BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Harmon V. Wade Administration Building was filled to the brim with Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association members Tuesday, all wanting to hear the board of education comment on the lack of contract, after the previous one expired in June.
People spilled out of the doors of the small meeting room and resorted to sitting on the floor around the board’s table.
The B-REA recently filed for impasse due to the lack of agreements with the board of education.
According to Mark Heinbach, sixth grade social studies teacher at Hillside Intermediate School, the B-REA members are frustrated with the current negotiations, so a mediator is necessary.
“Both parties met many times, but no decision was come to,” board of education president Ann Marie Mead said. “The board agreed to meet with the B-REA in smaller groups with no attorneys. We find the decision to walk away from the table unfortunate.”
The board is offering above state and county average salary increases, according to Mead.
State averages for salary increases, for the three years covered by this agreement, are 2.69 percent for year one, 2.64 percent for year two and 2.64 percent for year three. The Somerset county average for salary increases for the years of the agreement are 2.35 percent for year one, 2.48 percent for year two and 2.58 percent for year three.
“The board’s current offer increases salaries in the amounts of 3.25 percent, 2.9 percent, and 2.9 percent for the three years of the agreement,” Mead said. “The board is willing to offer these raises because we recognize the contributions the B-REA made in previous years.”
Heinbach said that although the raise offers from the board are above the county average, it is because the association has, in the past, agreed to givebacks totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from tuition reimbursement and extra class coverage money, among other concessions.
And, he said, that comes if the association agrees to a lesser health plan.
Teachers and parents in the audience voiced their discontent with the board's offers during public comment.
“I’m employee number 0445 because you didn’t know me before this moment,” Dee Memoli, recording/corresponding secretary of the B-REA, said. “I’ve taught since 1988.”
Memoli discussed concerns with curriculum changes, time spent working outside of contractual hours and the overall quality of teachers.
“How many of you visited Van Holten?" she asked. "The walls didn’t grow flash cards. I can't even count the hours I’ve spent. If you find someone to do this job from nine to three, then you get what you get. You don’t get this teacher who has been doing this for 33 years. Thank you for your time as I have given you mine for over 27 years.”
Kelly Hadfield, second grade teacher at Van Holten Primary School, said teachers are spending their own time and money to complete their jobs outside of contractual school days.
“You look at me and my colleagues as dollar signs," she said. "Parent-teacher conferences start next week and will take seven hours to complete. Teachers are given no time to prepare for conferences or report cards, which we do on our own time. What do I have to do to prove myself to you?”
According to Mead, for the board to provide salary increases and high-end insurance plans, they would have to consider reducing extracurricular activities, increasing class sizes or conducting a reduction in force, among other things.
“The board would like to provide the B-REA with the salary increases proposed, while allowing the B-REA to continue enrolling in high-end insurance plans, but this simply cannot be done,” she said.
The primary difference in the current versus the lower cost medical plan is an increase in copay.
Many B-REA members are currently paying upwards of 34 percent of their health care premiums, and therefore taking home less pay over the last few years.
Comments from teachers continued and detailed the work they felt they should be compensated for. Adamsville Primary School librarian Maren Vitali even sang her concerns to the board’s proposals.
“I’d like to think you’ll keep in mind the work I do outside of school,” she sang.
Brigewater-Raritan teacher Lisa D'Ascensio talked about her experiences as a single mother dealing with the laborious aspects of teaching.
“I’m a single parent and I have to drag my 6-year-old son into my classroom with me,” she said. “Then I have to explain to him that I can’t sign him up for a Lego enrichment program because I don’t have the money to do so. I thought we were in this together, don’t we want the same thing?”
Avani Morales, Crim Primary teacher, even went so far as to record all her hours spent working outside of her contractual hours, with descriptions.
“I have a 21-page document for the 2014-2015 school year with dates, times and what I did during those hours,” she said. “What is the value of a teacher to you, data driven results?”
According to Morales, she worked 505.5 hours outside of the contractual hours, equivalent to 72 school days.
“I stand before you with my first child and I wonder how my husband and I, we are both teachers, will pay for our child,” she said, crying.
The meeting continued with many more teachers and parents speaking.
“We really want to work with you, this board remains loyal to the district,” Mead said. “Please respect the autonomy of students, they need not witness your protest all day long. Leave students out of it.”
No settlement has been reached at this time. After a state mediator is appointed, the negotiations between the board of education and B-REA will continue.
Click here for a full statement from the board of education regarding the negotiations.