West Orange Board Of Education Votes To Approve WOEA Contract; Protest Vigil Against BOE Held

L-R: Board Attorney Steve Christiano, Assistant Superintendent Donna Rando; Board Labor Counsel Phil Stern; Board Member Ron Charles; Board VP Megan Brill; Board President Michelle Casalino; Board Member Sandra Mordecai; Board Member Laura Lab; Interim Superintendent Jim O'Neill; Board Secretary Mark Kenney. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Michelle Casalino asks Mr. Kenney to call the vote for the WOEA contract. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Community residents hold a Candlelit Vigil entitled 'Liberty and Justice For All'  prior to the Board meeting to protest what they say are unfair BOE practices. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ – A specially scheduled Board of Education meeting to vote on the West Orange Education Association (WOEA) Teacher’s Contract for 2012-2015 was held in the Library Media Center at West Orange High School on Monday evening.  In addition to the Board, the Board Attorney, the Secretary, and the Interim and Assistant Superintendent, former board member Paul Petigrow and Board Labor Counsel Phil Stern were in attendance to discuss the new contract and answer questions.

Prior to the start of the meeting, a group of 14 West Orange residents stood outside the entrance to the High School and held a Candlelit Vigil, saying it was about “Liberty and Justice for All.” They cited the firing* of Language Arts Supervisor Deborah Bartley Carter last yeartwo years ago, and the failure of the Board to continue the perceived process of rotation for Board Presidency and Vice Presidency last week , when board member Sandra Mordecai was not elected as Vice-President. (*Note: Deborah Bartley Carter was not recommended for reappointment by then Superintendent Anthony Cavanna.  The board did not fire her.  They did not have the opportunity to support her or not).

 The group said they were a diverse cross section of the community and would all be voting for Ms. Mordecai in November (Ms. Mordecai’s board seat is up for re-election in November and she has already said she will be running again).

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The meeting began with an introduction from Board President Michelle Casalino advising residents that most of the Board meetings will be held at the High School moving forward.  She then introduced discussion of the WOEA contract by noting that the past two years have brought into play changes in law and language.  She said that the board determined that their priorities included a salary increase of no more than 2% and any additional raises would require more concessions from the union.  She thanked the WOEA Negotiation Team of Nick Galante, Mark Maniscalco, Doug Norry, Dennis Greico, and Denise Keastead.  Casalino and Paul Petigrow, along with Phil Stern and Mark Kenney,  were the negotiation team for the Board.  Petigrow then came to the microphone to discuss the particulars of the contract. The WOEA voted to ratify the contract last week.

Petigrow began by saying that the Board was advised throughout the process and was in agreement with the Memorandum of Agreement.  They changed the language from “Secretary” to “Administrative Assistant” and created two new positions: District Technology Integrated Specialist (Tynia Thomassie, WOHS Language Arts Teacher, was named to this position); and Teacher In Charge- In-School Suspension and Conflict Resolution (no one appointed yet).  He then went on to discuss that all Elementary School classroom teachers would now teach Health.  This was a huge issue as previously Phys Ed or Health Specialists taught Health and teachers were hesitant to do.  Budget cuts meant the loss of Health Specialists.

He then discussed Block Scheduling at Edison Middle School and the September, 2013 Rotating Drop Schedule that will begin at WOHS.  In the past, to start a Pilot Program in the schools, a legal ‘sidebar’ with the union was required.  The new contract now allows for the board to initiate Pilot Programs without the sidebar, and if they affect working conditions, a three step process will occur: terms and conditions will be negotiated; if proposed (e.g. the new HS schedule), there will be a collaborative process (with the school where the pilot program is operating); and after 2 years, the teachers will vote on the pilot program, with options for the board to change the pilot.


The teachers will work one additional day each year, which shall be utilized for professional development.

