Teacher Contract Dispute May Threaten Middle School’s Overnight Trip
MEA says members are questioning whether or not they will chaperone the trip if a contract settlement is not reached
This year’s 8th grade overnight field trip to Gettysburg may be in jeopardy, thanks to ongoing teacher contract negotiations. Representatives of the Mahwah Education Association Teachers’ Union, who have been working under an expired contract since June 2010, said at Wednesday night’s board of education meeting that chaperoning the June trip may not happen if a settlement is not reached beforehand.
“Deciding to chaperone a field trip has always been completely voluntary, and a choice each teacher makes,” Regina Guth, Ramapo Ridge teacher and MEA Vice President said. “But, it becomes a talking point when we have no contract.” Guth said if a settlement is not reached, it will still be up to individual teachers whether or not to chaperon. However, the MEA as a whole is discussing the possibility of advising members not to, in the event that the union and board of ed cannot reach an agreement by June.
According to Assistant Superintendent Janet Donohue, the trip, an overnight excursion in early June, is traditionally chaperoned by the eighth grade teachers. Chaperoning is on a voluntary basis, but teachers are paid to go on the trip.
Members of the district’s administration seemed surprised Wednesday when Guth asked if they were planning on cancelling the trip. “There has been no talk at the administrative level about canceling the trip,” interim Superintendent Dr. Karen Lake said. “It is my feeling that doing that would be hurting kids.”
Board Vice President and chief contract negotiator Chuck Saldarini added that the board wasn’t “operating under the assumption that we would need to look at this through the lens of the contract negotiations. But, if chaperoning may be an issue, we will need to look at that and decide how to move forward."
Parents at the meeting told MEA members it sounded like they were threatening not to chaperone if there is no contract settlement. “That is exactly what it sounds like to me, as a parent, and that is not fair to the kids,” one resident in a crowd of about 20 said. Guth insisted that she was not threatening a mass action by MEA members. “It is not that black and white,” she told Patch.
According to Ridge teachers, the conversation about chaperoning was initiated by the school’s administration beginning to plan the details of the annual trip. “The topic came up this week because we got an email asking about chaperoning and other aspects of the trip,” Guth said.
The MEA and board of education have been at odds over a contract dispute since February 2010, when the MEA declared an impasse in negotiations. Though the two sides sat down for face-to-face meetings in December and January, a disagreement over scheduling teacher meetings after school caused the MEA to announce earlier this week that it would wait until a state-mediated meeting May 2 to negotiate the contract further.
Both sides have expressed frustration at the length of time the contract dispute has been ongoing. Saldarini has said at past meetings that the impasse process, which involves state representatives in the negotiation process, elongates it. The May 2 meeting was scheduled because it was the earliest date state reps could attend, he said.