Teachers and school employees staged an Islandwide walk-in/out on Thursday to show solidarity with the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association (MVEA) in their ongoing battle with school officials regarding salary increases.
Following a recent failure to reach an agreement during lengthy negotiations with the All-Island School Committee over their three-year contract with the district, the MVEA’s organized efforts served as a symbolic unification of Vineyard school employees.
The Islandwide teacher walk-in/out was originally planned for May 25, but canceled in the wake of the recent school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, out of respect for students and teachers.
During the walkout, Island educators and employees met outside their schools and entered as one. Received with student applause, school bus driver honks, and waving parents, teachers from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) and the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Tisbury Schools gathered en masse.
School employees of the Edgartown School gathered at the school’s entrance before the start of the school day, many standing with signs reading “Fair Pay for MVYPS Educators,” before re-entering the building in order to begin classes.
Sarah Vail, family and consumer science teacher for grades five through eight at the Edgartown School, said that the salary increase proposed by the district is “lower than what is a typical increase,” in addition to the reality that “it is not keeping up with inflation.”
Vail has worked at the Edgartown School for six years, in addition to having previously worked at the Oak Bluffs School. “It’s hard to attract teachers when our prices are so high here,” said Vail.
Edgartown School librarian Nancy Cole said the initial three-year contract proposal by the MVEA is more than reasonable, and, despite arguments otherwise, the teachers union’s “requests are not outrageous by any means.”
Mike Joyce, who worked as a guidance counselor at the Edgartown School for 27 years, came to the school to express his solidarity at Thursday morning’s walk-in. Joyce, having retired in 2001, said his son and his wife are still Island public school educators. In highlighting recent events regarding school committee expenditures, Joyce said, “You’re going to pay a lawyer to get synthetic turf, but you don’t want to pay teachers — it’s kind of absurd.”
Teresa Holmes, a West Tisbury Spanish teacher and union representative, said the morning and afternoon walkouts were “for us to show solidarity as a union.”
Holmes hopes they serve to bring awareness to parents and other taxpayers that teachers don’t have their contracts ratified for the next three years. “So there’s a good chance we’re going to be coming back in September without a contract,” Holmes said. She said she hopes the word gets out that “the school committee is digging their heels in, and they’re not giving us a cost-of-living raise that’s fair.”
Holmes said mediation didn’t work, and “fact-finding” appears to be next, where another mediator assesses facts from both sides to make a decision.
The three-year contract proposal by the MVEA began with calling for a 6 percent salary increase for year one, with 4 percent increases in years two and three. According to Gina Patti, Oak Bluffs School teacher and MVEA co-president, who has been serving as the spokesperson for the teacher’s union in its negotiations with the All-Island School Committee, the school system countered with a 2 percent increase for the first year, followed by a 3 percent increase for years two and three, which the committee said was their “best and final offer.”
The MVEA’s counterproposal of a 2 percent salary increase for year one and a 3.25 percent increase for the following two years was again rejected by the school system.
In response to the school committee’s refusal to accept the MVEA’s 0.25 increase difference in its counteroffer, MVEA began internal discussions on how to proceed.
Tisbury School sixth grade social studies teacher and fourth generation Islander Sean Debettencourt said the most pressing matter in the teacher contract negotiations was the cost-of-living adjustment disagreement.
“The purpose of a COLA, a cost-of-living adjustment, is to try to meet inflation. And the district’s vision of what inflation is simply is not realistic with the reality around us,” he said. Debettencourt pointed out how the school building project had inflation taken into account for its costs.
In order to gauge opinions among the teachers’ union via informal vote at the MVEA’s May 19 180-member Zoom meeting, Island teachers subsequently voted against accepting the district’s “best and final offer” — a decision with only a 2 percent dissent.
Kate DeVane, chair of the All-Island School Committee and co-chair of the negotiating committee, expressed some surprise surrounding today’s events.
“We are perplexed by the fact that they staged a walkout today when they aren’t meeting with their larger union until this afternoon to discuss the latest offer that’s on the table with them. And they have not refused the offer we’ve put on the table,” DeVane said. “According to the Mass. teacher’s rep, they haven’t met and voted on it yet. To be potesting when you’re planning to meet and discuss the most recent offer seems strange.”
DeVane also expressed her thoughts on the past couple of years. “We totally appreciate their hard work, and we understand the last two years have been incredibly hard for everyone,” she continued. “And we simply have to balance what we can give the teachers with what the rest of the Island community can bear in taxes.”