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Board of Education: Union Demanding Unsustainable Contract

On Tuesday, union began 'working to contract,' where staff refuse to volunteer any additional time outside of their paid hours.

[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.

jim February 27, 2013 at 12:40 PM
let the teachers go home at 2:52. In a week no one will know the difference.
QBY33 February 27, 2013 at 12:53 PM
Question.... Why is the BOE agreeing to give back benefits now? Why were they ever taken away? Why did those aides either have to go without healthcare for a year OR pay up to 20,000 in Cobra payments???
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 February 27, 2013 at 01:12 PM
Ms. Coke and the Board of Education are playing a costly political game at the expense our students. The first "action" that has led to this horrible situation was the BOE's filing of an impasse on the contract negotiations. That means the BOE simply walked away from the negotiating table with the promise of stretching this out into an abyss. And while the Board of Education has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by not coming to a contract agreement, the teachers and teacher aids continue to forgo reasonably expected benefits. Ms. Coke's statement on Monday night that the BOE was working on behalf of the 70% of the town folk without children in the public school system was simply wrong. Even more it was dangerous posturing that tried to pit one group of town residents against another about a common and shared interest. Comments like those above from jim reflect the BOE's appreciation for the teacher's of our children as well as the sad state of the understanding a handful of posters here have regarding the work done by teachers. The BOE should demonstrate Coke's claim of good faith by not forcing mediation and returning to the negotiating table. It should also stop its scare mongering media tactics and work to develop a full community appreciation of the work done by Montclair's teachers.
tryintosurvive February 27, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Does anyone know if the 3% raise is in addition to the raise that every teacher gets every year anyway. I think they they call it a step increase. If this is on top of that wouldnt the yearly increase for each teacher be much greater than 3%?
Adam February 27, 2013 at 01:47 PM
Did anyone ever stop to ask if it was the unions who rejected to include benefits for the aides and not the BOE with the last contracts? The BOE is going above & beyond industry averages & industry norms. The work to contract & refusal to budge by the union is gross. This is impacting the quality of education to kids. We need to work together in a professional manner & to keep this town sustainable.
Tablefor3 February 27, 2013 at 02:37 PM
I'm not sure what is gross about doing the work you are are paid to do because your employer is bent on forcing you to trade a professional salary with health benefit reductions (plus excluding a whole class of employees from access to them). Lots of folks talk about teachers' great schedules and compare it to their pay. If we counted all the hours they put in (not just contract hours) and compared it to their salaries, it would be far below "industry norms." These are professional, caring people who should be able to earn a living that supports their families. On the health benefits issue, don't we want the people who take care of our children to stay healthy and see a doctor if they have an infection even if they only work a reduced schedule? That is what is gross.
JoyWormelie February 27, 2013 at 03:42 PM
MPS teachers are not overpaid, nor are they underpaid, by Essex Co or north Jersey standards. Anyone trying to claim otherwise is simply posturing. All BOE contracts are public docs so feel free (Patch?) to call neighboring communities, ask for the contracts and compare salaries. I think you will find Mtc is right in the middle. Personally, I think this Supt is somewhat divisive and the BOE is in over their heads. They had that "deer in the headlights" look at the meeting on Monday. All except, Wilson - who appeared disinterested. Which BOE members terms expire this spring?
tryintosurvive February 27, 2013 at 03:55 PM
http://www.nj.com/news/bythenumbers/
ira shor February 27, 2013 at 04:08 PM
BOE cut health plan for essential aides while reporting big surpluses every year. That is gross, disgraceful, and "unprofessional." New Supt. wants to do it again, use surplus to finance more testing and more deans to police teachers and students into more testing. Testing costs a lot but it is not teaching. Good schls support property values and family life. BOE picked this unnecessary fight, sending surpluses back to a TC giving subsidies to cronies in RE dev. Teachers and aides are nobody's cronies; they provide services daily for our kids which make schls the prime attraction for families moving here despite high prices for our homes and high taxes. All the volunteer hours donated by teachers for tutoring/mentoring/coaching is unpaid labor which they are right to stop this week with BOE demanding givebacks on health care to get wage increases, canceling out any gains. The pvt sector imposes the worst labor conditions, longest hours, lowest benefits of any adv econ in world, but this is no reason to knuckle under and settle for so little in our pub sector which every town, every family, every child must count on to keep the peace. Teachers, aides, counselors, etc. provide most impt svc in this town, the pub schls, without which our home values will collapse and our family lives will degenerate. For 3 yrs now, hostile BOE waging war on our schls with approval of Mayor and TC. Will only stop when teachers and parents refuse to take it and stand up for our kids and our town.
