[Updated: Thursday, Feb. 28, 3:30 p.m.] Montclair Patch received new information about the cost estimates of the Board of Education's offer to give teachers a salary increases and restore aides' benefits.]
The Board of Education accused the union of demanding excessive salary increases and an unsustainable contract for Montclair taxpayers Tuesday, the first day of a "work to contract" tactic in which teachers walked off school grounds at precisely 2:52 p.m., refusing to stay after hours.
Tensions between the board and union continued to grow a day after hundreds crowded into a tense and often raucous meeting, in which union officials said teachers would begin working to contract, where members refuse to volunteer any additional time outside of their paid hours.
Board member Tanya Coke said on Tuesday that the board has offered a fair contract for both the union and district, which includes yearly salary increases and the restoration of aides’ health benefits that had been axed in June 2011.
“To say this board has not negotiated in good faith is simply an untruth,” said Coke.
The board issued a press release on Tuesday saying “it had no role in the MEA’s recent work action.”
Before negotiations fell apart this month, the board offered the union three years of salary increases of 2.6 percent and the restoration of aides’ benefits, the latter of which is a priority of the union.
The price tag for the salary increases and aides’ benefits, is estimated to be about $2.1 million in the first year of the contract, $3.3 million in the second, and $3.4 million in the third.
The salary increases needed to be balanced out by concessions by the union, said Coke, so the board requested $1 million in savings come from the union’s health care and insurance benefits over two years.
“If we go as high as 2.6 [percent on salary increases] ...,” said Coke, “then we would need some cost savings and concessions. ... We are bound to follow our auditor’s advice, which is that we cannot afford this deal without some givebacks.”
A deal without givebacks by the union will ultimately lead to a budget deficit, said Coke, which means higher taxes or cutting staff.
While the district has run large budget surpluses in 2013, 2012, and 2011, Coke estimated the salary increases and benefits packages offered by the board would reduce future surpluses to the state minimum.
The union is requesting salary increases of 3 percent in 2012-13, 2.9 percent in 2013-14 and 2.8 percent in 2014-15.
The board filled an impasse last week with the state. Contract negotiations are now expected to be decided by a state-assigned mediator, a process that could take up to six months to begin.
Coke was confident that the two sides can come to an equitable deal.
“We agree on the big stuff,” said Coke, which is "meaningful salary increases" and aides’ benefits.