Non-Union Staff Asks School Board For 2% Increase. BOE Approves 1.75%.

At the June 23rd Board Of Education (BOE) meeting, a proposed salary increase of 1.75% for the 2015-16 school year for non-staff personnel was on the agenda to be voted on by the Board. During the first public comment portion of the meeting where people in the audience can discuss agenda items only, Jamie O’Connell, a Roselle Park School District employee, spoke on behalf of the non-union staff, some of whom were in the audience at the Roselle Park High School.

“I beg you not to approve it. I beg you to say ‘nay’,” stated Mrs. O’Connell in her objection to the proposed increase, “And the reason behind that is because it’s a 1.75% increase . . . The administrative assistants I’ve worked with, I know that they work very hard at what they do and we were there early, we stayed late, some of us don’t take lunch and 1.75% doesn’t even cover the mandatory increase to the pension rate which is 0.14% and if you add them together, the mandatory point and the contribution 2.4%, that’s a 2.54% increase of deductions out of our paychecks that we have no control over. So to me, a 1.75% increase . . . across the board for non-union staff to me just doesn’t make any kind of sense.”

In combining the increase with the already existing contribution percentage, the amount is more than the increase but the 2.4% is the amount that was already in place since last year. The increase itself is less than one percent but even taking the argument that a 1.75% salary increase in addition to last year’s 2% salary increase would not cover a combined 2.54%, then a 2% increase would still not cover pension contributions.

Mrs. O’Connell continued, “If you were in a corporate environment, people are compensated based on their performance. I have not an appraisal that told me that my performance was not good. So how can you just approve on an agenda without even giving a reasoning behind why you’re taking away, basically giving a non-increase? That’s just how I feel. I feel like a 1.75% increase is not even an increase at all since we have mandatory things that are taken out of our paychecks.”

After the first public comment portion of the meeting, the BOE unanimously approved the 1.75% increase to most positions in the district. At the second public comment portion, Mrs. O’Connell once again spoke, offering an alternative. She commented, “So, since you’ve shown that you’ve approved that already and you show that you don’t use financial compensation, then I urge you as an administration to take soft compensation. For example, a four [day] summer work schedule where the secretaries come in early, take shorter lunches, and work extra hours [where] we cover each other. There’s never a time where there is no coverage. There’s never a time where we leave it unstaffed. And if it has to do with productivity issue, once again, no one’s ever spoken to us regarding our productivity. I don’t understand why something that’s been a past practice since 1997 is being taken away. It’s almost like we’re being punished based on our salary increase. We’re being punished based on our soft compensation. I just don’t understand why since no one’s spoken to us about our productivity. A few of us in the office are newer and we don’t have as many vacation days as some of the more senior secretaries, so it’s very important for us from a family life perspective to have those four days.”

From her comments, it appeared that the summer workweek of providing non-union staff with a four-day workweek, was not offered this year. Mrs. O’Connell referred to how the BOE offices would still remain open five days a week, unlike Borough Hall which is closed on Fridays this year from June through the end of August. She stated, “All it’s doing by taking away the four-day workweek is making secretaries use their vacation days. You’re still not going to have the coverage in the office because we’ll just take our vacation days . . . but we don’t get that many to use. Some of us do and some of us don’t.”

“The way to keep good employees is by compensating them financially or with soft compensation,” stated the Mrs. O’Connell in asking the Board to consider her proposal, “And since that’s not being done, then how are you going to keep and retain good employees? Because it’s easy to go get another job but it’s hard to keep people who want to be here. I want to stay here. I want to do the best I can for the district which I think if you ask any of the teachers or my boss or anyone, if I’ve been doing a good job since I got here. I’ve made financial improvements. I’ve brought a 360 degree customer service to the teachers. But why would I stay in a district that doesn’t compensate me and doesn’t give me soft compensation?”

The BOE went into closed session after the meeting but did not return with any action on the proposal by the non-union staff.

While waiting outside during the executive session, Mrs. O’Connell spoke on the core issue to her and others regarding the Board’s action.

“The problem is that they don’t communicate,” she remarked, adding that in previous years, non-union salary increases would be approved after the unions have their contracts ratified but this year they approved non-union salaries first. Currently, the BOE and the teachers’ union – the RPEA (Roselle Park Education Association) – are in negotiations for a contract that will cover the next three school years. In previous years, non-union staff received a 2% increase in line with what the RPEA received. Still, no reason was given publicly nor, according to Mrs. O’Connell to the non-union staff.

She reiterated, “There is a lack of communication. If they gave a reason, I would understand that but it looks to me like they said ‘Let’s just do 1.75% across the board and call it a day’. Because we’re non-union, we don’t have any representation so they could do whatever they want.”

When asked if a scenario arose and the RPEA received less than 1.75%, would she match that percentage, Mrs. O’Connell answered, “I wouldn’t because I come from a corporate background where you compensate people based on their performance and, again, we’ve never been told that our performance was not good. Just sit down with us and say ‘this is the reason’. What [they did] does is it reduces employee morale and it causes people to want to look for other jobs because they don’t know what’s going on and they don’t feel like they’re being fairly treated.”

In concluding her comments, the de facto non-union staff spokeswoman stated, “It’s understandable [if it’s] the financial situation but I’m sure if you add up the amount of money, it’s not that much money.”

And in reviewing the figures, for the most part, she is correct, with one exception; the salary of the Director of Plant Operations.

In order to address the monetary difference between a ΒΌ of a percent, a table shown below has tabulated the difference in increases between 1.75% and 2% for all comparable non-union salaried positions listed at the June 23rd meeting agenda. Some positions were removed to not being included in the June 23rd agenda and some positions being removed.

Superintendent's SecretaryL. Baker
School Business Administrator's SecretaryB. Malfatto
Purchasing/Accounts PayableL. Battaglia
Administrative Assistance/PayrollJ. O'Connell
RPHS Administrative Assistant/Office ManagerN. DeNike
Computer Systems TechJ. Colon-Reyes
Chief Technology OffierM. Estrada
Director of Plant OperationsA. Padavano
Head CustodianH. Zawadski
Head CustodianJ. Heimall
High School BookkeeperI. Baran
Substitute Calling CoordinatorE. Palmisano
Girls Locker Room AttendantS. Smith
Treasurer of School MoniesG. Mayers
School Medical ExaminerR. Bezozo
Summer Camp DirectorS. Appello

An analysis of a proposed 2% was tabulated next to the general increase of 1.75%, with the exception of a 5% increase for the position of Director of Plant Operations. Matching comparable positions from 2014-15 to this coming school year, leaving out the Director of Plant Operations, the 0.25% difference would have meant an increase of $1,506.08 for all positions in the annual budget for non-union staff. Including the 5% actual increase of the Director of Plant Operations shows that the total increase is $525.81 more then if everyone received a 2% increase. A 2% across-the-board increase would have been $2,031.88 less than what was approved at the June BOE meeting.

No explanation was provided at the meeting as to why that particular position received almost three times an increase over every other position. Additionally, the percentage increase for that position does not reflect last year’s increase.

The question still remains that if the decision was a cost-saving measure, why are the actual increases combined more than if all positions received a 2% increase. Even with a flat 2% increase for non-union staff, it would mean a total $1,500 increase in the budget. If that was not the reasoning, are current negotiations with the RPEA a factor in a preemptive move by the Board to signify the amount they are asking the teachers’ union to accept in order to deal with the serious financial issues that the school district will be facing in the very near future (article link)? Or were there actual performance factors concerning one or a few employees that would have been revealed in percentages that are public information?

The next BOE meeting is tonight at 7 p.m. in the Roselle Park Middle School.