PATERSON, NJ- A  contract agreement reached between the Paterson Education Association (PEA), the union that represents the more than 3,100 teachers and other education professionals in the city’s schools, and the Paterson Board of Education was approved overwhelmingly by members on Thursday. The final vote, according to PEA President John McEntee, was 2,304 in favor and only 279 against the agreement.

The two sides, as reported in late March, reached a tentative agreement following a massive rally that drew nearly 2,000 PEA members to the BOE’s office and coincided with a 22 hour negotiating session.

McEntee praised Superintendent Eileen Shafer who made reaching an agreement within 100 days of her appointment one of her priorities as she sought the permanent position to replace former Superintendent Donnie Evans who retired in 2017.

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“This contract shows that we now have a superintendent in place that finally understands that in order to keep quality professionals in the district, they must offer a quality contract.”

The contract, retroactive to the current school year, is for five years, expiring in June 2022, an arrangement that McEntee said “brings long term stability to the district for its employees and its students.”

Under the terms of the contract members will receive average salary increases of just over 3% per year; have one additional “family illness day” annually; have the opportunity to contribute an additional $4,000 to a Flexible Savings Account (FSA) which provides tax relief for certain costs associated with dependant care; be guaranteed a level of health insurance “equal to or better than” what’s offered by the State of New Jersey as of January 1, 2018; and have their contributions towards health care capped at 10%.

The final provision, according to McEntee, was particularly impactful as previous to this contract settlement, under the terms of legislation enacted by Governor Chris Christie, public employees across the state, including teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement, were often seeing increases to their health insurance payments outpace salary increases, resulting in reduced take home pay year after year.

While labor unions are hopeful that Governor Phil Murphy will amend this law, McEntee told TAPinto Paterson that his members “couldn’t wait for legislative change” and that taken all together the PEA “hit all of its goals” through the negotiating process.

“Through this agreement, Paterson has the opportunity to foster consistency for the students,” McEntee concluded.  “PEA members are dedicated to their careers, and this contract allows them to continue to do what they love while providing for their own families.”

According to the Office of the Superintendent the Board of Education is expected to take action on the proposed contract at their June meeting.