The Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District Board of Education and the teachers union are looking to resolve two issues before the contract can be finalized, both parties said this week.
The contract was ratified by the union Dec. 11 and the board Dec. 12, ostensibly settling more than two years of sometimes contentious negotiations. However, according to a press release issued by the union Jan. 7, the board has since notified the union that it was not going to sign off on the contract, saying the starting salaries on the support staff guides are "too high."
The other issue under contention is that the board wants to extend the teachers work year from 184 to 185 days, while the union argues that if the board wants the extra day it has to pay for it.
The contract, if finalized, runs July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2020 and gives union members salary increases ranging from 1.75 percent to 3.96 percent with retroactive payments to be made to current employees and those who have retired since the previous contract expired.
Representatives from both sides met Thursday, Jan. 5 in an attempt to resolve their differences.
Joseph Betley, labor counsel for the school board, said in a phone interview Monday, Jan. 9 that both sides are trying to resolve the issues so that a new contract can go into effect.
“There are some glitches and clarifications we are seeking to get,” Betley said. “I can confirm we are trying to work through them with the help of the conciliator. We made some progress on the salary guide issue, but we are still at a good-faith disagreement about the issue of the school calendar.”
Betley sent a letter to state-appointed super conciliator Martin Scheinman, based in New York, to request a meeting, but a meeting date has yet to be set, both sides said.
“There is no time period for super conciliation,” Betley said. “It could go on indefinitely. We cannot impose a contract. We just have to keep on working and trying to get this contract resolved.”
He said he hopes the hostility stops.
Stephanie Tarr, president of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association, the union representing the 435 teachers and support staff at the district's three high schools – Absegami in Galloway, Cedar Creek in Egg Harbor City and Oakcrest in Hamilton Township – said in the statement that while the union ratified the terms of the contract including the salary guides, the school board only ratified the memo of understanding, without any salary guides.
The dispute underscores the vote of no confidence the union took against Schools Superintendent John Keenan during stalled contract negotiations in October, she said.
"He had a chance here to help rebuild his relationship with the staff and basically blew it," she said.
Myron Plotkin, the NJEA representative for the union, said in the union's press release that while the fact finder recommended adding a day to the school year for teachers, if the day is added teachers should get paid for it.
“The board wants the time for no money. During super conciliation, an agreement was reached that afterschool meetings for teachers would be extended, but for that time no additional work day would be added. The board is now demanding the extra day be added. That simply will not happen,” Plotkin said.
“Negotiations are over, the teachers and staff want to put all of this behind them and get back to work.”
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