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Mahwah's Teachers, School Board Hit Bump In Contract Negotiations

A contentious board meeting Wednesday night revealed what the main disagreements are in ongoing negotiations

About 75 teachers from the Mahwah Education Association confronted members Wednesday night, asking why what seemed like progress in contract negotiations has yet to produce an agreement between the district’s administration and its teachers union. Teachers in the district have been working under an expired contract since June of 2010.

According to representatives from the MEA and the board, there are only a few sticking points of negotiations left to agree on before a new contract can be reached. The main dispute is over meeting time, or “how we use the time that is not spent with the children,” Regina Guth, Second Vice President of the MEA and teacher. “That’s a negotiable item and we are currently at odds.”

School Board President Tricia Shada said the crux of the disagreement is over the ability to schedule after school meetings. “The teachers are already in school for four meetings a month, so we are not asking for any more time,” Shada said. “Currently, administrators are only able to set the agenda at two of the four monthly meetings, and we would like to be able to schedule all of them.” Shada said administration used to dictate what happened at all four meetings, but part of the contract agreement reached in 2009 cut that to two of the monthly meetings. “We would like to change that back,” she said.

Literature circulated by the MEA Wednesday night said teachers use the non-scheduled time to grade student work, communicate with parents and prep for classes. Members of the MEA do not want to “lose this precious time for unnecessary reasons.”

According to Board Vice President Chuck Saldarini, another area of contention is the district’s annual ‘Back to School’ night schedule. “Back to school nights are currently half days for students and staff, we would like to make them full days,” he said. According to Shada, that request is in response to parent complaints. “All of the buildings have their ‘Back to School Nights’ on different days, so parents with more than one child were finding it difficult to schedule for the scattered half days.” The change to a full day would mean extra time teachers would be spending in school.

Another area of dispute “is of course always going to be compensation,” Saldarini said. According to figures he presented during a contract negotiations update at Wednesday’s board meeting, the district is offering teachers seven-percent raises over a proposed three-year contract. The seven percent would be allocated to the MEA in its entirety, and then divvied up between teachers differently depending on their individual agreements. Saldarini said the raise rates being proposed by the district are “mostly” higher than the county averages:

School Year

Proposed Mahwah Raises (%age)

Bergen County Average Raises (%age)

2011-2012

2.5

1.84

2012-2013

2.5

2.21

2013-2014

2.0

2.01

The raises, he said, “are not only reflective of how good [our teachers] are, and they are good, but the extra time teachers would spend in the building on the ‘Back to School’ Night.”

The MEA literature said recent agreements made with the board about job evaluations and post-Master’s degree coursework has given teachers “fewer opportunities for salary advancement.” The teachers say they agreed to those changes “in good faith.”

Union members also brought up Wednesday recent changes in New Jersey legislation that requires teachers to pay a much larger percentage of their health care contributions. The rate hikes, which will be phased in over the next four years, could have teachers contributing as much as 35 percent of their health care costs. Contribution rates are based on salary and health care plan.

“We recognize that this is going to be a significant increase for our teachers,” Ed Deptula, the district’s business administrator, said.

Health care contributions were one of the main points of contention when negotiations between the two sides began in 2010. When the MEA filed for an impasse in negotiations in March of 2010, the reason cited was health care. However, since that time, it has been taken off the table as a bargaining measure thanks to the new state law.

Since filing for impasse, Mahwah’s teachers and board of education entered a mediated negotiation process with state officials from the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). Saldarini called the mediated process “incredible arduous and incredibly slow. And, on top of that, the results are completely non-binding.” The two sides are currently in the second of three phases of the impasse negotiation process.

In December of last year, both the board and the MEA when the two sides met on their own, for non-impasse mediated talks. During an impasse, negotiations can still be reached using traditional face-to-face meetings if the two sides so choose.

However, according to accounts Wednesday night, progress seemed to unravel at a January 18 face-to-face session. According to the board, a “salary guru” from the New Jersey Education Association, who assists in negotiating teacher salaries for the MEA, was supposed to be in touch with the board after the January meeting to “crunch the numbers. That call never came,” Saldarini said. “But, in a proactive measure, we reached out to [the NJEA].”

The teachers say the board seemed unwilling to compromise at the January meeting. “That meeting started off on a bad note when we were told that two of the board members needed to catch flights early the next morning, as if our time there wasn’t as important,” Guth told the board Wednesday. “When we go into a negotiation session, we are ready to hunker down and to reach an agreement that night, no matter how long it takes.”

The meeting lasted from about 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. without resolution. According to Guth, “that was one of the few times I’ve seen that the board members got up and left the building without deciding on what the next meeting time would be.”

Deptula said the board was waiting for the phone call from the NJEA rep to set the next meeting time.

Representatives from both sides at the meeting Wednesday seemed eager to settle. “We feel that every step of the way, and still now, we want to get this done,” MEA member and Ridge teacher Troy McGilchrist said.

