Dartmouth Educators Demand Fair Wages and Healthcare
Educators in the Dartmouth Public School system have been working without a contract since August 31, 2019. The negotiation process began in late 2018. Teachers, teachers' assistants, secretaries, and nurses gathered at the school administration building on Bush Street on Thursday, February 27 to demonstrate support amidst discussions between the Central Administration and the Teacher’s Unit Bargaining Team. Chants for fair wages, improved working conditions, and affordable healthcare echoed throughout.
WBSM spoke with several longstanding educators with the Dartmouth Public School system who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs.
"We have health insurance that has gone up over 40 percent in four years," one educator said. "Blue Cross is a wonderful health insurance, but we pay for it dearly. A family plan is $323 each week. When I tell people that they can’t believe it because they think that’s per month. A single person is $128 each week."
The Town of Dartmouth selects the health insurance and while the educators would like to continue with the quality service they've been provided, they say there is no relief.
"We’re now going to have another health insurance increase starting in a month. Usually, it’s eight to 11 percent. We’ve been told it’s going to be four percent. So we’re going backwards every year," the educator said. "We want fair wages. We look at wages across the state of like-minded communities. Everyone is in the same financial boat, but you need to start budgeting for health insurance. It’s a crisis for everyone, but it needs to happen."
Demonstrators claim that it's not just teachers who are feeling the pressure from this lack of support.
"Not only just teachers but for all educators," one demonstrator said. "We belong to a different unit, but we do just about everything that we can to support the teacher and make sure that the student receives the quality education that they deserve. And that’s what our motto is for Dartmouth Public Schools: quality education for all."
The educators' argument is that the cycles of renegotiating contracts perpetuate base-level funding that they formulate in their new budget, while not keeping in mind the ever-growing need that is increasing every year.
"What ends up happening is sometimes our unit, which we are the least paid of all the units, are the ones that suffer first," the demonstrator said. "We are the first-line for some of those kids. We are the staff, besides the teacher, that kids depend on to have that educational success."
The demonstrators claim the lack of support for existing educators does not bode well for potential additions in the future.
"We need to hire full-time staff. We’re hiring outside consultants or part-time staff. Or we’re hiring and we’re not giving them the salary they deserve so we’re not retaining quality specialists because they can go elsewhere," said a demonstrator. "So retention for a specialist is a big issue in Dartmouth because they look at the health insurance benefit and they say, 'I can’t afford to work here.'"
The educators say it's a simple statement they're trying to send to the administration.
“Give educators the support they give their students every day," a demonstrator said.
School administration officials were not available for comment.