NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – A large number of New Providence teachers attended the Tuesday, Nov. 27 Board of Education (BOE) meeting equipped with signs reading “Fair Contract” and “Teachers are people, not line items” and others. Some faculty members took the microphone to vent their frustration with the board and to plead for a better benefit package and salary increase.
In his opening remarks Board President Adam noted that some flyers, signs and media postings stating that the teachers do not have a contract are false. He pointed out that the same benefits, pay, sick days etc. are continuing with the expired contract terms. He also noted that once the new contract terms are agreed to all benefits will then take effect retroactively as of July 1, 2018.
Several staff members pointed out that the New Providence School District is ranked #9 in the state but the teachers’ pay ranks #157 in the state. Smith noted that the comparison may not be accurate as the districts vary in their size and staff requirements.
Kim Chrisostomides addressed the board and said when she started her teaching career in New Providence she trusted the board with fair health benefits and pay. However, after 21 years in the district she is not anywhere near the top of the salary guide. She said she pays $800.00 a month for her health insurance, while her salary has been stagnant. High School Teacher Colleen Hennessey also noted that after teaching in New Providence for 20 years she has only reached Step 9 on the pay guide. She said that she and many of her fellow teachers have been “stuck in the middle.”
Smith pointed out the salary guide has been created by the Teachers’ Association although the board has approved it.
Jennifer Limone, teacher at Allen W. Roberts School, said that she has worked in the district for 29 years. “I really love my kids, parents and this town,” she said. She noted that the teachers’ responsibilities have increased over the years. “Teachers spend more time than ever communicating with students and parents through email at all hours of the day and night,” she said. As the curriculum becomes more and more challenging teachers are expected to offer extra help and study sessions. Lesson planning also has become more cumbersome and teachers are spending time learning new technology skills. “We work hard to deliver the best for our students,” she stated.
Limone pointed out that the board doesn’t seem to appreciate or respect the hard work and extra time the teachers put into their teaching. “The lack of respect has become evident in our last two contracts. Teachers and secretaries feel that our contracts are coming more and more unfair,” she stated. She said that the staff was treated with a lack of respect or courtesy as the teachers had to make up days missed due to extreme weather last year. She pointed out that neighboring districts, such as Chatham and Berkeley Heights, worked with their teaching staff on this issue, and let them use personal days for their planned vacations, while New Providence withheld a full-day pay for those days if the teacher took a long planned vacation and could not work during the changed schedule. She also stated that the New Providence teaching staff was the only district to give back their negotiated pay raise when the state aid to the district was cut eight years ago.
Limone noted that while the staff endured increasing health care contributions and stagnant pay they watched the district spend money on I-pads, STEM-labs, turf fields and fences.
Smith responded that the board and administration does appreciate the teaching staff and that their silence at the BOE meeting is not a sign of disrespect. “We are in this situation as well,” he said. He emphasized that the district is looking for a fair solution for all.
Salt Brook School Teacher James Vopal stated that New Providence students outperform their peers at the state and national level because of the teachers, the skill set they bring and the work they do at the district schools. He noted that the test scores are “fruits of our labor – labor of love.” “Without staff you don’t get scores like that,” he said.