Teachers Union Addresses Expired Contract in Little Egg Harbor

Sep 19, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson AWAITING ACTION: Little Egg Harbor Township Education Association President Nora Maloney appeals to the school board to approve a new contract soon.

Teachers and other certificated staff in the Little Egg Harbor School District have begun the school year under an expired contract. After bargaining and going through mediation with a state-appointed mediator, Little Egg Harbor Township Education Association and the board of education will have their first fact-finding session, scheduled for Oct. 15.

Nora Maloney, president of the LEHTEA, addressed Superintendent Melissa McCooley and the board of education during the Sept. 17 regular meeting.

“It’s back to school time and believe me, it’s not easy coming back when you have an expired contract,” Maloney read from a prepared speech. “But, you see, we made a conscious effort to not let this contract situation interfere with our students. As a matter of fact, I’ve had several parents mention to me that they had no idea we were working without a contract because we continue to go above and beyond the call of duty.”

The teachers’ last contract expired in July, and the board and the LEHTEA have not come to agreement on salary and benefits contributions. Salaries have been frozen, and with increasing health benefits premiums, teachers and school staff have seen their take-home pay decrease significantly, said the union representatives.

Now a fact-finder appointed by the Public Employee Relations Commission will listen to both sides and issue a non-binding report. The board and the association can adopt the fact-finder’s recommendation, agree on a different settlement or continue bargaining. If they do not reach a settlement, the next step is super conciliation. The super conciliator may require 24-hour bargaining, amend the fact-finder’s report or institute other non-binding procedures.

“This school year brought many changes, and our teachers did everything in their power to make the arrival and dismissal of students run smoothly,” read Maloney. “The teachers were flexible and receptive to revisions in procedures. They stayed well past the end of the school day to ensure the safety of our students. I want the board to know that. And show our members some respect by offering a contract that actually restores their salaries, and will help attract and retain the best teachers for our students.”

Maloney reminded the board and the public that teachers are dedicated individuals who spend much more time on their students and classrooms than the time just leading their classes.

“You’ll see them here before school starts and you’ll see them here long after the children have gone home for the day. And if you peeked in their homes at night and on weekends, you’d see them grading papers, preparing lessons and studying ways to help their students.

“Look, when it comes right down to it, we are on the same side – the side of the children. Let’s enter our fact-finding session with the spirit of optimism. Let’s vow to work together to secure the future of our schools. Let’s do it for the sake of the children.”

Architectural Consultants
Give Facility Evaluation

The board heard from Spiezle Architects on the shape the facilities are in and its recommendations for approximately $7.2 million in priority improvements, $1.2 million in secondary improvements and $2.4 million in aesthetic improvements.

First on the list of priority changes to the George J. Mitchell and Frog Pond schools are health, safety and code violations: replacing all the interior door glass that contains a wire code violation and upgrades to security door hardware to make doors safe against intruders.

The sidewalk to the front door at the Frog Pond School is not graded to Americans with Disabilities Act specifications, and some of the interior doors in the Mitchell School are not wide enough for a wheelchair. The metal roofs on the gymnasiums at both Mitchell and Frog Pond need replacing. Drainage is a problem between the administration building and the Frog Pond School (this has already been fixed with French drains) and from the boys restroom. All-new windows are required in the Frog Pond School, and new windows in the 1976 addition in the Mitchell School. New LED lights and a “Building Management System” are required in both schools, according to Spiezle. Both cafeteria kitchens need new refrigerators.

The Robert Wood Early Childhood Center also needs a “Building Management System,” LED lights and minor interior and exterior repairs.

The Community School, held in two trailers, needs steps and ramps upgraded and extra doors installed. The Administration Building also needs to be included in the Building Management System and needs some ADA upgrades.

Now how to pay for all of this? The priority items could be phased in over three or five years and paid through capital projects in the district budget, or the school could bundle items into a lease financed over five years. The energy projects totaling $700,000 (Building Management Systems and LED lighting) could be paid for through an “Energy Savings Improvement Program,” and financed over 15 years.

Rather than do things piecemeal, the district could go out for referendum and have 40 percent of the costs paid for by the state if voters approve it, said Steve Spiezel of Spiezel Architects.

McCooley thanked the architects for their presentations.

In her monthly report to the board, McCooley said the start of the school year was exciting, but there were a few hitches around the busing schedules now that the Mitchell (K-3) and Frog Pond (4-7) schools have been restructured by grades. “Some students were not knowing if their parents were picking them up or if they were going to after-care or going on the bus. It’s very important that we know this by 2 p.m. every day so we don’t have a child loaded on the bus and then a parent comes (to get their child) and holds up all our buses – and we have 35.”

She also mentioned that although the school day ends at 3:05 p.m., it takes time for young children to walk to the buses, and the buses only leave the school around 3:15 p.m. and there is always traffic. So if the children seem to be late getting home, it’s a function of the situation and the distance of the bus run: The last run discharges its students at 4:11 p.m.

She also thanked the Little Egg Harbor Police resource officers and Chief Richard Buzby for the extra help they provide at bus dismissal at Route 539 and Ninth Avenue.

John Acampora, director of curriculum and instruction, read the results of the 2017 PARCC testing. Overall, the students in both Mitchell and Frog Pond (when they were both K-6 schools) were close to 50 percent proficient in math and English Language skills. The grades and subgroups were broken down so that each teacher could see what to focus on in their classrooms.

Business Administrator Nick Brown said there are more requests being made of the school buildings now that Pinelands Regional High School is closed and that official requests must be made through the superintendent’s office.

The board and administration gave certificates of thanks to Cheryl Kerns and Aleta’s Angels for 30 filled backpacks, and other school supplies totaling $1,000; the Women’s Club by the Bay for school supplies; Keller Williams Preferred Properties for backpacks; and AtlantiCare Manahawkin for 24 backpacks and supplies. Erica Albright was also thanked for her beautification of the George J. Mitchell School by painting murals of indigenous animals on the building over the summer.

— Pat Johnson

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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