SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Members of the Scotch Plains Fanwood Education Association (SPFEA) assembled Tuesday afternoon outside of the SPF Board of Education (BOE) ofices to rally in support of the negotiating team’s first meeting with a NJ state mediator this year.
Teachers, secretaries and school support staff continue to work on a contract that expired in June of 2018. Both the SPFEA and the BOE’s negotiating teams have been meeting since May 2018 trying to reach a new contract agreement. To date, they remain separated on the key issues of salary and health care.
“Many teachers, secretaries and support staff in SPF have not seen an increase in their take home pay in the last eight years. This is all as a result of increased health contributions," said SPFEA rep Pat Boyle. "Even though salaries have increased, take home pay has decreased. CH.78 law is structured so that the more a teacher, secretary or aide makes in salary, the more they are required to pay for healthcare."
"The BOE has the ability to provide some relief so that take home pay will start to increase, but they are reluctant to do so," said Boyle, adding that some staff members pay almost $14,000 annually for their family health care plans.
When both sides agreed that they were not able to move through any more proposals, a joint impasse was filed, and a mediator from the state was requested. Mediators are often contract lawyers and are provided for free by the Public Employee Relations Commission. The mediator will separate the two parties and then acts as an impartial go-between working to find common ground.
According to Boyle, the SPFEA is optimistic that the mediation process will help them join the hundreds of education associations across the state that have already been successful in obtaining some form of health care contribution relief, in addition to settlements just above 3%.
"It is important for the public to know that their taxes will not increase as a result of the SPFEA’s contract proposals. This contract can be settled using the surplus the BOE has obtained over the past two years," Boyle said. "Department of Education audits show that the Board has surplus in multiple accounts as a result of receiving higher amounts of state aid than they anticipated.”
Community members have started a change.org petition to show their support for the district’s teachers and support staff and are encouraging the BOE to reach a fair settlement.