tryintosurvive February 27, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Sounds good, as longs as the overall budget stays below $111,000,000 for the life of the contract.
mtc parent February 27, 2013 at 07:16 PM
At the meeting Monday night, MEA's Gayl Shepard admitted that during negotiations she said "we are at an impasse"--but then she said that wasn't the same as officially declaring an impasse. Isn't that trying to have it both ways? So the BOE filed the impasse, but the MEA started them going down that road, which makes them look like the game players. And the kids--especially at MHS--are the pawns here,
Marlis Dunn February 27, 2013 at 07:49 PM
Stick to the budget. Let them work to contract.
Latifah February 27, 2013 at 10:25 PM
This is a contentious, corporate-minded BOE, that set out to non-negotiate this contract from the beginning by bringing in an outside negotiator. This person knows full well the difference between saying "I guess we're at an impasse" and continue to meet, and filing the necessary papers to effectively stop negotiations by declaring an impasse. This BOE has found surpluses for the past three years after using scare tactics to force Senior staff to leave, made parents fear that their child's school would be closed, freezing agreed upon increases by scaring younger staff into thinking that their positions were in jeapoedy, and of course, taking away benefits from the Paraprofessionals. The BOE's facetious concern for the "70%" is another non-negotiating tactic: people who move here without children have no idea that the bulk of their tax dollar goes to the schools? This is the way of this BOE-cause dissension, fear, and distrust in the community and within the staff to maintain the bottom line.
Adam February 27, 2013 at 10:59 PM
Latifah, This is one of the few communities that doesn't vote on the school budget. If the taxes continue to increase 100% the next 10 years, like they did in the previous 10 years for most in Montclair, things will really change in this community. Maybe voting on the budget will be a referendum added to a ballot. Maybe a Charter school will finally be approved, especially in light of the work to contract action so quickly brought in. I'd hardly call the BOE contentious or corporate-minded given salary increases larger than the industry averages and health care benefits to part time workers, which isn't being done in any other school in the area.
tryintosurvive February 27, 2013 at 11:37 PM
The BOE is doing the right thing. Keeping within their budget. The unions attitude seems so that we want what we want, we don't care where the money comes from.
Clark son February 28, 2013 at 12:07 AM
Much of the reason the BOE cited for not having the funds to pay education staff is related to increased costs of education, not necessarily related to salary. Ie: Buildings and grounds, special education, etc… Generally speaking, in order to combat these kinds of increases, perhaps there would be staff reductions, or increase in production… and over the course of the last 3 contracts, the educators HAVE acquiesced to those measures, without any resistance. Not to mention the salary freezes they recently agreed to, again without any real resistance. When was the last time they did a job action? I have only lived in town for about 15 years, and I don’t recall. Looking at the history of this situation, rather than just what is in front of us, I learned that in the past few years, the educators of our district had agreed to an INCREASE in salary guide steps AND have agreed to move BACK steps in the same salary guide, in effect making it significantly harder to achieve those higher salaries. These are measures that they will never regain. We have seen the effect of this with so many of our finest educators in town leaving for other districts. And we wonder why our ranking has slipped? But, it seems that they did this without much argument, in good faith that the town needed their help. I think we have gotten used to expecting our educators to passively take whatever the BOE offers.
Clark son February 28, 2013 at 12:07 AM
I have spoken to a number of educators in Montclair and they stated that when they first came to work here, they did so because of the prestige of working in a town that values education and educators. This is not a rarity anymore, it seems. And contrary to what the BOE says, and what some people on here are writing, Montclair is not really a competitively salaried district. Perhaps versus other nearby towns which also carry that prestige. I am afraid that more of the top-notch educators that we have here in town, are going to flee as this progresses. Speaking to folks in the teacher education program at MSU, they are saying that if you look to Union and Morris counties, they seem to be attracting the high-end young educators like WE used to. Just look at the starting salaries over there. When our educators dedicated their lives to this profession, they more than likely did so without the expectation of ever becoming wealthy. But, with the expectation that there would be some sense of stability, and dignity, which is the trade off, I guess. At the very least, we should be offering dignity to our educators. A fair salary, basic health insurance, and basic respect for them as professionals as we would expect for ANY professional, including ourselves. It seems to me that this is all they are asking for, not for wealth.
