Teachers declare impasse in talks

Photo by Ron Leir Kearny Education Association members at last week’s KBOE meeting that ended up canceled because the meeting room was over capacity.
Photo by Ron Leir
Kearny Education Association members
at last week’s KBOE meeting
that ended up canceled because the
meeting room was over capacity.


Things have gone from bad to worse in contract talks between the Kearny Board of Education and Kearny public school teachers.

The Kearny Education Association, which bargains for teachers, guidance counselors, school nurses, child study team members and coaches, has broken off talks.

KEA President Marcy Fisher told The Observer that the union has “declared an impasse and filed for mediation” on Dec. 10. “The board gave us its final offer,” she said.

Fisher said there are “two issues,” in particular, that have been major stumbling blocks in both sides’ effort to reach an agreement but declined to elaborate.

The N.J. Public Employment Relations Commission has assigned Anthony Bagliore to mediate the dispute between the parties. Bagliore has been working as a PERC mediator for more than 13 years.

Fisher said the mediator has asked the parties to choose from among three possible dates to meet with him.

“We’ve chosen one and the mediator is waiting for the board to get back to him,” she said.

More than 500 KEA members have been working under terms of its old contract which expired June 30, 2014.

KEA members – 518 to be exact – have been working under terms of their old contract since it expired June 30, 2014.

At his discretion, the mediator can meet together and/ or separately with both sides to hear their respective arguments in an attempt to broker a deal.

Failing this effort, the mediator – or either party – can request “fact-finding” whereby a new state-appointed intermediary hears both sides’ positions and presents a report with a recommended settlement.

The fact-finder can conduct a sort of informal hearing, with each side asked to present “evidence” in defense of their arguments.

Ten days after the report is issued, it becomes a public document. Neither side is obliged to accept the fact-finder’s recommendation.

If this step goes nowhere, then PERC can assign a “super conciliator” whose job it is to “utilize means and mechanisms, including but not limited to requiring 24-hour-per-day negotiations, until a voluntary settlement is reached.” But here again, the super conciliator cannot force an agreement on the parties.

Under state law, binding arbitration is not an option available to the parties.

Steve Baker, a spokesman for the N.J. Education Association, said that among some 200 New Jersey school districts currently bargaining new contracts, “one thing we are seeing [as an issue] concern among our members is health care costs.”

“Currently, 59 [New Jersey] school districts are in mediation or other stages of impasse [but] there is no notable change in the number of districts that are utilizing impasse procedures as compared to previous years,” said Frank Belluscio III, deputy executive director of the N.J. School Boards Association.

The Kearny combatants may not be talking but there continues to be a contest of wills: the BOE ended up canceling last week’s meeting after local police and firefighters, reportedly responding to complaints about overcrowding, appeared at the BOE public meeting room at its offices on Midland Ave.

There, dozens of KEA members – many carrying signs calling for a new contract – had gathered in preparation for the meeting, filling the room well beyond its capacity of 49.

For the past several months, KEA members had turned out en masse in even larger numbers and, in anticipation of those crowds, the BOE had relocated its meetings to Lincoln Middle and Kearny High, each with auditoriums big enough to easily accommodate those turnouts.

But last week, for whatever reason, the BOE resolved to meet at its headquarters.

Emerging from a premeeting private caucus, BOE President James Doran, accompanied by his fellow board members, told the audience that, “Due to the large number of people here, we are rescheduling our meeting to Monday at the high school.” The board members then resumed its closed caucus.

As per the agenda posted for last week’s meeting, Superintendent Patricia Blood had planned a presentation on the results of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test given last year but – even assuming the board was willing to move the meeting – none of the schools were set up to allow for a power point presentation.

Aside from the teachers’ group, the BOE has yet to conclude talks with the administrators’ association on a new contract. It has previously settled with custodial/ maintenance employees and department chairs/supervisors/ assistant supervisors.

On the municipal side of the ledger, meanwhile, the town is undergoing mediation with civilian Civil Service employees. It has concluded a new agreement with school crossing guards but is still bargaining with police and fire unions.

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