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Two Hundred Mahwah Teachers Ask School Board For 'Acknowledgment' In Contract Dispute

Job action has had teachers not offering after school or lunch extra help to students for three weeks; face-to-face negotiation session set for Thursday night

Nearly 200 members of the Mahwah Education Association teachers union gathered at Wednesday night’s meeting wearing red shirts and pins, holding signs and addressing the Board about an ongoing contract negotiation process that has been at an impasse since March of 2010.

According to an update from Board member Chuck Saldarini, the board and union postponed a mediated fact-finding session that was scheduled for Thursday, “in favor of a face-to-face meeting.” The in-person meeting, which will be the first between teachers and the board since the MEA declared an impasse last year, will happen Thursday night.

Both members of the board and of the MEA expressed a desire to settle the ongoing debate. “We want a contract,” Board President Tricia Shada said. “We have repeatedly been asking for face-to-face meetings, and I am optimistic going into [Thursday] night.”

“We are of the same mindset; we want to see it done” MEA President Laura Beattie said. “The last thing our community and our Board of Education would want is the staff to be distracted by an unsettled contract.”

MEA member and teacher Bill Howe said an internal MEA survey indicated that teachers are normally “dedicated to going above and beyond what is contractually obligated and volunteering time outside of class to our students, which we want to do.” However, as a “job action” teachers have been taking for the past three weeks, Howe said teachers are only working the number of hours required in their current contract, which expired in June of 2010.

As a side effect of the job action, teachers have eliminated offering extra-help to students before and after school, and during lunch. “If we need to write a letter for a student, and can’t get it done during the school day, we can’t do it,” Howe said.

The job action has also affected planning, he said. “Not having additional time to prepare outside of our contractual obligations is killer for us. It leaves us scrambling to be efficient, because we want to go in there and be the best we can be,” Howe said. “It burns you out.”

Teachers have also been picketing outside school buildings for the 15 minutes before school once a week, “as a way to create awareness,” Beattie said. “Job action is not illegal, we are working to the terms in our contract.”

The contract dispute began mainly over employee contributions to healthcare and pension costs, however since then, the state has mandated that employee health care costs are a function of employees’ salaries and individual health care plans. “This somewhat mitigates the issue since we have to do what the state says,” Saldarini said at a .

Issues left on the table to negotiate include compensation and hours worked. “It comes down to time and money,” Shada said.

Teachers argued Wednesday night that the board needs to show a greater appreciation for its staff. “We are looking at a long road ahead if [the Board of Education] does not appreciate and acknowledge your highly qualified staff by offering a realistic and fair settlement,” Beattie said. Other members of the MEA read letters to the board, many citing notes from parents and students thanking them for their work. They asked the board to do the same.

“We are their biggest advocates,” Board member Suzanne Curry said of the district’s teachers. “We acknowledge how great our teachers are all the time. It is a great district, that’s why we’re on the board.” Curry said she was “bothered” by several MEA members saying during the meeting that the board has not acknowledged their contributions to Mahwah schools.

With both sides going into Thursday night’s negotiation session with an optimistic attitude, Shada said implementing a new agreement, if one is reached, would be a long process, with the new contracts not being in place until “possibly the end of January, I would hope.” She said if a tentative deal were reached Thursday, it would need to be ratified by the membership of the MEA, and shown to the Board of Ed. “At that point, it would just be a matter of hammering out the details, but I think everybody would be happy if we could get an agreement [Thursday].”

Shada closed Wednesday night’s meeting by telling the crowded audience that she feels an end is near in the nearly two-year process. “I hope you all have a very happy holiday, that comes with a contract under the tree,” she said.

Bob Rama December 15, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Ralph, I base my claims based on only what you write. You clearly have an underlying problem with the concept of a union. I can tell by your timely use of CAPITAL LETTERS. You said you didn't trust the data you saw because it came from the union, but the BOE shared the same data you are questioning with the public at large at their meeting last month. So, that shows you are not actually "very involved in the school board meetings", and your perception of reality is skewed because of your right-wing bias. You also have shown you don't have an understanding of educational issues. You clearly don't understand how tenure works and how it needs to be reformed. You claim you know all these people and know all these things, but you have nothing to back it up. No facts. No research. All that together is troubling when you are so adamant in your viewpoints, which is why I feel you are acting in a manner that is consistent with a "right-wing nutjob". I love that you reference the food pantries. You do see the link on the right side mentioning the food drive the teachers ran last night for the food pantry? It seems the teachers are thinking about both. I for one hope they are able to get a contract tonight so the teachers go back to spending their free time helping our kids.
Ralph December 15, 2011 at 11:43 PM
Oh Bobby boy, very perceptive of you. Yes I am against unions in general. While they once were set up to help people against businesses, they have gotten too big for their britches. Let me give you a real life example. When I started my first business from scratch I found a space, signed a lease and started my construction. I used some small business plumbers, electricians and construction people because their prices were within my range and fair. Then the UNION came in and demanded that I use union help. I resisted and they set up a big rat in front of the store. I guess in America you can no longer use other hard working small business Americans to get the job done. You need to use Union people. The landlord did not want a distraction so I was forced to use that Union labor. The extra cost amointed to an extra $60,000 in construction costs. Never did recover from those extra costs and eventually the business failed leaving me to lay off a staff of 7 people who went on unemployment, by the way Bobby you helped pay for their unemployment thanks to the Union demands. And soon all of us will be paying our quartly taxes in Mahwah and when you are writing out that check please thank the union for making the 60% of your tax bill possible. Thats if you actually live in Mahwah and pay taxes. I'm getting bored of this discussion but thanks for your opinion, which by the way I do value..
Hank December 16, 2011 at 12:54 AM
I've said it before but the current team of teachers has produced some really talented kids. My son is from class of 2008 According to him This class will produce 5 pre-med and 4 or 5 physics majors ("and a lot of engineers") all graduating this year on schedule. Can you imagine the discipline it takes for pre med or physics and graduate on time? The current group of teachers prepared them well for college.
Andy Schmidt December 16, 2011 at 10:29 AM
I just am encouraged that the union finally agreed to sit down face-to-face again, so that the parties can garner an understanding from each other what is feasible at the moment - and what is not. Of course, sometimes employees have to respect the fact that a job will not always pay more every year JUST for having stayed on the job for another year. When many of us are taking pay-cuts or had years of stagnant salaries - while at the same time facing raising health care expenses (this year, insurance rates went up another 17%, after 13% last year), THEN even getting a 0% contract which at least virtually guarantees that you have a job for another 3 years AND that guarantees that your family's health care expense are largely covered for another 3 years - may be a GOOD contract in the current climate.
Bob Rama December 16, 2011 at 11:48 AM
Ralph at least you show your bias is you like to pay your workers less than they are worth. You also think because you found non-union electricians that there are hundreds, if not thousands of highly qualified teachers are ready to jump in at a moment's notice. FAIL. I know it would be hard to address anything else I mentioned in my post because I clearly and correctly explained why your opinions are flawed. I feel like in Mahwah, we are actually getting our money's worth out of our educational system. I can tell by my personal experience with children in the system and when I go to the BOE meetings and see that Mahwah is improving it's HSPA and SAT scores, and doing exceptionally well on AP tests, with the vast majority of graduates moving on to some sort of higher education. I am basing my opinions on facts.

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