Shada responded by asking for the MEA’s negotiation committee to set up another face-to-face meeting with the board’s committee. She said waiting for the next state-mediated meeting, which is not scheduled to happen until May 2 due to the availability of the state representatives, was “not necessary. And, we get a lot more done without [the mediators].”

The two groups said at the close of the meeting they would settle on a date to meet again by Friday.

One parent of a Mahwah High School student at the meeting asked how the ongoing back-and-forth between the district’s teachers and administration, which played out in front of him at the meeting, is affecting his child. “I’ve heard that teachers are making comments to students that due to contract disputes, they will not be writing college recommendation letters for high school students,” the parent said. “Are the teachers allowed to talk that way to the students?”

Interim Superintendent Dr. Karen Lake said she “had heard those rumors too,” and addressed them with the MEA. “We were told letters of recommendation would continue.” Administrators said they would follow up with teachers again on the issue.

Responding to another parent concern circulating around the district, MEA literature said teachers are still offering students extra help, but only within the contractual day. “Once the contract is settled, flexibility can again be exercised,” it said.

Lauren Rosen March 01, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Thank you, Jessica for reporting so accurately on the Board of Education Meeting last night. It was a very emotional moment for all of the educators that attended as we long for the settlement of a new contract. We were certain that we would have been able to celebrate the culmination of this process back in December when we were promised a new contract "under the tree". Unfortunately, many weeks have gone by and our spirits are broken. We look forward to a settlement in the very near future. Please take note that even without a contract, we are still working and always caring. Thanks again for attending and reporting on the meeting.
Jason Richardson March 01, 2012 at 09:22 PM
I didn't see one mention about what's good for the kids! Not one!! In fact, I saw the opposite! Teachers refusing to write recommendation letters?? Are you kidding!!
Bob Rama March 01, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Jason, if you actually read the article, it says that is not the case. “We were told letters of recommendation would continue.”
Bob Rama March 01, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Thanks for getting these facts out, Jess. It seems that the board thinks it is compensating the teachers for giving up a half-day and adding meetings by offering an above average raise. That does seem fair. But I think in the end this quote by Ed Deptula about the rising costs that teachers are personally bearing for health care is the real sticking point of the negotiation: "We recognize that this is going to be a significant increase for our teachers”. He is calling it SIGNIFICANT but the BOE are seems to not be acknowledging it in the negotiation process. That is what the MEA's grievance is all about. The BOE won't share about how much money they are getting back from teachers. In the end, both sides are going to have to accept terms they don't like. That is how a negotiation works. I am, however, appalled that the BOE would set up a negotiation only to say they have to catch a flight the next morning so they won't be able to stay. That is not negotiating "in good faith" to me.
Regina E. Guth March 01, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Perhaps, Mr Richardson, you might wish to spend a day in my classroom or any other, for that matter, to see all the good that MEA members do for the kids in Mahwah. You are welcome to visit anytime! In my 26 years as an educator in this district, I have NEVER known any teacher to refuse a student's request for a recommendation of any kind. The MEA does not condone this practice. I respectfully submit, sir, that if you need further clarification on this or any other issue that you contact me via the district website; I would welcome the opportunity to address your concerns.
JP March 01, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Our teachers deserve everything they are asking for, and more.
Jason Richardson March 01, 2012 at 10:59 PM
Bob, I DID READ the article!! Only after the superintendent addressed the issue did they say the recommendation letters would continue.
Bob Rama March 02, 2012 at 05:39 AM
Are you sure? Try again: Interim Superintendent Dr. Karen Lake said she “had heard those rumors too,” and addressed them with the MEA. “We were told letters of recommendation would continue.” So the parent was mistaken about the rumor he or she heard.
Mercedes1 March 02, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Do I see a teacher on a cell phone at this very important meeting? Looks like texting to me!
hsr March 05, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Maybe her own children needed to ask her something important. Try to be reasonable. We have very dedicated teachers in our town and they are known to do good with our children.
Mercedes1 March 05, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I totally agree with you but if it were that important, remove yourself from the meeting. Just doesn't look too good.
Nick March 05, 2012 at 02:18 AM
How do we know that the person with the phone is a teacher (most MEA members are wearing red), and how do we know the meeting had actually started when the photo was taken? There's a huge lack of leadership. The interim superintendent has no vested interest in the district, and the board doesn't seem all that committed to getting this resolved. It's a shame. My daughter has been in the district for years, and it's been a great experience all the way through.
Mercedes1 March 05, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Inappropreiate use of cell phones is the bottom line. Just looks awkward to me.. Oh, that is a teacher.
Bubba March 05, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Comments such as those above regarding texting are hurtful and ignorant. You have no idea what was going on at the time or what that person was doing. Perhaps taking notes of the meeting on the phone, perhaps filling in officers who were unable to attend, or perhaps the meeting hadn't even started. Focus on the issues, people
JL March 05, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Do the teachers go to these meetings voluntarily or are they getting paid to go? Were you at the meeting, Mercedes 1?
