SOMERS POINT BOARD OF EDUCATION NEGOTIATIONS UPDATE The Somers Point Board of Education understands that parents and community members have a strong interest in the status of negotiations with the Somers Point Education Association. In the interest of keeping our school community informed, we are issuing this brief update. It should be noted, however, that comments from the Board of Education beyond this statement will be very limited. The Association and the Board began formal negotiations last winter. In June, the Association indicated that it was going to ask that a state mediator assist the parties in bringing the negotiations to a conclusion. Although we met with the mediator three times, the parties were unable to come to an agreement. At our last session, the mediator determined that the parties' positions made it necessary to refer the matter to a state fact-finder. Currently, there is a fundamental disagreement between the parties' positions on what they believe their constituents will support in a settlement. We are mindful that our staff does an excellent job, and our students are successful; however, the Board also has an obligation to balance competing needs in a manner that gives the school the best chance of continuing to improve student achievement. The Board has offered a salary increase consistent with the average settlement rates in the State and in Atlantic County and seeks to balance the needs of taxpayers, our valued staff and, most importantly, the children of Somers Point. In contrast, the union has continually demanded a salary increase that greatly exceeds the average school district settlement. The Board is keenly aware of the financial hardships faced by many families in the Somers Point community. Make no mistake, during negotiations, our staff continues to earn their salaries and enjoy all of the benefits and protections afforded under their expired contract. Nothing has been taken away from them, nor can it be without negotiations. While they may be currently working at the same salaries they were earning in June 2016, it is our belief that when negotiations are complete, that will no longer be the case. The same cannot be said of any gains the Board of Education are able to achieve in these negotiations. That is, if there are changes made to the amount of time the teachers spend on instruction or savings related to any changes in benefit offerings, those changes, unlike salary increases, cannot be made retroactively. In sum, the Board remains committed to its belief that the community demands a contract that is fair to the staff, but reflects an understanding of the economic situation of the school and the community, and gives due concern to the educational programs that make the school and our children the successes they are. We continue to look forward to bringing this process to a conclusion and are willing to meet at any time to continue negotiations.