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Board of Ed., Teachers Union Contract Talks May Resume Friday

'We’ve worked so hard to get to this point,' said Board President Robin Kulwin. 'I’m not going to walk away and I don’t think anyone on our team has any intention of walking away.'

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.” 

I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 February 28, 2013 at 01:45 PM
Informed Montclair parents and other residents have been concerned and even "distraught" about many of the decisions of the new School Superintendent, Penney MacCormack, and the Board of Education. Clearly the members of the BOE do not understand education. What is worse is there lack of respect for teachers and teacher aids. Robin Kulwin, Tanya Coke, and other Board Members have turned this contract negotiation process into a political and media circus, attempting to divide the teachers and (worse) divide the town's people. Gayle Shephard and the teachers are right not to participate in this political show, but focus on getting the job done - including a reasonable contract for teachers that will benefit students and the town. What is clear is that it is because of the calm and reasonable approach taken by the teachers that the BOE is now willing to return to the negotiation table. Rather than ongoing chaotic BOE meetings, press releases, and political posturing, the good citizens of this town would appreciate the BOE now getting the job done at the negotiation table - and not beginning six months from now after already a year of failure.
rak February 28, 2013 at 02:45 PM
I think the BOE of Ed has put forth a reasonable contract and I think that Gayle Shephard is the one dramatizing the situation. Remember the BOE are volunteers and include educators and parents.
CMFAS55 February 28, 2013 at 03:07 PM
LOL - Idratherbe has become Baghdad Bob for the teacher's union. Media Circus? Dividing the town's people? Get real....this is a typical negotiation between a union looking out for their members' interests and the BOE looking our for the town's interests. While I would like the BOE to have been elected, maybe having appointees who can make tougher decisions is a better thing since those decisions may be unpopular though ultimately wiser. To act like this is driving a huge wedge between residents or that one side is acting out of character for what they are representing is riduculous.
Chris February 28, 2013 at 05:04 PM
The Board already filed ! As a Union member in a different field the MEA should not talk at all now until mediation !
Chris February 28, 2013 at 05:12 PM
DC 711 Union supports the MEA !
ira shor February 28, 2013 at 07:04 PM
By "working-to-rule" since Tues Feb 26(which means doing everything expected in their contract with the BOE but nothing extra), teachers are fulfilling their contracted duties to the letter, but are not volunteering unpaid labor for all the hours they routinely donate for free to the town for counseling, coaching, mentoring, tutoring, etc. This is one way for union labor to protect itself from an unreasonable management like the BOE, with teachers making clear just how much unpaid work they already do for our kids, hours of support given to our kids for which we parents could never repay them in dollars or in gratitude. It's very common for pub schls to need unpaid labor and classroom supplies paid for by teachers out of their own pockets. These invisible contributions from our teachers is what makes education a civic calling where you can't get rich or famous, but where you should at least expect a professional salary with benefits and public respect for mentoring our kids. The disrespect and dishonesty of the BOE over the last 3 years is astonishing given how hard it is to teach and how hard our teachers work, even after they gave back salary raises, only to see the BOE cut off aides and their healthcare. The more our teachers give back, the less respect the BOE offers. A hostile BOE piling up huge surpluses has provoked this impasse, which continues the BOE assault on the civility, family life, and property values of our wonderful town.
chris February 28, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Unions around this country make absolutely unreasonable demands every day. This is another case in point. Try being out in the private sector in this horrendous Obama economy -- people are NOT getting raises, they are trying to stay afloat and pray they don't get fired or laid off like co-workers all around them....who are then out of work for a year or more. the bottom line from the board that speaks to me: “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. The town CANNOT continue to raise taxes! It's not an option. You ARE getting raises, fair raises, raises the board's auditors said the town can swing, that's the end of it! I would love to get a raise & a bonus, but am preparing not to because business is terrible right now. The teachers union needs to stop ONLY considering their members and look at the bigger picture -- something unions NEVER do. I wish unions would be abolished already. All they do is cause problems in this country.