Mercedes1 March 05, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Now you want teachers to get paid to go to meetings? Why would I be there? I have nothing to do with teaching and my entire point was missed. Mahwah has outstanding teachers, truly dedicated our children.
JL March 05, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Teachers should be encouraged & commended for going to these meetings, not ridiculed by people like you. Also, how can you comment on a photo from something that you were not at?....Was the picture taken during the actual meeting? If so, the photographer was disrupting the meeting from the front of the room where the Board of Ed. officers sit.
Mercedes1 March 06, 2012 at 12:00 AM
JL...I do commend the teachers and as I previously stated, Mahwah has the best. Please, you are reading much more into this. As far as commenting on the photo, I see what I see.
hsr March 06, 2012 at 12:18 AM
In my experience, those who do the least for others criticize people who are generous and work to improve our community and put in many extra hours without pay. Try to join some of our Mahwah organizations FD, Ambulance Corps., Rec. Dept., etc.
DA March 06, 2012 at 12:23 AM
I am currently a Mahwah High School student, and at the H.S, many of our teachers try to imply to us that they are working for free/not getting paid right now and that they don't have a contract, which isn't true, they DO have a contract, just not a new one. The end result is that the majority of the student body believes that the teachers are not being paid and are working for free even though this is not the case. As far as the extra help issue goes which I see was discussed above, our teachers will all march out of the building to their cars at 2:37pm which is the end of their contractual day, and if we have a test/quiz that we have to finish after school, or need any extra help after school, we are given TWENTY MINUTES from when the school day ends (2:17pm) to get extra help, and this does not include the time it takes for us to walk to the particular room we need to go to after school. If a student needs anything beyond the 20 minutes, they are out of luck, and are given a "0" for each question on the test/quiz that they did not complete. Also, the MEA needs to actually THINK about which students/parents they want involved in this issue, and which they don't. For example, many of my classmates have parents that are out of work and currently don't have insurance, and therefore feel that the teachers should be greatful to have a job, money, and insurance. I'm sure that the MEA wouldn't like it too much if one of those parents came to a BOE meeting and shared these thoughts
hsr March 06, 2012 at 01:17 AM
dear student Two wrongs don't make right. Get it? Probably not.
DA March 06, 2012 at 01:31 AM
mms, I am an HONORS STUDENT, so yes I do get it :O But WHAT am I doing wrong here?
SD March 06, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Your comments were so inappropriate. As you stated above, you were not at the meeting, have no idea when that picture was taken or what that person was doing. So instead of negatively commenting on the photo, perhaps you could become more involved in the school district to learn the facts.
SD March 06, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Dear mms, You are an Honor Student, wonderful, thank a teacher.
DA March 06, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Yes, and I have DEDICATED teachers to thank for that. You know, the one's that stay PAST 2:37pm to give me extra help. However, I can unfortunately only consider three of them truly dedicated. The others just leave at their contractual time they can get give to their NY State Trooper husbands to whine about me to. If you are a MEA member which I am sure you are, you know who I'm talking about. Also, don't think I am not aware of what goes on at Board Meetings because I read the Board Minutes...
hsr March 06, 2012 at 02:20 AM
please don't confuse me with that H- student and He or she didn't get it! So I'm stopping now. signed, Adult Honor student.
Bob Rama March 06, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Where do you get the board minutes? They are never posted online as far as I knew, only the agendas. And you can't blame the teachers for not staying past their contractual times when they haven't had a contract for over 2 years. As far as I knew, they stopped that policy in December when they board said they were ready to settle only to go 3 months with no progress. Can you blame them at this point? I certainly don't. Teachers are human beings, not machines. Also, while it is true they are working under the terms of their old contract, that is not the same as having a current contract. There is a big difference.
Bob Rama March 06, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Are you a parent? Then you should attend a board meeting every now and then. I do. So have you ever been to a board meeting? If no, then you have no idea what you are talking about. There are some truly boring procedural parts to the meeting and other parts where they are debating policy that can be quite informative and interesting. You are looking at a picture that you have no idea the context of when it was taken trying to act like no matter what they were being "inappropriate". The teachers are there on their own free time. They could text the whole meeting if they wanted to. I'm just confused with your outrage.
Jean T March 08, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Just to clarify to "honors student" the HS has a test center supervised by staff where students may go after school to take missed tests and quizzes that may extend beyond contractual hours. So no zeros are being issued for questions not answered. As for letters of recc...that has always been a personal option for teachers And one that goes above the contracted duties. Some teachers receive 50 or more requests and spend many hours over the summer preparing these letters. They do so because they care and they believe in the students. These prolonged negotiations only prove that the Board does not care in the students..if they did they would treat their teachers with the respect they deserve by settling the contract.
Johnny No Cash March 09, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Hey Dan, I mean DA, I'm sure your not an honors student by the way you express yourself in this forum. Why don't you go to a private school if MHS is so bad?

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