WAYNE, NJ – The issue of Full-Time Release for Wayne teacher and Wayne Education Association (WEA) President, Eda Ferrante will be a key topic of discussion at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting this week according to Dr. Mark Toback, the Superintendent of the Wayne school district.
Ferrante met with Toback on September 20 where she proposed an idea on the subject, but during an interview with TAPinto Wayne, Toback would not discuss the details saying, “Ultimately their proposal will be evaluated and then it will go to the board.”
This issue first came into question after a New Jersey appellate court decision called the practice of paying a full-time release president with public funds against public policy. Because of this ruling, Ferrante was sent back to the classroom to teach after more than two years on full-time release as President of the Wayne teacher’s union. See Story
The court’s decision came on August 21, only fifteen days before the first day of school for Wayne Township. The timing of the decision was a problem for the district as explained by Toback: “The issue is that on Sep 15th there’s payroll, and everyone receives a check for their work. The question became how you, as a business official, do, knowingly, pay somebody when you’ve been advised by your attorney that doing so is illegal.”
This was the reasoning for the immediate decision to put Ferrante back in the classroom, but Toback admitted that he nor the Board actually made a decision: “The decision was made for us by the court."
Dennis Carrol, a Wayne Valley High School teacher and an Officer in the WEA, argued that somebody in the district made a decision: “We were told that they are following their attorney’s advice. Well, the attorney advised, and the Board decided.”
Marie Blistan, the President of the New Jersey Education Association felt that the decision to end the practice of Full-Time Release so suddenly was drastic. “The process has not been run through here,” said Blistan. “So, it was perplexing for me to see that a drastic step of this type had been taken without the process going all the way through.”
Blistan was referring to the fact that in the original case of Rozenblit v. Lyles, the court decided that paying full-time release union representatives from public funds was allowable, but that this decision was overturned in the appeals court. The NJEA is petitioning the New Jersey Supreme Court to hear the case and Blistan believes they will overturn the appeals court decision. This is the process she was speaking about.
Toback disagreed with both Carroll and Blistan, saying that the issue was “Black and White. If the district had not followed the advice of their attorney on the matter, he and the BOE were putting the Township of Wayne at risk.”
“In the end, the WEA may not be happy,” said Toback, “But what if the board is sued because we are knowingly going ahead with something that has already been determined to be against public policy. There are groups out there that are certainly monitoring what people are doing. And, what’s not to say that our district gets sued from one of these groups, or from a resident that says: ‘We’re not following the law.’ That’s an important consideration.”
Michael Bubba, the President of the Board of Education agreed with Toback: “We will follow the law and the guidance of our attorney. We are obligated to protect the taxpayers and uphold the law.”
Following the advice of BOE attorney, John Geppert in this matter was a “rash decision” according to Blistan.
“I understand council advice,” said the NJEA President. “We deal with lawyers every single day. This lawyer will say this, and another lawyer in the same room will say something else. The process needs to be run through here, so that the best solution for kids here are done. Not in a rash way, but in a way that takes into consideration what is going to be the best thing for them now and in the long run.”
After the last BOE meeting, optimism was expressed on both sides, simply because there would be a discussion of the matter that had not yet occurred. "I look forward to a resolution that we can all live with so we can move on and do what's best for the children and the community." said Ferrante,
The discussion that took place at the September 20 meeting with Ferrante and Toback was not shared, except that a proposal was raised and will go to the board for discussion at the October 3 Wayne Board of Education meeting.