PATERSON, NJ - Despite a contract standoff and a shortfall in state aid of millions of dollars, the Paterson Education Association (PEA) has reason to feel good according to head of the organization, John McEntee Jr.

In a recent discussion with TAPinto Paterson the embattled union president, who continues to fight back against tenure charges and a suspension he believes were levied against him in retaliation of his “fierce advocacy” on behalf of the more than 3000 union members, laid out why the PEA is excited about the possibility of progress for public teachers and students in the coming year.

For starters, a new administration in Trenton has the future looking bright. On the Governor-elect, Phil Murphy, McEntee said, “we expect him to be the sunshine that hasn’t been out here in Paterson in a long time.”

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While the PEA has faith in Murphy, McEntee warned that they plan to hold the new governor accountable for his campaign promises such as fully honoring the school funding formula and restoring the trust of public teachers in Trenton. The union expects it to be “night and day” compared to the Christie administration.

In terms of the current contract dispute between the teachers and the city, McEntee remains optimistic. “We have a laser focus on the current contract impasse. We’re about 120 days into not having a contract, but the last one went on 4 years.” 

The situation has already reached the mediation process, and McEntee feels that the groundwork is being laid for a result that “rewards our employees for all their hard work and dedication.”

When asked about the recent elections that saw voters return Kenneth Simmons and Dr. Jonathan Hodges to the Board of Education, as well elect Joel Ramirez for the first time, McEntee said that the PEA believes that the commissioners will keep a focus on students and educators and away from politics.

For his part, McEntee understands that the school board and the union will have differences and “not always see eye-to-eye,” but hopes that when conflict does occur, both parties will be able to “put the real issues on the table” and work to solve them. 

Of course, there is still a laundry list of issues that the PEA will need to work through before Paterson schools are performing to their highest possible standard. Chief among them, a cumulative $180 million that advocates say the state owes Paterson in school aid. “Its no secret that our educators need more funding for everything from paper to proper chairs.” Additionally, McEntee said Paterson school employees “are swamped with workload issues and class sizes that are completely out of whack.”
McEntee also worries about the classroom environment and the school buildings in Paterson. “We’re never going to have enough money to bring every building into the 21st century, but air conditioning is an issue, and we have to make sure all schools have properly working heat going into the winter.”

The PEA is aiding in the search for a new superintendent who will have to deal with these challenges. The union appointed veteran member Lizandaa Alburg as its representative on the 13-person community panel helping the city in the selection process. McEntee says the union is looking for “someone who understands the system, who is firm and fair, and will put the students and employees first, beyond the politics.” 

As the schools buckle down for the winter, McEntee says the union will try to get creative in its efforts to put the students first and keep them warm. “We’re going to keep pounding the pavement and looking for grant opportunities.” He hopes the city does the same.