HAVERHILL — Amid an exodus of teachers from Haverhill public schools this year, the teachers union is working to negotiate a new contract that union officials say will boost morale, which they said is low and is a contributing factor to teachers retiring and resigning.

“Our plan is to organize as a union and support our members to improve their working condition,” said Anthony Parolisi, president of the Haverhill Education Association. “We’re at the bargaining table now to make Haverhill a better place to work. Our working conditions, aside from salary and health care costs, are what’s keeping us from reaching an agreement.”

Parolisi said his union signed up 72 new teachers at a new teacher orientation last week. 

“It is the largest number of new hires that I or anyone I’ve talked to can remember in a single year,” he said. “And these are just teachers. I have no idea how many educational support professionals or other positions have been filled.”

According to human resources, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 29, a total of 81 certified teachers and seven administrators left the district for various reasons.

School Committee member Scott Wood said he’s had the honor of speaking at teacher orientation meetings in past years, and that from his experience he never saw more than 20 to 30 new teachers at one of these meetings.

“The numbers coming in this year are higher than I’ve heard of in the past, and it’s cause for concern as many people have left the district due to morale issues,” he said.

“People don’t seem be happy here and I think morale is low right now,” he added. “I’ve received emails from several teachers who retired earlier than they wanted, and who told me it had to do with changes made by the administration in the past year.”

Wood said that low morale is also apparent from the number of grievances the School Committee received from teachers over the past year. 

Parolisi said that this is not an ideal time of year to be hiring teachers, but that hiring was needed.

“Some of the new teachers are just out of college and will take whatever job they can get,” he said. “Haverhill is a great place to start as it’s an urban district that really helps boost your resume.”

Parolisi said it’s a blow to the district to be losing veteran teachers who the city has invested in through professional development.

“The district loses the experience of a professional educator and the relationships that educator developed with the community, the parents, and the students they interacted with,” he said. “When hiring new people, you have to start over so you’re constantly training and it’s an absolute loss. Experienced teachers have absolutely left the district.”

He said there were other teachers who were hired after orientation, and even during the event, which was held the week before the start of the new school year.

“Some opted not to sign up with the union and some people are still being hired to fill open positions,” he said.

He said some veteran educators who retired sent copies of their resignation letters to School Committee members to tell them why they are leaving.

“Others informed us,” he said. “They left for a variety of reasons, but in many cases a lot of changes in the district  are making teachers uncomfortable as they are not being included in any decision making,” he said. “Teachers were not included and did not receive a lot of information in regards to redistricting, reassignments from one class to another, and changes in schedules. And because of it, morale is declining.”

Since being elected president of the Haverhill Education Association, starting July 1, Parolisi has been heavily engaged in contract negotiations.

“We hear members of the School Committee say that teachers need to be paid better, but at the bargaining table, it doesn’t seem like we’re getting the same message,” he said. “We’re still trying to come together on salary, but a big sticking point for the union is equity for our teaching staff. Morale is low as expectations for teachers vary wildly from building to building.”

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