Little Egg Harbor Teachers, School Board Begin Contract Fact-Finding

Oct 24, 2018
Photo by: supplied Members of the Little Egg Harbor Teachers Education Association rally before a fact-finding session at the Frog Pond School.

On Oct. 15, before an initial salary contract fact-finding session, teachers and other certificated staff from the Little Egg Harbor Education Association held a rally outside the Frog Pond Elementary School,  joined by representatives of other schools. The staff has been working under an expired contract since June 30.

In a press release, the bargaining union states that contested issues include salary and benefits contributions from salary.

“Salaries have been frozen and with increasing health benefits premiums, teachers and school staff have seen their take-home pay decrease significantly.”

Meanwhile, the Little Egg Harbor Board of Education issued a statement saying that because of decreased state aid, the district must cut staff if the teachers union prevails.

“The board faces a significant loss of state funding in the next six years. Over that period, the state will cut approximately $2.2 million from the Little Egg Harbor budget. This amount represents approximately ten percent of the overall general fund.”

In the current year, about $243,000 in aid was cut under the governor’s new school funding act. The local board anticipates losing another $161,000 for the 2019-2020 school year.

“The board cannot agree to the proposals made by the association, which continues to both shift sole responsibility for the cost of health insurance to the board and disproportionably increase employee salaries.”

According to the board’s figures, teacher salaries at Little Egg Harbor rank first among seven “similarly-sized and economically equivalent districts” throughout the state. Three of the compared districts are in Gloucester County (termed the poorest county in New Jersey), one is in lower Cape May, and the other three – Berkeley, Eagleswood and Ocean Gate – are also in Ocean County.

Since the contract was frozen on June 30, the board says it has paid an additional $135,000 for health insurance increases.

The Oct. 15 fact-finding meeting was the first of a succession of meetings. The fact-finder is appointed by the Public Employee Relations Commission, and listens to both sides. Eventually the official will issue a non-binding report. The school board and the union then adopt the fact-finder’s recommendation, or agree on a different settlement, or continue bargaining.

If they do not reach a settlement, the next step is “super conciliation” under a different official, who may require 24-hour bargaining, amend the fact-finder’s report, or institute other non-binding procedures.

Nora Maloney, LEHEA president, explained that the rally was for members to demonstrate to the board’s negotiation team that they are united in their quest for a fair contract settlement.

“We have not let our frustration with our contract situation affect anything we do for our students,” she said. “We are still going above and beyond the call of duty each and every day. Our members are professionals who are committed to their students and profession. The board needs to respect that, and offer a settlement that not only reflects our expertise and dedication, but will attract the best new staff to our district as New Jersey faces a teacher shortage.”

The Board of Education also stated, “The board recognizes and appreciates its teachers. The board will continue to negotiate with its teachers in good faith to foster mutual and continuous respect.”

— Pat Johnson

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