ROXBURY, NJ – The township’s teachers are returning to work for the second year without a new contract as their union continues to butt heads with the Board of Education, primarily over compensation.
The contract that expired June 30, 2014 covers about 450 Roxbury School District employees, including teachers, secretaries, para-professionals and maintenance workers, said New Jersey Education Association Field Representative John Williams. He said that, while no strike or other major job action is imminent, the workers are disgruntled.
Most teachers did not attend the Roxbury High School graduation ceremony in June, something that's not required but has customarily happened in the past. "There are things they're not doing," said Williams. "They are fulfilling all their obligations and still going above and beyond. They have not withheld any services. They have not, up to this point, denied any services to children. They continue to perform all their responsibilities. There were no work stoppages.”
Nevertheless, “they’re unhappy,” said Williams. “They’re very disappointed that the board has not been able to reach what we believe is a fair and equitable agreement.” He said some have been forced to find second jobs and have little time for extra-curricular activities.
Williams’ counterpart on the other side of the negotiating table, Anthony Sciarrillo, an attorney representing the school district in the contract talks, could not be reached immediately for comment Friday. Roxbury School Board President Theresa D'Agostino also did not return messages seeking comment.
Williams said the union members and school board are at odds primarily over salaries. He said legislation forced the employees to contribute significantly more to their health insurance and pensions, but their paychecks have not kept pace.
Public employees who formerly were paying less than 2 percent of their wages to help cover their medical insurance are now paying up to 35 percent, said Williams. Those at the top of the pay scale are now paying as much as $9,000 annually for that coverage, he said, adding they're also paying 7½ percent of their pension contribution, a 2 percent increase over the amount paid several years ago.
“For the last three or four years, while some employees have been getting some salary increases, those increases have been far outpaced by the increased cost of pensions and health insurance,” said Williams. “So they are actually taking home less money ... That’s something that they can’t sustain. That’s a component in this bargaining: That there has to be a change. You can’t continue the pattern of taking home less money, each year.”
Williams acknowledged school districts are constrained by state-imposed spending limits, but he said there are ways they can make ends meet without causing hardship for teachers and other union members. “We understand boards have other costs and things like that, but we feel the district has to recognize you can’t put people in a salary reduction pattern year after year,” he said. “There has to be a solution somewhere.”
So far, the union and the school board went through regular bargaining activity and, after that, met with a mediator. “That was not successful,” said Williams. A Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) factfinder subsequently determined the sides were at an impasse and has scheduled an Oct. 6 hearing.
The factfinder will write a report. Both sides have 10 days to consider the report’s recommendation. If either side rejects the proposal, the matter enters the next phase, called “super conciliation.”
But even the findings of the super conciliator are not binding on either of the parties.