Montclair Public February 28, 2013 at 09:00 PM
"Unions around this country make absolutely unreasonable demands every day. This is another case in point." A truly clueless comment by someone who makes them here regularly. Union concessions helped save the auto industry. Private newspaper unions have swallowed concession after concession to save or at least preserve that struggling industry. In Montclair, MEA concessions helped generate those precious surpluses while the arrogant BOE folks posed in the spotlight as the darlings of the cut cut crowd. their heartlessness is framed by the completely unnecessary eradicating of the aides' benefits. And whatever the final numbers of this deal are -- and there will be a deal -- the union will have done its job to negotiate for its members. your point about the BOE raises being fair is acceptable, but you betray your ignorance with mindless rhetoric right out of the Fox news handbook.
Adam February 28, 2013 at 10:44 PM
Everyone is working harder and taking home less. By trying to bully their way to increases above & beyond industry averages & giving benefits that no other school seems to get (part time aids), is offensive. People support good schools in this town, but within reason. I bet this bs wouldn't happen with Charter Schools. Some healthy competition would be good at this point.
bbarcelone February 28, 2013 at 10:58 PM
Please, I'm a reliable liberal voter, but the unions need to be realistic. We are all getting less than 2% pay raises in the private industry, and being asked to contribute more on our benefits. We don't have the luxury of working 9 month year, 6-7 hours / day with pension. And yet I'm expected to pay property taxes up the wazoo. I really don't know what world you live in, but I cannot support you in these economic times.
Brian Ford February 28, 2013 at 11:41 PM
thanks - solidarity!
ira shor March 01, 2013 at 03:31 AM
Twice now Adam has warned MEA to give up or face spectre of Charter Schls in Mtc, perhaps to scare teachers into surrendering to BOE the way many disgruntled pvt sector employees apparently do. Kudos to MEA and our teachers and aides for not taking this national assault on our living standards and standing up instead--if only their example would inspire similar gumption in pvt sector employees. As for charters--Truths about Charter Schls is widely-circulating now--they are not the miracles pretended in the film "Waiting for Superman." Chrtrs and pub schls are not comparable b/c chrtrs do not enroll the same students as our pub schls(chrtrs take fewer ELLs and hardest spec ed and disc problems, selecting the easiest students to manage and leaving the toughest behind in the pub schls or expelling "difficult" students who somehow slipped in, sending them back to the pub schls; chrtrs spend more per student with tax funds grabbed from us plus large donations from corporate funders, and are subject to less oversight/regulation; charter schls get free facilities from taxpayers often expelling pub schls from space as in NYC; despite advantages, most charters still perform same or worse than pub schls(CREDO study from Stanford U, the gold standard on this). If the BOE plan here is to undermine our fine pub schls to pave the way for charter schools, Mtc will be doubly destroyed---lose fine pub schls and their support for our property values while mediocre charters replace them.
esther March 02, 2013 at 08:57 PM
unelected BOE
esther March 02, 2013 at 08:57 PM
as should we all
What I See March 02, 2013 at 11:17 PM
The BOE may be volunteers, but I'm pretty sure that they get free medical benefits from the district.
What I See March 02, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Part time aides had not been receiving medical benefits from the district. FULL TIME aides had been receiving medical benefits. The BOE changed the definition of full time, so that the aides who had been considered full time are considered part time. This, without a reduction of hours.
Marlis Dunn March 03, 2013 at 05:42 PM
I am so glad I no longer have to pay taxes in the the town of Montclair. Property values have declined and are further declining, while real estate taxes are climbing. The town is loosing out to the unions and spenders. The town looks run down and poorly run. Just look around.
tryintosurvive March 03, 2013 at 07:35 PM
Marlis, you are sure right about that. Our home values have gone down as buyers have realized that they can get the equivalent house with 1/2 the property taxes in towns with very good school systems. Try doing some comparisons and you will quickly see how out of whack our taxes are. Meanwhile the unions keep asking for more, more, more, irrespective of the cost.

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