Regarding benefits, Petigrow explained that the District was now moving from Point of Service benefits where all employees paid a $20 co-pay, to Direct Access benefits, where employees would choose a program with a $10, $20 or $30 co-pay.  The co-pay would determine what benefits they could receive in this EPO/HMO system. All employees are required to make a contribution to the cost of health insurance premiums under a new state law.  The amount of the contribution varies, based upon the salary of the employee, from 3% to those making under $25,000 per year to 35% for those making in excess of $110,000 per year (with family coverage).  There was a 4 year phase in of this contribution for previously hired employees, so the full contribution will be payable in the 2014-2015 year.  New employees have to pay the full amount immediately. 

The prescription plan would change from $5 generic, $15 name, $30 non-formulary, with 5$ co-pay on all mail ins, to $10 generic, $25 name, and $50 non-formulary, with a one month cost for a 90 day    mail- in supply depending on type.  Petigrow said that a savings of 977K was expected from the change in insurance co-pays and 370K was expected from the change in the prescription co-pays. Teachers will have 30 days to decide on their plans.

Freezes for certain hourly rates were approved for the length of the contract. A 2.75% salary increase was approved for each year of the contract, as was an increase in stipends of 2.75% in years 1 and 3.

As a result of the savings in health premiums applied against the salary increases, the total net cost of the new contract is less than 1% per annum.

The Board unanimously voted to approve the Contract.  All three unions: teacher, administrators, and custodians, now have current contracts through 2015.

Petigrow recommended the board review the equity of stipend procedures in the district.

Labor Attorney Phil Stern then explained that the Sunshine Law (OPRA) excluded labor negotiations and the collective bargaining process with unions.  Resident Adam Kraemer questioned why the contract was not posted in advance for review, and Stern said that it was not posted on the website yet because the board had not voted on it.  Posting it prior to the vote could have created the potential to erode the agreement and place the board in a position where, if information was shared with anyone other than a WOEA negotiation team member (part of the Recognition Clause), they could be accused of unfair labor practice. Mr. Kraemer also wanted to know the average salary, with benefits, of a West Orange teacher.  The Interim Superintendent suggested that they provide him with the average salary without benefits until teachers choose the new benefits.

Resident Tiffany Barnes asked about instructional time – it remains the same but  the structure of the school day will change; the time it takes a teacher to post to Power School is the responsibility of their Principal (not a subject for negotiations, but rather a managerial prerogative and the times for posting needed to be decided and enforced by the individual principals).Colleen Flynn and David Wagner asked why the Algebra Honors 1 course at WOHS was being dropped (only Algebra 1 is being offered with the belief that most honors students will have taken Algebra 1 in 8th grade) and Interim Superintendent O’Neill said they would open an Algebra 1 Honors class if the need was there.

Conversation then shifted to last week’s board meeting and Ms. Mordecai.  Resident Greg Bullock made note of the peaceful Candlelit Service and Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, and how there had been no demonstration against the BOE since 1984.  He said that the “citizens (of West Orange) will not stand for this … we will bring angry, screaming citizens” to board meetings, and “will grind you (the board) into the dust of public opinion.” Resident Deborah Harvest requested BOE rosters for the past twelve years indicating Presidents and Vice Presidents, from Board Secretary Mark Kenney.  Mt. Pleasant PTA co-president Sherley Baptiste told the board “you did not do what was right… I have worked with all of you and I’m so disappointed… anger fades but the hurt and pain remains.”  She called the board’s actions “vindictive and shameful.”

Michelle Casalino wrapped up the evening by saying that the board would work on communicating better with each other.  No policy was in place for determination of President/Vice President, and Sandra Mordecai said that Laura Lab and Phil Stern were working together on a Policy Committee to visit solutions.

The Alternative Press also spoke to Ms. Mordecai at meeting’s end.  She (and the rest of the board) were unaware of the Vigil prior to the meeting, and she said that it was ‘touching and appreciated’.  She wanted to see everyone “heal and move forward.”  She said she was ‘surprised’ when she was not made Vice-President, and that the appearance of a rotation seemed to exist, and that seemed to be the perception of others.  When asked how she felt should the protests continue, she said people were entitled to their First Amendment rights.

The next Board meeting will be held at 8:00 pm on January 28, 2013, in the LMC of West Orange High School.

This article will be updated once the WOEA Contract is posted on the website.




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