RANDOLPH, NJ- The hot topic on the agenda at the board of education meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 18, was a discussion about the negotiations for a new, updated teachers' contract. Other topics discussed Tuesday night included an update on the attendance policy, a new language course next year and a presentation from the physics and engineering class at the high school.

“Last year for the first time our physics and engineering class made canoes. This year’s canoes are much more beautiful,” said Superintendent David Browne.

Browne invited Mr. Duncan Crannell and two of his students to the meeting to display the canoes the class made during the first marking period. Two life sized canoes were demonstrated to the board and public along with a photo presentation of the day the class launched the canoes onto a lake.

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“I’m proud to be a member of my staff and look forward to working with all of my colleagues to make education come alive for our children,” said Crannell.

The board was extremely impressed by the project and was happy to hear that every member at the canoe launch remained dry and afloat in their well constructed, sturdy canoes.

In other news, a new language course seems to be making its way into the high school. Humanities supervisor, Jonathan Olsen, discovered a history and social studies teacher among his department staff who also has an Arabic background. The opportunity of a new language course was taken advantage of, and now an Arabic course will be available next year.

“This is sort of the perfect storm where we have a staff member able to teach something that is globally enticing,” said Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Fano.

The district is also interested in offering other languages but is having difficulty staffing the teaching position. Mandarin, Chinese and Latin have all been mentioned in the past for their language appeal, but unfortunately, finding a suitable teacher has not been easy. The board recognizes the luck they have found being able to have a language course of this magnitude. 

Policy 5200, attendance, was also discussed for the second time Tuesday night. Every district in the state is expected by New Jersey Department of Education to amend the policy.

“We have the most liberal attendance policy imaginable, which reads that parents can excuse a student absence with a parent note,” said Browne.

The state will no longer allow this. The state recognizes that a liberal attendance policy could lead to “inflated” attendance numbers. NJDOE is trying to standardize the way attendance gets reported, which follows a federal guideline.

“I think we need to make this a proper big deal because it is. It’s a way to compel the best possible attendance rate we can and use the leverage the law allows. Having a bad attendance is very harmful and detrimental to not only student performance, most importantly, but also funding from the state and ranking from the district,” said Browne.

Parents should have already received notification of the 5200 policy change,  Dr. Browne's letter to parents can be viewed here. The policy is to take effect immediately after the board approves the regulation on Dec. 2. 

The last reviewed issue was an update given by Board President Tammy Mackay regarding a new teachers' contract that is being addressed outside of committee meetings. President Mackay provided a public statement to be put on record, which stated:

"We would like to update the public on the status of collective negotiations between the Board of Education and the Randolph Education Association for a new teachers’ contract.

To begin with, the Board of Education has been monitoring settlements across the State and in Morris County so that we have a good understanding of the areas being discussed in other districts and the average contract settlements.  We have learned that districts are discussing and modifying a variety of contract terms including: length of work day, length of work year, an elimination or reduction of opt-out waiver payments for healthcare, an increase in prescription co-pays, increased/reduced opportunity for professional development, reduction in tuition reimbursements, movement to the state health plan, and salary guide adjustments.  We have seen, for the most part, salary increases which appear to be fiscally responsible coupled with concessions in other contract areas.  The average salary percentage increases in Morris County by year have been 2.05% in 2013-14, 2.16% in 2014-15, 2.22% in 2015-16 and 1.62% in 2016-17.

The Board recognizes and values the devotion and exemplary work of our teachers and staff, and has negotiated in good faith in an attempt to reach a settlement that is fair and equitable to our teachers, staff, parents, students and taxpayers.  We believe that we have presented contract proposals that are designed to achieve these objectives.  The Board has been committed to the negotiations process and has been working to reach a settlement as soon as possible.  As part of this process, we all must bear in mind that by law we cannot increase our local tax levy by more than 2% percent annually (without referendum), which creates significant fiscal pressure in developing and maintaining the District’s annual school budget.  The contract negotiations process, by its very nature, requires both sides to come together to discuss priorities and terms with the expectation that proposal terms will be compromised and adjusted. 

Unfortunately, we were disappointed and, quite frankly more than a little surprised, to learn last week that the Association’s leadership has unilaterally declared the negotiations to be at an impasse and has asked the Public Employment Relations Commission to assign a mediator to assist the parties in resolving their differences. While this is their right, and while we respect this step in the collective bargaining process which is designed to help facilitate a settlement, the Association’s leadership’s declaration was surprising because the Board has continually expressed its desire to negotiate without a third party’s assistance to work towards a mutually acceptable settlement in a reasonable timeframe.

The Association’s leadership also indicated that, because they have elected to declare the negotiations to be at an impasse, teachers may begin to hold back on performing certain services and functions which they have traditionally performed and which go beyond their express contractual obligations. We commend our teachers and staff for their longstanding willingness to perform these services and functions.  Students, parents, the administration, and the Board would be extremely disappointed if any of our teachers were to choose to withhold such services and thus harm their students, in a misguided effort to influence the contract negotiations process.

We wish to be very clear to the Association’s leadership, however, that we will not be pressured or intimidated into a settlement by their indications of what teachers may or may not do because the Association has elected to declare an impasse.  We remain committed to a process that addresses the needs of our teachers and staff and which results in fiscally responsible current and future budgets.  We thank our community members for their patience and support as we engage in this process."