RANDOLPH, NJ - Hundreds of parents, teachers, and students stood in support of the music teacher stipends at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. The students described tearful teachers who will cancel beloved programs if the board does not reinstate stipends for after-school and weekend activities.
On June 14, “Our music teachers gathered in front of the choir, and we were told that the programs the students had been looking forward to all year long and the programs we love, will not occur in the 2018-2019 school year,” said student Abigail Herring, listing Poptoberfest, Cabaret Night, all-state auditions, educational music field trips and others.
“These activities are not continuing simply because my teachers, who I look up to are not getting paid for all the extra after-school work that they do,” she said.
The board addressed these concerns at the opening of the meeting with a statement explaining they have paid all required stipends within the Randolph Education Association contract, and these stipends were not included in the 2014-2017 REA contract.However, as teacher Dawn Russo pointed out during public comment, “These stipends are listed on page 57 under Schedule H of the current REA contract.”
During the 2009-2010 school year, the board removed stipends because many of the tasks were performed during school hours or part of the regular curriculum, as well as the board’s fiscal constraints. “The REA did not take any issue with that decision at that time,” said board member Tammy MacKay, reading the board statement.
The teachers and administrators chose to replace stipends with compensatory time in 2009. “This was not part of the union bargaining agreement or approved by the board... so the board began discussions to begin a new monetary payment arrangement with the REA,” she read.
According to Russo, the VPA Supervisor and the Personnel Director made a “verbal agreement” to offer comp time in place of stipends. “Please know this decision was made between administrators without consulting the REA,” she said.
The board statement explains how booster clubs will lose tax-exempt status if the board funds these extra-curricular activities. “Based on that, if the district band staff demands payments for these events, they should work directly with the booster club,” MacKay said.
“The board wants to be clear that the REA cannot unilaterally mandate curriculum changes without going through the correct process,” she read. “Students, parents, and the community should rest assured that the current curriculum will stay in place.”
Choir Director Matthew Swiss said the educators needed to “state the facts... If anything is inaccurate, we will of course issue a correction,” he said. “We hope to continue a positive and authentic dialogue.”
“We are the student body who you’re supposed to serve,” student Emily Knapp told the board. “We were forced to sit helpless as our teary-eyed teachers talked about how they could no longer provide us with the opportunities we previously had so easily available without the knowledge of what it was costing our teachers.”
"Teachers Have No Power"
During the public comments, music teacher Diana May described an “awful” meeting between Shaberg, Superintendent Jennifer Fano and Board Vice President Joe Faranetta originally intended to discuss an unfair labor practice.
“As soon as the meeting started on June 4, Mr. Faranetta refused to discuss the ULP and instead berated Mr. Schaberg for the vote of no confidence,” May said. She continued to characterize the experience as “hostile” and “abusive,” with Faranetta insulting and demeaning Schaberg throughout the meeting.
She claims Faranetta told Schaberg, "‘If we were in a bar somewhere right now this would end differently,'” which they perceived as a physical threat, while Fano “did nothing to intervene.”
While May believes they were “lured under false pretenses,” she added Faranetta said “trust was broken by the vote of no confidence.”
“I feel the need to share the details of this abusive meeting, despite the fact that I have everything to lose,” May said. “I have had nothing but the highest evaluations throughout my career -- I fear that might change. I have been able to teach the age group I’m best suited for -- I fear that might change. I had hoped to receive administrative position within the district -- that most certainly will not happen now. Teachers have no power.”
The Board Responds
When the public portion ended at 11:30 p.m., almost all residents left the meeting, and board members commented their dismay at the order of the agenda.
“I just feel sad, that there’s so many public comments and comments that we don’t offer information and there’s silence, but by the order of the meeting we’re not able to speak freely without it being tied to a motion until the very end of the meeting,” commented board member Susan Devito, “where the public unfortunately isn’t going to hear those comments.”
MacKay agreed that the board needs to find a way to answer questions the night they hear them.
“I am very impressed by all the students who spoke here tonight, and can assure you that I hear you,” said board member Stacy White. “I take all the information and facts available to me and make decisions with one thing in mind, the best interest of the students. In my short time on the board, I have done this.”
Sheldon Epstein, chair of the Finance, Facilities, and Transportation committee, added “I’m disappointed that the majority of the public left this meeting after they had their opportunity to share their thoughts with us,” and began listing of teachers from K-6th grade.
“By and large, [these teachers] molded and had an influence on me, not only when was in elementary school, but today, and they have an impact on tomorrow,” Epstein said. “That is what a teacher does, and it is not lost on me as an individual, not lost on me as a board member. It never has and it never will be.”
The board, in fact, did approve $64,600 worth of stipends at the meeting, including $10,064 for the music production directors. REA president Eric Schaberg received $3,903 for the Arietta String Ensemble and the Symphonic Orchestra, Swiss received $2,602 for Chamber Choir, as well as $8,390 for Stage Band and Percussion.