HOPATCONG BOROUGH, NJ – Nearly 50 teachers picketed outside the Board of Education Office, protesting what they called unethical treatment by the Board during contract negotiations. According to Jeff Ryder, Past President of the Hopatcong Education Association, “Language was inserted to the contract, after it was signed and ratified, that we never agreed to.” This addition was inserted with an asterisk, which has become a symbol of disrespect to the HEA.
Sue Hill, President of the Hopatcong Education Association, explained that the contract was signed in February 2012, and was retroactively covering the period beginning September 2011.
She said, “Teachers that were hired this year are being paid at 2012-2013 pay scale, but those of us who have been here longer had our wages frozen at 2011-2012 rates.”
The Hopatcong Education Association is the Teacher’s Union that covers teachers and support staff including classroom aides and clerical staff.
Hill stated, “Support staff has been working for three years with no contract.”
The language under contention, according to Ryder, adds that state law supercedes contract law. The teachers feel this is redundant, as it is already stated elsewhere in the contract.
The amended contract was received in June 2012, when changes were questioned. A meeting date could not be reached by July, and when a proposed date for August was turned down due to teachers’ vacations, the Board of Education filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Public Employees Relations Commission, (PERC). A second complaint was then filed by the HEA.
During the meeting, Student Liason to the Board, Rich Lavery spoke up, “It is college application season, and we students cannot apply to colleges without teacher recommendations. Some of us have applied to top schools, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and have obtained interviews. I would like to ask teachers to drop just this section of the job action, and proceed to fill out our recommendations.”
Board President Clifford Lundin responded, “ Superintendent Charles Maranzano sent a letter to the HEA specifically asking them to stop this part of the job action.”
HEA Chief Negotiator and Grievance Chairperson responded to him, “Yes, Rich, absolutely, as soon as the Board settles this matter.”
Jackie Turkington, parent of a second grader spoke up, “I am here tonight to learn, but it appears that our test scores have dropped, is that a reflection of the job action? I am here to ask for accountability from both sides to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. I am pleased to be a part of a task force that will begin meeting in December to see how we can turn things around, but I am concerned that our ratings have dropped as a school.”
Lundin answered her question by breaking her question into distinct issues. Regarding the contract settlement, he said, “Both sides have filed Unfair Labor Practice Complaints with PERC. We were given a mediator, and the date given to us was November 1, which the storm blew away. The next date set is December 12, 2012. Regarding the ratings, please understand these are done by NJ Monthly, using a narrow set of standards, over which we have no control. Our test scores are not in any danger.”
He then offered to sit down with Union Officials at the end of the meeting tonight.
There was some confusion at the beginning of the meeting, as teachers were told it would take place in the High School Cafeteria, which was all set up for the meeting. About 15 minutes of the meeting was missed, as it actually took place at the Board Office. Board President Clifford Lundin said the Office is the legal place of the meeting, the other room was set up as a precaution in case it had to be moved, if the room could not accommodate the public. Due to this confusion, teachers missed the presentation that was given to thank the individuals, and groups which reached out to help the community during Hurricane Sandy.
In other business:
- The Board of Education thanked all the organizations and individuals that showed their caring and concern through their presence in the town during Hurricane Sandy. Lundin especially lauded the Custodial Staff for their efforts in reopening the school after it had been used as a shelter for two weeks. Many special treatments had to be done.
- The Board congratulated Jahad Khan for this winning Sussex County “What’s Your Anti-Drug?” poster entry, where 1,020 entries were received from 26 schools.
- The Board congratulated students who were chosen to participate in the 2012 all Sussex County Chorus and Band, and Junior Chorus and Band.
- The Hopatcong Warriors football team and cheerleaders, are entering a joint project to make needed improvements to the recreation facilities.
- Robert Cota, previously of the Hopatcong Police Department, was hired as Security/Safety Officer.
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