BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ --   The School Board’s Negotiating Committee is willing to go back to direct negotiations with the Berkeley Heights Education Association (BHEA).

That was the message board member Bill Cassano gave to the public at the Feb. 7 meeting of the board, after reporting, “there was not a lot of progress made, (at the Jan. 29 mediation session), but we are continuing to negotiate” with the BHEA. He added, the “union pushed for mediation, not direct negotiation,” which has slowed down the process.

Susan Poage spoke to the board as “a teacher and a taxpayer,” on the failure to reach an agreement on the way raises are distributed across the salary guide. She pointed out, “Needs and wants must be analyzed and decisions must be made. In my home I am doing a bathroom renovation and my wants did not fit into my budget. I had to make some choices.” The board is faced with those types of choices, once of which is its plan for converting libraries at Columbia Middle School and Governor Livingston High School into media centers, which was “exciting and ambitious. But the price tag needs to be reigned in,” she said.  The estimated cost for the transformation of the two spaces was $2.7 million. The district also plans to convert the elementary school libraries into media centers.

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“The teacher in the classroom has always been the most important thing with regard to student learning and success,” Poage continued. She added, “I am tired of feeling devalued. I am tired of fighting for a fair and equitable contract every three years.” See the complete text of her comments here

Cassano pointed out the board and BHEA have agreed upon a contract, including the actual amount the salary line will be increased in the budget, but “the distribution of the money with the teachers” across the levels of the salary guide are under dispute.

One parent told the board that the failure to settle has consequences about which they seem to be unaware. Her child was out of school for two and one-half days and it took her “eleven days” to make up her work because teachers are unavailable. They are working to the rule, putting in exactly the number of hours the contract demands, so are no longer staying after school, working during lunch or coming in early to help students. She said that is a “real life” consequence of failing to resolve the differences between the board and BHEA.