The Berkeley Heights Education Association (BHEA) would like to clarify some of the comments made by the Berkeley Heights Board of Education’s chief negotiator regarding the 2% budget cap and its impact on negotiations.
The facts are abundantly clear: a 2% budget cap does not mean the Board of Education cannot settle a fair contract with its employees.
It does not mean that student services must be sacrificed.
And it does not mean that the district cannot offer a salary settlement above 2%.
Budgets are very complex. Employee salaries do not comprise the entire budget and the budget cap is not a limit on salaries, a common misconception. In fact, the district budgeted for a salary increase of over 2% in their budget presentation, which is available online for the public to review.
Additionally, the budget also must take into account the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the district is receiving from health care contributions from staff members, mandated by the Chapter 78 law. These contributions are reflected in the Board of Education’s budget presentation on page 7, clearly showing that the district is saving a significant amount of money as a result of these contributions.
The fact is the Board of Education can afford to pay its staff a fair and reasonable salary, one that is competitive with other districts in Union County, which averages a salary settlement rate of 2.4%. Statewide, those settlement rates are at 2.6% for the 2015-2016 school year.
If these salary settlement rates are good enough for our neighboring communities, many of which Berkeley Heights often compares itself to, why then is it not good enough for Berkeley Heights?