Montclair’s teachers union and school board are expected to resume contract negotiations Friday.
The Board of Education and Montclair Education Association will meet at week’s end for the first time since the board filed for an impasse with the state’s Public Employee Relations Commission on Feb. 21. While the state processes the request to assign a third-party mediator which could take up to six months, Board President Robin Kulwin said negotiations must continue.
“When you declare an impasse,” said Kulwin, “it doesn’t mean you can’t talk. ... Impasse never meant that you just walk away. ... We can continue to talk, we will continue to talk and I’m committed to talking.”
The district will also know how much it will receive in state aid by Friday, which Kulwin said will be “very helpful to further the negotiations.”
When asked for comment, Montclair Education Association President Gayl Shepard said the union will “not negotiate publicly.”
The board also reached out to the union Tuesday with recommendations for an independent mediator to bridge the growing gap between both sides on a new contract. Kulwin said Wednesday she was unaware if the union responded yet with any recommendations of its own.
As the two sides prepare to meet again, teachers and union staff persist with a “work to contract” policy where they will not volunteer any additional time past their regularly scheduled hours.
The tactic, put into effect Tuesday after a boisterous board meeting focusing on the failed contract negotiations Monday evening, has cancelled before and after school activities and clubs throughout the district.
Parents are “terribly distressed,” said Kulwin about the union’s move to work to contract. She added the board had nothing to do with the decision, and it is up to the union to end it.
Shepard said teachers and union members continue to do their jobs as they have always done.
“The teachers are consistently doing their jobs [with] excellence,” said Shepard. “Anything additional is not something that needs to be discussed in detail because we have a responsibility to do our jobs and we are doing that.”
“Anything additional is volunteerism, and if they are not they are choosing not to volunteer, that is their prerogative.”
Kulwin said months of negotiations have been more fruitful than they appear, and was confident the board and union will come to an agreement on a contract soon.
“We’ve worked so hard to get to this point,” said Kulwin. “I’m not going to walk away and I don’t think anyone on our team has any intention of walking away. ... We are so close.”