BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Last Tuesday, September 10, the educators of Berkeley Heights held a rally. Just outside of Columbia Middle School a line of blue shirts snaked back and forth as teachers chanted and raised signs for their cause.

Equipped with a blue tent and snacks, the event went on for an hour, and a few students came to support their teachers and marched alongside them. That night was the fact-finding hearing, where the fact-finder (appointed by New Jersey's Public Employment Relations Commission and equally paid by the Berkeley Heights Board of Education and the Berkeley Heights Education Association) would hear the cases presented by both sides; the BHEA and the Board both had prepared their own information to help him find a conclusion.

The decision from the fact-finder would not be made that night, but important information as well as both sides’ views would be revealed.

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Before sending in some representatives to the meeting, the President of the Berkeley Heights Education Association, Daniel McGovern, thanked the members of the community for coming out. After the march, a few teachers remained in the growing darkness for the results of the meeting. As the teachers and Board, who hoped for change that evening, wait for the results, the community of Berkeley Heights will as well.

Information from the rally:

  • The teachers (as well as secretaries, guidance counselors, nurses, child study team members, paraprofessionals, interpreters, occupational & physical therapists, media specialists, and athletic trainers) of Berkeley Heights were hoping to fix an issue in their contract with the Board of Education regarding salary guides. Specifically, how the agreed upon increase in total money devoted to salaries would be divided in the salary guide 
  • The Board of Education has proposed their own salary guide, and negotiations on the salary guide had stalled.
  • The Board of Education and the BHEA requested a fact-finder to make a report. The Teacher’s Union was upset that this level had to be reached and this process had to happen.
  • The teachers have been working without a new contract since July 1, 2018.
  • The fact finder’s results will not immediately set in effect any specific plan or actions. It will simply report his/her findings, and may not necessarily cause a change in action with the Board of Education or the BHEA.

Thoughts of teachers and students attending the rally:

“The teachers work really really hard, they take their weekends, they take their nighttime.. When other people take their break they are just constantly working.”

-Aly Hagen, a student who attended the rally to support her teachers

When asked why she attended the rally, one teacher said:

“To support all the members. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in.”

Another teacher commented,

“…(the board) is trying to win something rather than be good custodians of this school district.”

Many of the teachers expressed that they wanted to support the other members who they say have worked so diligently.

Board of Education 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 at the September 12, 2019 board meeting. 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, as reported by TAPinto Berkeley Heights. 

Upcoming events:

The fact-finder should present his case in about 30-45 days. The findings will be available to the public. 

Upcoming Board of Education Meetings:

September 26, 7:30, Columbia Multi-Purpose Room

October 10th, 7:30, Columbia Multi-Purpose Room

November 14th, 7:30, Columbia Multi-Purpose Room

December 5th, 7:30, Columbia Multi-Purpose Room

Editor's note: Emily Schiebe is a Senior at Gov. Livingston High School participating in the TAPinto Internship Program.