SUMMIT, NJ - Despite beginning to negotiate in December of 2013 and holding two formal mediation sessions, no deal has been reached in contract negotiations between the Summit Board of Education (BOE) and the Summit Education Association (SEA), the union that represents the district's teachers, secretaries, and custodians.
The teachers have been working without a contract since the prior deal expired on August 31, and there have been two mediation sessions -- October 8 and December 15 -- with Public Employment Relations Commission-appointed mediator Kathleen Vogt.
The two sides declared an impasse this past May. The issues separating the sides are economic
, with the union seeking a salary and benefits increase that exceeds the State-mandated 2-percent limits the District has stipulated they must operate within.
In light of the contract impasse, the union's members have limited their work to contractually stipulated hours, and have ceased their availability before school begins. They are, however, making themselves available after school. The teachers have also stopped their involvement in volunteer, unpaid activities and clubs, are gathering with signs outside of schools in the mornings prior to 7:30 a.m., and are wearing black T-Shirts and clothing on designated "Black Tuesdays."
After the last mediation session did not result in agreement. another session -- potentially the last opportunity for mediation to be successful -- was scheduled for February 23. The frustration appears to be mounting on both sides of the negotiating table.
"The SEA is extremely disappointed and frustrated with the Summit BOE," the union said in a statement. "The SEA is seeking a fair and competitive contract which is in line with other districts in the area and around the state. Summit is considered one of the best school districts in the state, if not the country, and its employees should be treated as such. In light of recent changes in public employees' health care and pensions, Summit employees have seen their take home pay decline each of the last four years. Summit schools have already seen some of their best and brightest staff leave Summit for other districts. Without a competitive contract, this trend will continue exponentially, turning Summit into a mediocre 'stepping stone' district, rather than a top ranked 'destination' district. Summit's excellent schools are a prime reason for Summit's high desireability and high property values. You don't have to look far to see what happens to a town if the quality of the school system declines. The SEA wants to keep Summit on top."
During the President's Report at the December 18 Board of Education meeting, Board President Celia Colbert told the audience that she believes that both sides are negotiating in good faith, but that the issues are difficult and have not been resolved yet. When asked for further comment, Colbert stated, "No one is pleased that an agreement has not yet been reached. We remain committed to moving as quickly as we can to reach a settlement that fairly balances the interests of all stakeholders."
To date, the district has held firm in negotiations, citing the mandated, 2-percent cap on property taxes enacted by the State Legislature in July, 2010. The union has countered with the contracts struck in adjacent districts such as Chatham and Madison, where teachers will receive average annual increases in the 2.75 percent and 2.6 percent range, respectively, over the term of their deals.
The 2014-15 school operating budget, totals $64,663,547, was unanimously approved on March 25, and was estimated at that time to result in a municipal property tax increase of $81.40, based on the average Summit home, assessed at about $410,000 and worth about double that in market value. Although the spending plan will result in a tax increase of less than one percent over the course of the budget cycle, the increase will be slightly higher over the two City calendar years included in the school budget.
Should the mediation process not yield an agreement, the dispute moves to the Fact Finding phase and, if that proves unsuccessful, Super Conciliation. Should the situation reach the Fact Finding phase it is likely, according to the SEA, the teachers will enter the 2015-16 school year without a contract.