The Summit Board of Education’s contention that it is legally restricted from agreeing to a new contract with the Summit Education Association (SEA) above 2% is not only inaccurate, it also misleads the public about how the 2% budget cap law works.
The Board’s overall annual budget growth is restricted to 2%, but this is a conditional figure and allows for exceptions:
• A settlement with the SEA (which represents the teachers, secretaries and custodians of the Summit Public School district) would not necessarily push the OVERALL budget over 2%. Other school districts in New Jersey have contracts averaging a 2.67% increase for the 2014-15 school year, and 2.57% for the 2015-16 school year.
• The Board has passed very low overall budgets over the past three years, well below the 2% allowance. These austere budgets have begun to weaken our school system. They have also given the Board a budget cap surplus, which it is legally allowed to use in future budgets. The Board can legally exceed the 2% limit on the school budget and forge a competitive contract agreement, yet they refuse to do so.
• The 2% cap does not include increases in health care premium costs, which have been increasingly shifted onto workers. What SEA members now have to pay towards health care costs, in many cases 20% of their salary or more, totals $2.2 million in 2014-15 alone. For example, a married teacher with children making $70,000 will pay 22% of his/her health care premium, amounting to 10% of his/her gross pay, or $7,009. As a result of these increased contributions the Board has saved $2.2 million.
And while SEA member contributions towards health care have doubled since the 2012-13 school year, the overall rate increases seen in the past by the Board’s health care provider, CIGNA, have slowed considerably during the same time frame. The overall annual cost of single coverage has risen only $210 (2%) while the cost of family coverage has increased by only $603 (also 2%).
According to the Star Ledger, a recent analysis by NJ Spotlight:
. . . found that the average New Jersey government worker pays more for individual health insurance coverage than public workers in any other state, and the 10th-highest premium for family coverage in the nation.
In addition, New Jersey's state and local government employees are paying a much higher percentage of the cost of their individual health insurance policies than private-sector workers in the state have been paying.
Adding insult to injury, many of these teachers who have seen their take-home pay decrease year after year have had to supplement their income. Some are involved with the district’s extra-curricular activities, very often with great success. Yet not one of the coaches who has led a team to a conference, county, or state championship nor one of the advisors whose group has received statewide recognition has seen an increase in their stipend for the last nine years.
The Board needs to stop taking political cover behind the 2% cap law and come to the table ready to negotiate in good faith. They need to fairly reward the hard work and dedication SEA members have shown in the face of steep, steady declines in take-home pay. While we continue to contribute to the excellent reputation of the Summit School District, the Board remains opposed to negotiating a settlement that will continue to promote that same excellence by retaining and continuing to attract high quality educators.
Dan Miller, President
Wendy Donat, Vice-President
Summit Education Association