RPEA Contract At An ‘Impasse’

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Published: February 5, 2013 @ 5:00 PM EDT

80 minutes into the January 22nd Roselle Park Board Of Education (BOE) meeting, Roselle Park Education Association (RPEA) President Kathleen MacDonald approached the microphone and introduced herself during the second public comment section of the meeting to a round of applause from a room-full of Roselle Park educators and principals – many of whom were wearing red RPEA shirts.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mrs. MacDonald provided information on the status of contract negotiations between the BOE and the RPEA and what she claimed was a lack of communication or progress. The previous three-year collective bargaining agreement between both parties ended on June 30, 2012, the terms of  which remain in effect until a new contract is agreed to and signed.

After thanking the newest Board members and commenting that she hoped that the BOE will work collaboratively with the RPEA, Mrs. MacDonald said, “Despite our changing socioeconomic population, we have continued to excel in many areas such as our scores, getting accreditation, meeting the AYP, and a lot of standardized test(s). We welcome any of you to come in and witness the great things that happen in our schools each day but what I want to talk about are the many things that happen that you may not know about.”

The RPEA President highlighted what she remarked were examples of school district staff going above and beyond their contracted obligations such as:

  • Being available for extra help in the before and after school, during prep periods, and staff lunches
  • Attending dances, graduation, sporting events, cheering competitions, plays, concerts, tree lightings, and other programs even though their agreement requires only two (2) ‘Back-To-School’ nights.
  • Helping to proctor the NHS Buddy Tutoring programs.
  • Holding mandated homework clubs during their lunch and after school.
  • Covering classes as needed without putting in the time sheet as stipulated in the contract.
  • Coming in early or staying late for the parent conferences and phone calls.
  • Participating in numerous committees and helping students with the college application process.
  • Spending personal funds – according to Mrs. MacDonald an average of $200-$300 a year ($20-$30 month) – on supplies.
  • Attending weekly team leader meetings before school.
  • Spending extra time during vacations to prepare for AP exams.
  • Preparing and attending inductions into the Honors Society.
  • Displaying students’ works in various building and community places, bulletin boards, hallways, etc.
  • Having staff attend PTA meetings.

Mrs. MacDonald also remarked on the elementary schools having violated the duty-free lunches of teachers and that there have been conferences which required a translator with many translators   not putting in for compensation as per their contract.

Continuing with school custodians, the RPEA President claimed that, with the additions on buildings and activities, there has only been one more custodian but one less maintenance person in six years ago. The work of school secretaries and para-professionals were also commented on before Mrs. MacDonald asked, “Now why this presentation tonight? Why? Why do we have to tell you these things? Because we feel that we are not being treated with the respect that we deserve. We feel that the Board has not negotiated in good faith with the Roselle Park Education Association.”

Offering a brief overview of negotiations, Mrs. MacDonald said, “We met in March to formulate the rules; ones presented by you which we readily signed and yet we don’t feel that you have abided by them such as scheduling two meetings ahead of time. I had to laugh at number six that said when a meeting is canceled that it’s rescheduled within 10 days, not 10 weeks or even more.”

There was one meeting a month from March to May and two meetings in June.

School superintendent Patrick Spagnoletti released a statement confirming and clarifying that there were meetings on March 20th, April 16th, May 17th, June 4th, and June 28th as well as,  at least, two (2) occasions for informal negotiations sessions.

Referring to the second meeting, the RPEA President said, “And then we came on to June 28th. We met. You caucused for an hour and then came in and handed us a Memorandum of Agreement. For those of you who may not be familiar with a Memorandum of Agreement, it is a document that is agreed upon after negotiations that have taken place across the table from each other and we’ve come to a mutual agreement or some type of consensus. We tried to go along with this game changer but since then we have not sat across the table from each other and negotiated in good faith. Now, after almost seven months of poor communications and despite my recent memo requesting that we sit across from each other at least one more time, you have filed for ‘impasse’ and called for a mediator to come in and do what we should have been able to accomplish.”

