Education

New Brunswick Charter School Teachers Rally Over Contract Issues

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Demonstration outside the Greater New Brunswick Charter School on Feb. 5. Credits: NJEA
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Teachers and management of the Greater Brunswick Charter School are at an impasse over the terms of a new contract.

The charter school’s 53 educators, represented by the Brunswick Charter Education Association, have been without a contract since July 1, 2017. The school’s educators are responsible for teaching ​an estimated 400 students who attend the K-8 school on Joyce Kilmer Avenue.

For the union, the crux of the impasse boils down to disputes over the cost of living adjustments​,​ which the union contends the administration has been unwilling give.

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“What we are asking for will not magically make our teachers rich,” said Peter Creekmore, the union’s president. “What we are asking for is a ‘cost of living’ increase for a reason. These settlements are meant to keep the value of our salaries while the cost-of-living in New Jersey rises.”

Another issue, the union argues, is that the salaries for the charter school’s teachers are much lower than the state median for K-8 teachers.

“We think teachers should be the first priority of the school, the education tapestry, and students are not being served by the high teacher turnover,” Creekmore said.

The terms of the previous contract, which is renewed every three years, are in effect until a new one is agreed upon.

Susan Jackson, who chairs the charter school’s board of trustees, said that ever since the old contract expired, there have been 10 meetings in an effort to hash out new terms, but to new avail.

“The Board’s team has offered salary raises to the union membership,” Jackson said. “But the association is demanding raises which are substantially higher than the county or state averages.”

With talks having broken down, the state government intervened as a neutral third party, as required by state law.

The first step with state-intervention is mediation, run by the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC). The first session of PERC-run mediation was on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

While negotiations carried on that evening inside the school building, members of the Brunswick Charter Education Association and other unions across Middlesex County protested outside

.“If we can’t afford to pay our staff a fair cost of living increase to retain good teachers in our school, then there’s a serious problem,” Creekmore said on a megaphone, to the cheers of protestors.

School officials such as Jackson have argued that the demands of the union are far beyond the financial capability of the school.

“Something has to give,” Jackson said.

But the union has disputed allegations by the board of trustees that the school is in any type of financial strain.

“If that is the case, and we’re not necessarily saying that it’s not, then we need to have a serious talk about allocation of funds,” Creekmore said, adding that the management ought to reorganize or restructure ​what the union contends is “high administrative costs or high consultant costs.”

Union members have alleged a disproportionate allocation of money towards administration, which union rep Ted Tympanick III called “very top heavy.”

“If you look at any analytics, they have more administrators than they necessarily need,” Tympanick said.

The next mediation session between the union, management and PERC is scheduled for March 1, according to Tympanick.

“We would love to settle there,” Tympanick said. “The truth is we’re not go​ing to​ settle and just take a bad deal​. We​ want something that’s fair. They’ve basically low-balled us.”

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