SOMERVILLE, NJ  - It was a night for the borough’s education community to reach out, embrace and celebrate the good work teachers and support staff do to mold and inspire their students day in and day out.

But Tuesday  was also a night to confront the impasse between the teachers’ union and board of education over a new contract.

Dr. Timothy M. Teehan, superintendent of schools and the principals of Van Derveer Elementary School, Somerville Middle School and Somerville High School presented the annual Teacher of the Year  and Support Specialist of the Year Awards at Tuesday night's regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting.

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Staff at each of the schools voted to select the winners:

Van Derveer Elementary School:  Teacher of the Year, PreK-2nd Grade, Jennifer Setzer; Teacher of the Year, 3-5th Grade, Meghan Royack; Educational Specialist of the Year, Paulette Weippert, PreK-2;  Educational Specialist of the Year, Grades 3-5th, Jill O’Leary.

Somerville Middle School: Teacher of the Year, Freddie Shaker; Educational Specialist of the Year, Helena Sroczynski.

Somerville High School: Teacher of the Year, Aida-Janet Wahba; Educational Specialist of the Year, Ellyn Stein.

Before the meeting began, dozens of parents and teachers holding handmade signs lined the sidewalk outside the Middle School  on West High Street.

The teachers’ most recent contract expired in June, 2017, with informational picketing by parents and teachers occurring on a more frequent basis over the past several weeks.

A major sticking point between the two sides is the increasing costs of medical benefits and the level of contributions to be required of each SEA member, according to Patrick Frain, president of the Somerville Education Association. Though teachers have received raises in previous years' contracts, the increasing costs of individuals' contributions to their medical coverage the past five years has resulted in a net loss, Frain said.

Several of the protestors spoke during the public session of the meeting in support of the teachers and a new contract.