MILLBURN, NJ -- Millburn school district parents and student representatives urged the Board of Education on Monday to quickly settle ongoing contract negotiations with the Millburn Education Association.
The prolonged deadlock between the board and the teachers’ union has lasted nearly a year has been bad for teacher morale and was beginning to take a toll on students, particularly at the high school level, they noted.
“I urge you to fairly settle their contract as soon as possible and show our educators that you respect their dedication and their contribution to the students, the schools and the community,” said Ann Schwenke of Wyoming Avenue.
The district’s three-year contract with the teachers’ union expired on June 30, 2017, and the MEA filed an impasse in early December 2017 after initial negotiations failed. The union and the board met on more than one occasion with a third -party mediator, but have yet to reach a settlement. Their next meeting is scheduled for May 29.
Members of the MEA, which includes 650 teachers, secretaries and paraprofessionals, have protested outside board meetings and schools with signs that say “Expired Contract. Still Working. Still Caring” and “Don’t undervalue educators.”
Teachers have stopped volunteering their time during non-contractual hours, limiting their availability to participate in club activities or meet with students after school hours. And high school juniors present at the meeting reported that teachers will not commit to write recommendations for college applications citing the dispute, which has added to student stress.
“Our teachers want to help us, but because they are being ignored they need to do something to make their voices heard,” said Christian Clark, a high school junior. “The situation requires them to take actions that also affect us. We believe that resolving the contract dispute fairly would resolve this.”
“The lack of a contract makes our teachers feel undervalued and unappreciated when they are the ones that we need to support and appreciate the most,” said another student present at the meeting.
The board will not comment on the substance of the negotiations due to confidentiality reasons. The MEA has previously indicated that it is looking for some monetary increases as well as containment of employee contributions to health benefits.
Board president Berylin Bosselman said the board was working towards settling the contract soon and was fully aware of the community’s desire to see the dispute resolved. “..negotiations in all types of contracts- they are tough. This is the toughest because this is so personal. When we are negotiating a contract for the sale of widgets…we are talking about widgets, but when we are talking about these contracts we are talking about people – students, staff, amazing teachers. It is difficult on both ends,” said Bosselman. “In all negotiations, nobody walks away happy but - hopefully soon - people can walk away at least satisfied and knowing that students are getting the benefits of our amazing teachers and the board can feel that their fiduciary responsibility is also being met in terms of being fiscally responsible.”
She added that the board’s negotiations committee was keeping its channels of communication “fully open.”