdered in that tradgedy. Teachers are risking their lives daily too to educate and mentor other people’s children. My point is that anywhere that I have lived and taught, teacher salaries have fallen in line with police salaries. The change I am speaking of is not that the police are paid too much. I believe the police earn every penny of their salaries and quite frankly they probably deserve more. So do the teachers.

    • This is not about the police this is about the teachers and no where do I see what the salaries are for these teachers. With many of them at the top of the pay scale it would be helpful if we know what they really make including benefits and number of days worked etc. Then the public would know exactly what the issues are. The taxpayer is not a bottomless money pit and I applaud the school committee for looking out for the taxpayer. And someone please remind me what our cost is per student compared to the rest of the state and also where we fall in line on achievement scores compared to the rest of the state.

  7. I applaud the school committee for the favorable contract for the non- teacher employees, but I’m confused why they are not  giving the same respect to our teachers. 
    Our children are the future. They face unprecedented turmoil and uncertainty.
    Along with parents, teachers carry the weight to educate, nourish, and protect these  curious minds .  Our society  depends on the diligence of teachers to spark a child’s inquisitive mind, to help them formulate language and assist them in adjusting to a complex society.
    With the onslaught of covid our schools and teachers have been under extreme stress. This is not a time to financially and emotionally punish our teachers. Instead we should praise their  dedication, show them the respect they deserve, and provide them with a fair cost of living adjustment .

  8. You are avoiding the issue of supply and demand; avoiding performance; and assuming teacher load was more difficult during covid. It was not. In general if our teachers were really good, our students would perform much better than they do in world ranking. Education in the US has slipped significantly.

    • Andy, what are you basing your assumption that teacher load was not more difficult during covid on? Got some links to back your claims up?

      • Mr Donovan. Can you explain why the teachers unions in the US did all they could to keep schools locked down and teach by Zoom. They loved Covid and less work.

        • In no way was teaching remotely during covid less work. At least not here on the island. Teachers still needed to fill an entire school day and learn a new way of educating while on the job. Keeping kids engaged was more challenging than ever. You have no clue what you’re talking about.

        • So your assumption is that because classes were taught through zoom, the work load was lighter? As if class prep and grading papers somehow was easier over zoom. Again Andy, what are you using for research to back up your assumptions? Do you have actual verifiable sources, or are you just telling us what you wish to be true?

      • The vineyard is continually ranked one of the most expensive per pupil school cost in the state but yet delivers only average education. US News and World report out of 368 schools in Massachusetts the vineyard is ranked 168

        • Tisbury school is close to 50% non-english speaking and Edgartown School is nearing 40%. Schools are incredibly understaffed due to a near impossible housing situation and an inability to bring in new teachers. Perhaps spend a day in the life of an island teacher and see how you feel afterwards.

    • Andrew where do you get your information from? Are you an educator? The workload of a teacher during covid was enormous, if you would like me to elaborate I will, but I think it goes unsaid as to what they were asked to do. With that said, there will always be 1% of any workforce that doesn’t perform well, but overall these teachers worked their asses off. You might want to think about inserting your foot into your mouth before spouting off baseless claims. I am not referring to slips in U.S. education, but directing it to your ridiculous comment that their workload was not more difficult. We have many, phenomnal teachers on this island, who most certainly would give you an education in your ignorance. With that said I am not a teacher, but I am married to one, who has worked incredibly hard to meet the needs of all of her students, putting in not only school hours, but several hours every weekend preparing for the following school week. Please enlighten me…..maybe we should come evaluate your work performance. You might also be the guy who tips bad and complains about restaurant service. If I seem a bit annoyed with your ignorance…well it’s because I am.

      • Working hard is different than working effectively. Outcomes prove the point.
        ”Some of the country’s top teachers unions have been silent on a Harvard study that showed remote learning led to large losses in student achievement during the pandemic, with minority students being the hardest hit despite some unions claiming a return to the classroom was “racist.” “Where schools shifted to remote learning, gaps widened sharply,” said Thomas Kane, a professor of education at Harvard and one of the authors of the study, said of the results of the research released by Harvard University earlier this month.”

        • I can’t argue that remote learning caused a decline in student achievement. Most if not all teachers were asked to take on a whole new job than the one they had been trained to do. Remote learning was a new concept and it was far from perfect. No one can argue that. But to argue that our island has sub-par educators is flat out uninformed and irresponsible.

        • Andy, in your discussions with Island teachers how many indicated a preference for the remote teaching methods?

    • Andy– I know some high school teachers– the workload and the problems that arose went up dramatically . But leave it to you to tell us how they felt, and what their difficulties weren’t.
      Another typical example of “andy syndrome” .
      Stick with something you know — like toxic chemicals–

  9. With the unprecedented demands on teachers, both professionally and psychologically, we as a society have failed miserably to elevate this profession to the status it deserves. Teachers are literally holding this mess together right now. It’s another one of our national embarrassments that they are woefully underpaid for the contributions they make to our society. Give them the damn increase!

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