Brian Ford February 28, 2013 at 03:45 AM
I am not privy to the exact documents and I'm not commenting on THIS negotiations process. However, I have been in education for 11 years and did negotiate a contact at another school, so I will speak to general truths. A 3% (or any %) raise is a raise in the total aggregate amount of salary paid in the contract, not a 3% rise for every employee. Depending on further negotiations on allocation/distributions, some employees would likely see a little less than 3%, some a little more. Your question on steps is not easily answered without getting into complicated detail. BUT generally, contract language would say "3% inclusive of increment" so that's seen as NOT "on top" of that cost. So in other words, the raise is 3% minus what the raise "would be anyway" if the old contract kept going. AND any individual raise is fuzzy because we kick 1.5% of the salary back for health benefits. So if I individually get a 2.4% raise, 1.5% is already gone in health benefit contributions, mking the raise .9%. One thing to remember, though, is that MPS employees have not received the old contract increment this year. Our salaries are frozen. In other words, if I was making X on step 10 last year, and on the old contract step 11 was hypothetically X plus $500, I have not been moved to step 11/not received that $500. Once the contract gets settled, and step 11 is, hypothetically, X plus $750, and retro pay is in effect, I'll likely get, in this scenario, one lump sum of $750. (continued below)
Brian Ford February 28, 2013 at 03:45 AM
(or continued above - whatever - thi sis part 2 of my reply) In a district this big, the CO often likes to do one round of math and retro pay, instead of $500 now and $250 later. That's their discretion. AND even though my salary is frozen, my 1.5% kick-in to health benefits is in effect - that does not wait for the contract to get settled. I was kicking in .5% last year. So employees w/benefits are essentially making 1% LESS right now until the contract is settled, and my cost of living has gone up -- so I am moving backwards right now. In fact, with the insane caps on budget increases and raises, plus the acceleration of the health benefits contribution, it's entirely possible for many of us to be making less say 3 or 4 years from now than we are now. (sorry for any typos - typing quickly at the moment)
Brian Ford March 01, 2013 at 02:33 PM
just to clarify, when i say "one lump sum" it would be lump sum of what was missed up until when the contract is settled, pro-rated poriotn of the hypothetical $750 I used in the secnario
esther March 02, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Adam The UNION did not decide not to give benefits to the assistants- the MONTCLAIR BOE did that. And benefits aren't free- see above from Brian Ford. Sometimes I think, after reading your posts, that you never had a teacher you ever connected with- more's the pity that you didn't because we have some great and wonderful teachers here.
Debbie Courtney March 03, 2013 at 12:23 AM
I am a teacher (in Rutherford) and a taxpayer in Montclair. The Rutherford Education Association is also in the process of negotiating a new contract, however we expect our salary increases to be not more than 2% each year because Governor Christie capped property tax increases to 2%. So I am totally bewildered as to why Montclair teachers believe they are entitled to more than a 2% increase? The Montclair Board of Education has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to keep our property tax increases to 2%. I believe that the Montclair teachers should understand that times have changed and the law is the law. We have many fine and wonderful teachers in this town, however, our township should not have to file an appeal to go beyond the 2% cap in order for teachers to have a 2.6-3% raise each year.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 March 03, 2013 at 12:41 AM
Debbie Courtney, you must have missed the discussion here in Montclair. The Montclair Board of Education has had a large surplus in its budget and in part this has been because of the give backs from teachers. What the teachers are requesting will not exceed the Board of Education's budget, there will still be a surplus. As you will have noticed here in the comments from one of the members of the Town Council, as long as the BOE does not exceed its budget, it is free in the negotiations. Keep in mind that as a Montclair resident (and not a Montclair teacher), the Town Council has promised not to increase taxes. So, unless you do not trust your Town Council, you should not be worried. You should also be careful about simplifying what is at stake in the negotiations. The Montclair Board of Education has been very active in its publicity campaign to have people believe that the real sticking points are about a less than 3% raise. It is more complicated than that.
Halsey B. March 03, 2013 at 01:53 PM
What baffles me is how many (maybe almost all) of the board members support President Obama at the national level level, yet, do not support Affordable Health Care for the people who live in and serve their own community. From the coverage in Baristanet, it looks like they are still trying to cut out many of the aides, and the 32 hours full-time status would cut out even more staff from coverage.
Halsey B. March 03, 2013 at 02:03 PM
Adam, where did you get the data that property taxes have doubled in the last 10 years in Montclair? Did you factor in the revaluation? Is that all 3 components of the taxes or just the Township and schools pieces?

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