HILLSBOROUGH, NJ The war of words between the Hillsborough Board of Education and the Hillsborough Education Association escalated yesterday, with each side issuing conflicting statements on the status of stalled contract negotiations and who is to blame.
The statements were issued less than 24 hours after the HEA hosted a meeting open to parents and teachers to discuss several contentious issues faced by the district – with the start of the new school year just one week away.
The past school year has been a rough one for students, parents, teachers, school employees, administrators and board members.
Teacher layoffs, budget cuts, decreased state aid, the contract impasse and the resounding defeat of a March referendum that would have raised school taxes to pay for all-day kindergarten and help the school district stabilize its finances have taken their toll.
More recently, parents were notified of a new “Pay to Play” policy that will require students to pay fees between $25 and $100 to participate in extra-curricular activities including varsity sports and clubs.
The Board of Education statement was released by Michael P. Callahan, director of Human Resources for the school district late Tuesday morning:
“The Hillsborough Board of Education and the Hillsborough Education Association were unable to reach a contract settlement after five (5) months of direct negotiations and two (2) sessions with a State-appointed mediator that combined to more than 14 hours of continued negotiations.
“The second mediation session was scheduled for Sept. 12, but at the Association’s request and with the cooperation of the mediator and the Board’s Negotiations Committee, the session was scheduled for Aug.14, 2019.
“While some progress was made, the parties were unable to reach settlement on a number of critical issues, including salary, the work day for part-time employees, tuition reimbursement criteria and the length and content of professional learning communities.
“On Aug. 14 the Board made several proposals and counterproposals, all of which included competitive salary increases for all of its employees. While the Board was optimistic that a contract settlement could reached at the second mediation session, particularly since the Association was so insistent on meeting before Sept. 12, it was extremely disappointing that once in mediation, the Association did not change its prior bargaining position and forced the mediation session to end because it declined to make any counterproposal to the Board for settlement.
“ As to where we proceed from here, that decision is now in the Mediator’s hands and largely depends on whether or not he feels that another session will be productive.
“If he does not, then the contract dispute will be sent to fact-finding, which is a formal but non-binding process that requires that a State-appointed fact-finder conduct a hearing, consider the parties’ last best offers, and make recommendations for the terms of a settlement.
“This process will likely not conclude until well into the school year.
“For these reasons, the Board hopes that the Association will return to the mediation process with a commitment to settlement, which requires compromise and a mutual exchange of proposals.
“If the Association expresses a willingness to do so, then there may be another mediation session on Sept. 12. Otherwise, it appears that the dispute will likely be sent to a fact-finder.
“Outside of negotiations, the Board and Association are participating in Rutgers’ Labor Management Collaboration Initiative, and were among the first districts in the state to do so.
“The Board, with considerable effort, responded last year to the Association’s concerns about Aetna’s health plan and customer service to its members, and switched back to Horizon in the middle of the year.
“The Board and Association also initiated a “Boro Pride” project to gather government and community groups in collective efforts on behalf of Hillsborough.
“The Board values the employees’ contributions to the District’s outstanding educational and extracurricular programs. However, this must be balanced with all of the District’s educational priorities and the impact of these costs on the taxpayers of Hillsborough in light of the serious financial challenges the District is facing this year and beyond.
“As this process moves to forward, the Board continues its commitment to working cooperatively with the Association and remains optimistic that a voluntary settlement can be reached without resorting to a protracted and costly fact-finding process.
“The Association’s contract expired on June 30, 2019; however, the employees continue to work under the expired agreement and continue to receive their salaries, medical insurance, sick days, and all of the other benefits of the expired contract.”
Late in the afternoon Tuesday, the HEA issued its statement:
“While it is true that following five months of negotiations and two mediation sessions with a state appointed mediator, the Hillsborough Education Association (HEA) and the Hillsborough Board of Education have been unable to achieve a settlement, much of what the Board has presented is not.
“The Board informed the public in attendance at the Monday, Aug. 26th board meeting that the HEA requested the second mediation session on Aug. 14, 2019. This factually incorrect assertion was later refuted by HEA president, Henry Goodhue, and eventually confirmed by the Board’s attorney, Stephen Fogarty, that he had in fact contacted the HEA’s representative and state appointed mediator to arrange the meeting.
“To be clear, the members of the HEA Negotiations Team honored the Board’s request for a meeting on Aug. 14, 2019 with the intent to achieve a fair and equitable contract before the start of the new school year.
"Unfortunately, however, at a time where our district is seeing a shortage of applicants and vacancies in crucial positions, the Board remained focused on pursuing proposals that were not in line with county trends and would further erode our district’s success.
“The Board’s “extreme disappointment” at the HEA’s inability to accept such proposals is surprising as it not only shows an unwillingness to settle this matter amicably, but also belies their true intentions when it comes to attracting and retaining the best candidates for our students and schools.
"This is further exacerbated by the Board’s insistence on remaining tone deaf to the residents’ demands as it continues to force the community, students and employees of Hillsborough to fill budget gaps created by the administrative leadership’s fiscal mismanagement and a basic complicity in allowing it to continue.
“Regrettably, the Board’s recent statement is yet another example of its inability to effectively communicate with the public in the spirit of transparency. This failure is only further exemplified by the fact that the Board continues to withhold that they have already budgeted the funds to settle the contract, are anticipating a surplus of $1.6 million in the upcoming school year and are slated to receive $837,794 in extraordinary aid—an increase of nearly $320,000—from the state over last year.
“Moreover, the Board would like the public to believe it has invested the Rutgers’ Labor Management Collaboration Initiative. The fact remains that Board members attended few training sessions and were not involved in the actual implementation of this endeavor. Sadly, this initiative has stagnated as the Board and Dr. Schiff do not appreciate the commitment and spirit of cooperation needed to ensure its success.
“Most notably, however, was the Board’s reference to its involvement in the “BORO Pride” initiative. While it is true that Dr. Lisa Antunes played a role in the initial stages of development this initiative, the Board was not involved at any time. Furthermore, the Board has refused to respond to invitations from the HEA to take part in BORO Pride events and has yet to be involved.
“We are proud of the work we have accomplished through BORO Pride with partners like the Township Committee, Police, Fire, Rotary Club, UNICO and the Business Committee. We are disappointed that the Board chooses not to participate in celebrations of BORO Pride, but we are incensed at the suggestion that they were instrumental in its inception and success.
“The HEA remains committed to settling a contract representative of the excellence and dedication of our members, and one that safeguards the success of our district and students.
“ We strongly encourage the Board to cease the needless expense of taxpayer dollars on legal fees and commit to settling a contract that will keep Hillsborough's schools among the best in the state. We also encourage the Board to embrace transparency and facts when communicating with the public.“