ELIZABETH, NJ - Teachers and school staff, the majority wearing the Elizabeth Education Association color red, boisterously voiced their dissatisfaction with the amount of their retro pay at tonight's Board of Education held at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early Childhood Center on Trumbull Street.
The dispute originated when the contract for the 2015-2016 school year was ratified on June 8, 2016. At that time, the agreement called for two percent to be paid in retro pay. According to Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer, that pay was delayed due to a calculation error. When the first of two retro sums were paid on Dec. 22, 2016 (the second is due February 15), it was less than expected by the teachers and staff.
During the public portion of the meeting, EEA President Joseph Cortico approached the microphone amidst cheers and a standing ovation. He began by saying, “The teachers and staff have given their best and continue to give their best to make our students a huge success. Elizabeth is a model for urban schools. I hear that wherever I go.”
He then accused the board of reneging on the retro-pay agreement. “We had 100 percent assurance that everything was correct,” said Cortico. “Consider the impact of what has happened.” Citing the prior successful working relationship between the Board and the union, he said, “We don’t have that anymore because I trusted you.”
Cortico argued that EEA members were not informed what formula was used and how the calculations were determined. In a formal, written statement, he said, “The Elizabeth Education Association reached an agreement with the Elizabeth Board of Education in June 2016. Significantly, all the data relied upon by parties was initially provided by the Board after it was verified as being accurate by the Board’s forensic accountant. That data was then reviewed and utilized by the Association. It was based upon that data that the salary guides were created, and these guides were then, again, verified by the Board’s accountants and lawyers and then by the board itself. The resulting salaries, after being reviewed and agreed upon, were ratified overwhelmingly by both parties as well. The Board is now making the claim that there was a mistake with the data that it created and was verified as being accurate by its accountants and lawyers. Obviously, that is not the case. An agreement is an agreement. It is unconscionable for the Board to make these claims after so much time has been invested in this process and so much effort was expended to ensure both transparency and accuracy, specifically to avoid precisely what the Board is now claiming.”
Added EEA First Vice President Jon Lippi, who also was cheered when approaching the microphone, “The retro pay did not match the calculation, and food service workers and retired members did not receive any checks.”
Hugelmeyer addressed the issue at the close of the public segment, explaining that the original calculations were based on salaries based on extended day schedule that had been discontinued after the 2014-2015 school year.
“There were delays in the issuance of the retroactive checks because there were disagreements of the amounts and the method of calculation, and that you can see that was reflected in my communication to you as well,” Hugelmeyer said. She continued to explain that the original data supplied to EEA members was calculated on incorrect salary guides based on a modified extended day schedule. “This should never have happened because the extended day had been eliminated the previous year,” she said. She maintained that the full two percent retroactive pay for school year 2015-16 has been paid, and that the two percent increase is now reflected in current pay checks.
Hugelmeyer also stated that food service employees had received an eight percent increase, so were not entitled to retroactive pay. Furthermore, she explained that the December payment went to active EEA members only. Retired members would receive theirs at a later date.
The Superintendent’s explanation received an angry response from the EEA members who then walked out in a group. Cortico later expressed dissatisfaction with Hugelmeyer’s explanation and indicated litigation might be the next step.