As of January 1, the teachers in the New Providence School District have been teaching on an expired contract for six months, since July 1, 2018.
One of the Board of Education’s primary functions is collective bargaining, which results in a contract between the Board and the New Providence Education Association that dictates the salaries and benefits our teachers earn. Being without a contract for this long has damaged our teachers’ morale and impacted their ability to be effective educators. The effects are, at this point, evident to anyone who has children in the school system. Some academic and special interest clubs, which the teachers used to advise during after school hours, have been eliminated. Time before and after school that teachers used to make available for student meetings is no longer a possibility as teachers are working only under the explicit terms of their expired contract. Teachers are not always making themselves available via email to answer student questions. Again, this is understandable as student-teacher email communications generally occur after hours. In a more professionally supportive environment, these limitations have never been the norm in our district. Typically our teachers have always been willing to go above and beyond what is required to put in extra effort on our students’ behalf. Their extra effort and engagement are a big part of why our students have always been so successful, and why our schools, year after year, are some of the very best in the state.
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The difference now is that our educators are working in a hostile environment that is not supportive of their careers, and that situation cannot be permitted to continue. As a district, if we expect to maintain our status as one of the top schools in New Jersey, it is urgent that we take immediate action to end this impasse and find a way to get the teachers a contract that supports their long-term careers and pays them fairly. We need to do this despite the difficulties that Chapter 78 presents in ensuring that their take-home pay is not diverted into ever-increasing health care costs. In addition, the cuts in salary increases (from roughly 4% to roughly 2%) that took effect in 2011 should not be carried forward. The teachers agreed to these cuts to help the Board when we lost state funding, but despite some return in funding and the passage of time, their salary increases have not returned to even close to pre-2011 levels.
I understand that finding money in the budget is difficult. I also understand that while we managed to avoid having layoffs or cutting programs in 2011, the Board had to be aware that the teachers were unlikely to continue to shoulder our financial burdens indefinitely. Now that the cut in salary increases has been compounded by Chapter 78 contributions, our teachers are simply not going to move forward without some relief. The question, as far as I see it, is not whether they should get some relief from the cuts and costs they’ve shouldered so far, but where that money is going to come from. It is the Board’s job to figure that out.
Late last year I spoke briefly to Board President Adam Smith about this issue and let him know that I supported the teachers. In response he said, “We all support the teachers,” and I honestly believe that is true. I believe all the Board members support our teachers and I believe that they will do everything in their power to ensure the success of our schools. However, it takes more than just saying it to make it so. I urge the Board to take immediate action to get our teachers the contract they deserve.