The March 5th BOE meeting ended with RPEA President Kathleen MacDonald and BOE Attorney Anthony Sciarrillo talking across the Sherman School gymnasium amid a crowd of teachers. It started out a bit differently.
“I come here tonight along with my colleagues that you see standing behind me to express our frustration with our over seven month wait to settle our employment contract,” Mrs. MacDonald started during the public portion of the meeting, “I want to make it clear that we are ready, willing, and able to meet with you anytime anywhere to negotiate terms.”
Mrs. MacDonald referred to what she termed as the reluctance of the BOE to sit and negotiate with the RPEA in a good faith effort. Additionally, she addressed a comment made by a parent at the last meeting where a teacher told a student that extra help would not be given anymore after class due to the lack of a new contract. The RPEA President repeated that teachers would be available to all students for 15 minutes outside of class, in line with the current contract between the parties.
“After five months and years and years and years of charitably working beyond our existing contract to meet the needs of our students by providing one-on-one academic help, mentoring, and more, the Roselle Park Educations Association decided in late January to put our generosity on pause,” Mrs. MacDonald explained, “Our decision is within the contractual terms. We were going above and beyond contractual duty through January but we are no longer willing to work overtime for free until we get the attention we need and also the respect we feel we deserve.”
Mrs. MacDonald went on to say that teachers would be walking into school together at the contractually allotted time every Friday wearing ‘Settle Now’ buttons and red shirts until formal negotiations were re-opened. She ended her first time at the microphone by telling the Board, “We hope to see across from the bargaining table immediately.”
Another teacher and resident, Linda Green, followed Mrs. MacDonald, and stated she did not understand why the BOE negotiating team was not meeting with the RPEA. Mrs. Green remarked, “But I’m going to tell you what I’m not going to do next year if there is no contract or no meetings in place. There will be no district chorus because that I started . . . There will be no talent show because that’s an extra two nights. There will be no fourth and fifth grade musical.”
In speaking with Mrs. Green, she wanted to clarify that things such as the Christmas Tree lighting chorus and other concerts she has coordinated will still occur; she was talking about those activities which she started on her own outside of current school district curriculum.
It was when parent and PTSA member Pura Kurywczak came up to ask if there would be any negotiating meetings as well as question the qualifications of the BOE negotiating team that BOE attorney Anthony Sciarrillo made the first public statement from the Board regarding contract negotiations.
While Mrs. Kurywczak stood at the microphone, Mr. Sciarrillo started, “The fact is that the Board’s committee is experienced. The fact is that some of the information being stated this evening is not accurate. The fact is that there have been a number of small group meetings during this period of time that seem to go unnoticed by the Association because they don’t want to bring those to the forefront. The fact is that this Board Of Education on several occasions moved an offer across to the association during this period of time.”
Mr. Sciarrillo continued by stating that the BOE sought the assistance of the Public Employments Relations Commission (PERC) in order to mediate between the two parties and that the delay is not on the part of the Board or the Association.
“So the information to create a perception that this Board Of Education has done nothing is an inaccurate perception. This Board of Education has spent hours working on proposals. This Board of Education has worked hours on documents that it has presented to the Association for consideration in its own caucuses,” the BOE attorney commented, adding that the Board would make corroborating documents, e-mails, and phone records available when negotiations are over and confidentiality no longer exists.
Speaking on the weeks of parents, teachers, and the RPEA President commenting on the contract negotiations, the Board attorney stated, “While we appreciate the fact that everyone has a right to come forward and express their opinions, they need to have all the facts when they present them. It’s great to create a perception that the two large groups have not come to the table since June but a perception that there has not been communication is inaccurate.”
Responding to a final question by Mrs. Kurywczak regarding any news of an upcoming meeting, the Board attorney responded that there is one ‘on the horizon’ but, in the meantime, both parties are waiting for a representative of PERC to be assigned.
Mrs. MacDonald came back before the microphone to respond to Mr. Sciarrillo’s comment, “I am in agreement with you that we don’t want to be out here in the public negotiating. However, I do resent the fact that inaccuracies are being put forth.”
The RPEA President commented that the Memorandum of Agreement from the BOE has been ‘very one-sided’. She said, “And we could have had this settled so nicely if, as in the past, we just sat down and we talked about it because that’s always been the Roselle Park way. And that is the association that I am proud of . But if we were to sit and sign the Memorandum of Agreement that you came to the table with on June 28th, there is no way I would ever face my members again. I would have resigned and I would never be on another negotiating team or be president because I certainly wouldn’t represent them the way that they deserve.”
“Let me tell you, this contract, these negotiations has been worse than the Frank Capese negotiations and I thought I would never say that but it has been,” Mrs. MacDonald added, referring to the previous BOE Attorney.
When reached for a comment, Mr. Capece’s only statement was, “It’s clear she never liked me and that was mutual but to carry a vendetta all these years is something.”
“We should have been able to go through it – both parties – changed a few things, slap a new cover . . . We should have been done,” Mrs. MacDonald said, showing frustration about the current lack of progress, “Sorry for the miscommunication but sit across from the table.”
As Mrs. MacDonald ended her second time at the microphone, the BOE attorney asked if a request for a meeting had been made that very night.
In response, the RPEA President ignored the questions and said, “Have there been other requests between you and I? Yes, there have been. I will not believe anything until I see it in writing.”
It was with this statement, while Mrs. MacDonald and the teaching staff were leaving the meeting the Mr. Sciarrillo remarked, “As long as you decided to do this in the public, Mrs. MacDonald, you mentioned all of the Memorandum of Agreements that we drafted from the Board to the Association and that the Association found unacceptable? How many Memorandums of Agreements have the Association passed across the table in writing to the Board for consideration?”
“We answered your Memorandums of Agreement and we wanted to come to the table. That’s all we asked for,” Mrs. MacDonald stated. She followed up by re-affirming the lack of communication between the two parties, thereby the need for a mediator, by stating, “It was a waste of the paper it was printed on and we weren’t going to waste our paper. We have better things to spend our dues on.”
With that, the RPEA members and their President left the meeting.
The next BOE meeting is tonight, March 21st at 7 pm at Sherman School. The meeting was originally scheduled for this Tuesday but was moved to allow for a public hearing on the school district budget.