Mrs. MacDonald, in using the term ‘impasse’, referred to when a contract settlement is not reached and – according to the New Jersey Schools Boards Association (NJSBA) – the following actions are taken:

The Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) is contacted and a mediator is sent. The mediator is a third-party neutral whose purpose is to ensure both sides reach an agreement – but the mediator’s role is not to safeguard the interests of either the board or teachers.

Mediation typically involves both sides being separated while the mediator works between the two to broker a deal. If mediation fails, the process goes to “factfinding,” in which a new state-appointed mediator hears arguments from both sides and presents a report. The factfinder’s report is a public document 10 days after both parties receive it. Sometimes, the release of the document can generate public pressure to make concessions that result in a settlement. However, neither side is obligated to accept the factfinder’s report.

If factfinding does not result in a settlement, the process moves to “super conciliation.” This is more intensive mediation, and state law authorizes the super conciliator to “utilize means and mechanisms, including but not limited to requiring 24-hour per day negotiations, until a voluntary settlement is reached.”

Mrs. MacDonald commented that it was her understanding that the average time for a mediator to be assigned is six (6) months and she publicly asked tonight if the Board negotiating team intended to meet with the Association team during that time. Receiving no response from the BOE, the RPEA President stated that the RPEA is prepared to meet at any time. and then asked, “Are we going to sit down during these six months and talk to each other as we have done for, this is probably my fifth or sixth contract that I have negotiated and never have I seen a procedure like this and I am upset and . . . my members are upset. So, are we going to mediate? My question now is are we going to meet?”

BOE member Loren Harms, who is a member of the contract negotiating committee replied, “We’ll get back to you.”

Ms. MacDonald concluded, “Well, as you discuss this, just to let you know, we could really make this a lot easier because we know that there are teachers represented on this Board and if you want to make the process nice and smooth then why don’t we just take some of their contracts – Summit and/or Hillside. We’ll just change them with the Roselle Park Education Association and we will take the salary guides and all . . . We are really tired of being vilified . . . We feel we have negotiated in good faith and tonight it was a need to be made public that we feel that this has been violated. Thank you.”

Documents and research gathered by Roselle Park News regarding the Hillside Education Association (HEA) and the Summit Education Association (SEA) contracts – both which expire in 2014 – show that each union agreed to an average 2% increase per year for three years with their respective BOEs. In comparison, the RPEA received an average 3.9% increase per year for the duration of the thee-year contract in 2009 – the increase was 3.6% for the first year, 3.9% for the second year, and 4.2% for the third year.

 HillsideRoselle ParkSummit
Number of Schools659
Total Certified Staff313.0205.3399.9
2011-12 Enrollment3,078.51,976.04,049.0
Student To Total Staff Ratio9.89.610.1
2011-12 Student To Classroom Teacher Ratio1211.412.3
2010-11 Total Spending Per Pupil $54,716,252 $32,073,684 $71,279,769
Total Classroom Instruction
% of Budgetary Cost Per Pupil (2011-12)
61.3%60.6%63.9%
Classroom Supplies/Textbooks
% of Budgetary Cost Per Pupil (2011-12)
1.9%0.4%1.8%
Personal Services - Employee Benefits
% of Total Salaries (2011-12)
27.0%36.0%29.0%

Further comparisons between the three school districts reveal that the Roselle Park school district’s salary scale for teachers is actually higher than that of Hillside for corresponding years (2011-2012). The SEA base salary guide is on average 5.5% higher but their school district has more than twice the enrollment of Roselle Park and the ratio of student to teacher is higher in Summit. Additionally, data from the New Jersey Department Of Education (NJDOE) shows that the Roselle Park school district spends less per student than the other two districts. The percentage for funds spent on classroom instruction and textbooks per student is less than in Hillside or Summit while the per student percentage of employee benefits was the highest in Roselle Park.

In contacting BOE negotiating committee member Loren Harms regarding the comments made by the RPEA President, Mr. Harms stated, “They have their opinion and we have ours.”

Mrs. MacDonald said she could not comment further.

Below are links to copies of all three (3) collective bargaining agreements for Roselle Park, Hillside, and Summit.

Roselle Park Education Association Collective Bargaining Agreement (2009-2012)

Hillside Education Association Collective Bargaining Agreement (2009-2012)

Summit Education Association Collective Bargaining Agreement (2009-2012)