Stafford Township School Board Approves New Teacher, Support Staff Contract

May 23, 2018

Following a nearly two-year hiatus and a long, arduous negotiation process, the Stafford Township Board of Education on May 17 approved a new labor contract for Stafford Township Education Association members.

“I want to thank the board for listening,” said STEA President Nancy Altman, who briefly addressed the board after its vote. “We came to you and told you we needed Chapter 78 relief. You just ratified our contract with Chapter 78 relief and it will be greatly appreciated. It’s a fair contract to the members of the STEA and, more importantly, it’s a fair contract for the community of Stafford.”

Heading into the meeting, the five-school elementary district’s teachers and support staff had worked 686 school days without a new contract and had been working under the terms of their old contract, which expired June 30, 2016.

“We’re relieved the process is complete,” Altman said after the meeting. “It was harder than we thought it should be, but we’re satisfied with the outcome.”

During the April school board meeting, dozens of teachers and support personnel implored the board’s negotiators – long-term member and Vice President Richard Czajkowski and recently elected member Patricia Formica – to finalize contract details, particularly with regard to a salary increase and relief from the legislation commonly known as “Chapter 78” – a law signed into place by former Gov. Chris Christie in 2011, which allowed the phasing in of increased healthcare contribution rates for teacher union associates over the course of four years. The terms of Chapter 78 ended following Christie’s departure from office, and public school districts have the option to renegotiate those contribution terms.

Czajkowski, Formica and the 13-member STEA negotiations committee met the following Monday, April 23, alongside Board Attorney Ari D. Schneider and Business Administrator Dan Smith. That meeting ended with a memorandum of agreement just before 2 a.m. April 24.

“I’m glad this is over,” Czajkowski said after Thursday’s board meeting. “The past few months have been brutal. But now it’s done and we can move on.”

The new contract is a four-year deal, retroactive to July 1, 2016. The terms include a 2.5 percent increase in salary for the first year, retroactive to July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, and a 3 percent increase for the other three years, retroactive to July 1, 2017.

Also, STEA personnel who contributed to their health benefits each quarter during the current school year will receive a 20 percent reimbursement, and going forward they will receive a 20 percent quarterly reimbursement for 2018-19 and up to a 25 percent quarterly reimbursement – capped at $250,000 – for 2019-20. The contract terms end June 30, 2020.

During the meeting, four of the seven board members voted in favor of the contract while three abstained. Board President Mike Hemenway and member Deborah Lyons were not in attendance.

“It’s a fair settlement,” Altman said. “We got Chapter 78 relief for the current year and then for the next two years, so we’ll be getting back more of our take-home pay, at least in some way. And we’re OK with the 3 percent increase, which is the county average.”

Czajkowski said the big sticking point throughout negotiations was how to deal with Chapter 78, since the district is legally bound to increase its budget by a maximum of 2 percent each year.

“We had to maintain Chapter 78 in some way; otherwise it would have been a major financial disaster for the taxpayers of Stafford Township,” Czajkowski said. “We had to draw a line in the sand. We only had so much money to work with. We had no more room to move. If we had done anything else, it would have had a huge impact on the taxpayers.

“We relied a lot on Dan the night we finalized the agreement, and he did a fantastic job with the financial part of this. Fortunately, we were able to settle on the terms, and it won’t impact any of the educational programs for the students.”

Altman and Nadine Burgess, the STEA’s chief negotiator, say they will remain hopeful that the next contract negotiation process will be much easier.

“Ultimately, we got a fair deal, and we’re ending the school year on a positive note,” Burgess said. “We’re optimistic that the relationship between the STEA and the board will improve.”

— David Biggy

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