BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Members of the public heard from three Board of Education members about various matters related to the lack of a fully agreed upon contract between the Board of Education and the Berkeley Heights Education Association (BHEA). The teachers entered their second year working without a signed contract on July 1 – the only detail to be ironed out is the salary guide, but that has been a sticking point since last fall.
Board President Doug Reinstein made a number of comments on the public reaction of teachers, parents and residents on the failure of the board and BHEA to agree on the salary guide. He said everyone who has spoken in public at the meetings, including former students, residents, parents, and teachers from other districts have said, “The Board of Education should give teachers what they want.” Everyone the board has heard from at meetings or in letters to the editor has been supportive of the teachers, “Everyone in our community supports our teachers,” and that includes the Board of Education, he said. Despite all the public support, including a letter to the editor in TAPinto with the headline “Sorry, Board of Education, it’s Just too Late Now,’ written by the spouse of a “current teacher, who is also on the negotiating team ... not everyone is supportive of their actions, especially ones that negatively impact students,” he said. No one has said that in public, but many have called him personally and told him, “The single reason they stay out of the public eye is they fear any negative ramifications from teachers” that would be directed at themselves or their children, he said.
Reinstein then read an anonymous letter from local a resident or residents who wrote they are “taxpayers … involved in support of parents in the district” who have been closely following the negotiations. The author(s) of the letter expressed their disappointment that the entire summer passed without the contract being settled and wrote those who say the children are the number one priority of teachers, “appear to be disingenuous … We find the behavior and attitude of the BHEA disrespectful to our children, BOE and even to our own teachers.” In particular the writer(s) wrote they were unhappy with the BHEA for encouraging its members to “disengage from school activities,” including not participating in PTO fund-raising activities, working with parents on events and not giving extra help outside of school hours
The letter ended with the thought, “We support teachers who are not pleased with BHEA methods of gaining this type of public attention and urge our bellowed teachers to band together and do what is best for our children.”
Later in the meeting,, Board Vice President and head of the Negotiations Committee Bill Cassano provided an update on the state of the negotiations, which were held on Sept. 10. Cassano said there was a fact-finding hearing, with the NJEA presenting the BHEA’s case, and Cassano representing the board. Both sides have until Oct. 7 to present briefs to the fact-finder, who then has 30 days to file a report and his recommendation. “Sometime around Election Day we will have the report from the fact-finder,” Cassano concluded.
As the meeting was about to be closed, Board member Denis Smalley spoke of his displeasure of the behavior of district teachers at the “Meet and Greet,” in particular that they turned their back on Board President Doug Reinstein as he spoke. “I find it very appalling that the teachers would get up and turn their back on the board president during his opening remarks.
The meet and greet is the first official group event of the district’s opening day and is held the first day teachers show up for work. Smalley said of the teacher’s actions, “I don’t find that to be professional, (or) very helpful – I don’t know what this was all about – but we do our best to work with everybody. We give them the respect they deserve and I think our board president deserves respect.”
Following the meeting, Smalley, who will leave the board at the end of the year, said the event was held at Governor Livingston High School in the auditorium, and when Reinstein started to speak, the teachers, as a group, turned their back on him.
No one from the BHEA responded to the remarks at the meeting. President of the BHEA Dan McGovern responded to the remarks this week with the following statement.
The hardworking and dedicated members of the BHEA find it appalling how the Board of Education has conducted themselves in this negotiations process. It is clear the Board, whom allegedly value us as employees, is incapable of demonstrating due diligence in our quest to negotiate fair and equitable salary guides for all members.
Further, as a point of clarification, the Board and BHEA have to file briefs by October 7, not October 5. We will be able to do so once we receive a copy of the Board’s corrected presentation to the fact finder, as it contained a significant error. It’s our understanding the fact finder’s report will be available in 2-3 months.