Teachers end school year with new deal


Public school teachers in Harrison are celebrating the end of the school year with a new contract and a pay raise.

After narrowly rejecting an initial contract offer from the Board of Education April 14, members of the Harrison Education Association voted 128-54 last Tuesday to ratify a revised proposal that, according to both sides, provides for:

• A four-year deal, retroactive to July 1, 2014, when the old pact expired, and running through June 30, 2018.

• Annual salary adjustments, including step increments, of 3.1% for the first year, 3.5% for the second year, 3.3% for the third year and 2.5% for the fourth year. Each increase takes effect July 1 of each year.

• Three additional steps in the final year of the contract, which means that, at that point, teachers will need to complete 17 years to reach maximum pay.

• An extra instructional day added to the calendar, pushing the total number of school days during the year to 182, with no additional compensation, tentatively scheduled for the Friday before spring break.

• A restructuring of the salary guide, designed to eliminate “bubble” or “balloon” steps and even out big jumps in pay between steps.

Additionally, according to the board’s personnel director James Doran, under the new contract, “we settled differences on certain hiring practices.” He said the board will have the right to place certain newly hired instructional employees – particularly those who teach science and math – at higher salary levels than normal so the district can “be more competitive.”

Doran said that such specialty teachers are at a premium these days but, by offering more money, Harrison will have a better shot at landing “high quality” employees who might otherwise be lost to private industry.

One thing that teachers can look forward to “at the conclusion of this contract,” said HEA President Bill Hartman, is that “we can begin to negotiate health care costs for our members.”

As things now stand, Hartman said, teachers will be paying up to 35% of the value of their health care premiums, as prescribed by legislation backed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011 as part of his reform package.

“But there is a sunset provision in that legislation,” Hartman said, and that is something that his members will be very much anticipating.

Hartman concurred with Doran that, with the new agreement, “we’ve adjusted the giant ‘bubble’ steps” – defined by the National Education Association as “oversized [pay] increments that destroys the integrity of the [salary] schedule” which should reflect uniform movement from one step to the next.

And, he added, over the life of the contract, a Harrison teacher’s starting pay, now in the low $40,000s, should be “in the $50,000 a year range.”

The pay adjustments, coupled with the board’s willingness to grant a fourth contract year, probably swayed the membership in convincing fashion the second time around, Hartman said.

Hartman said he expected that the board would be mailing out the checks for the retroactive pay hikes sometime in September.

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