1 teachers contract settled, 2nd stalled

 

BELLEVILLE/EAST NEWARK —

Public school teachers in Belleville will be going back to their classrooms with a new contract … finally … while those in East Newark will not.

Back on May 12, negotiators for the Board of Education and the Belleville Education Association concluded a “memorandum of agreement” listing terms of a new labor pact.

But after those terms were incorporated into the formal contract agreement, representatives for both sides never got around to putting their signatures on the final document.

At the Aug. 22 Belleville BOE meeting, Patricia Dolan, the board’s vice president, said: “We are ready to sign the teachers’ contract; however, the teachers haven’t signed it.”

Belleville Superintendent of Schools Richard Tomko said that having both sides’ signatures was essential to making sure that the board and the union had the same information in hand because in the prior contract, it turned out that each side had different versions of what the parties thought they had agreed on.

And until both parties sign off on the document, there really isn’t a new contract in place, he said.

Union President Michael Mignone, reached while on vacation out-of-state, emailed The Observer his take on the situation: “It is unclear to me why some of our education leaders are attempting to create a façade that our association is holding up the implementation of our current contract.

“In reality, the signing of the printed copy of our contract is nothing more than a formality. Although such signing has never been past practice, the BEA is willing to conform to this new practice but has made clear to both Dr. Tomko and the BOE that our contract has been ratified by both parties … and therefore, all signed MOAs should have been honored upon such ratification.”

Unless things change between now and Sept. 6, when fall classes were scheduled to start, it appears that no new agreement will be in place.

The May 12 MOA provides that the new contract will run, retroactively, from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2018.

For the first year, there will be no pay increase but “lateral movement and longevity will be retroactive.” The second year calls for a 4.5% increase inclusive of normal step increments and the third year, a 2.7% increase, also including increments.

Among other changes listed, any employee with 15 years or more service may upon retirement receive terminal pay on the basis of sick leave and both the BOE and BEA “agree to meet and mutually develop a sick leave bank.”

Also, “in the event there are insufficient volunteers, the Principal will assign teachers” as hall monitors.

Also, “effective July 1, 2017, every effort shall be made to provide elementary teachers a minimum of one prep period per day.”

In East Newark, meanwhile, the public school teachers’ contract expired June 30, 2015, and thus far, negotiations between the teachers’ union and school officials have been inconclusive, according to Patrick Martin, principal/superintendent of the borough’s single elementary school.

“There is disagreement over raises,” was how Martin characterized the holdup.

Both sides opted for mediation last spring and last met on Aug. 1, Martin said. “It’s been difficult to schedule additional sessions since then because of summer vacations.”

There are 23 employees – 22 teachers and the school nurse – represented by the East Newark Education Association.

Martin said the borough teachers, whose current starting pay (B.A., first step on the salary guide) is $38,000 a year. It takes 23 years to reach maximum pay, $87,215 (B.A. only).

“Our employees are among the lowest paid in the state,” Martin said, “and our per-pupil cost of educating a student — $14,001 – is the least amount spent in the state. The average per-pupil tuition cost in New Jersey stands at $19,652, he said.

“Despite the fact that the borough’s socio-economic figures are about the same as our neighboring district Harrison, they get massive amounts of state aid but that’s not fair to East Newark,” Martin said.

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Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.