Teachers marched around City Hall on Oct. 18 to send a message to Mayor Mark Smith that they are unhappy with the Board of Education and the lack of movement on the contract.
Alan D’Angelo, president of the Bayonne Teachers’ Association, is negotiating on behalf of 750 teachers and 50 secretaries in the Bayonne school district,
D’Angelo said the district offered a zero-percent increase the first year, and a freeze the second year for teachers at the top of the salary guide. At the same time, he said, the school district awarded a two-percent increase to some of the top-earning administrators, which has teachers crying foul.
School officials responded last week, saying that the overall costs of teachers’ demands exceeds $22 million over the four years covered by the contract.
“We did everything we could to settle this contract,” said Board President Will Lawson. “Back in October of 2012 we made a final offer which would cost $7.7 million over four years. We had to raise taxes to pay for this final proposal. We are not going to raise taxes any higher or spend money we don’t have. Alan D’Angelo’s comment that the Board has refused to meet with the BTA since November 2012 is absolutely wrong.”
School officials said that on February 7, 2013, a state-appointed mediator conducted a mediation session with the BTA and the Board’s negotiations team at the Board offices. At that meeting the BTA advised the Board that it wanted to go to fact finding. A fact finder was appointed by the state and that fact finder conducted a negotiation session with the BTA and the Board on April 24, 2013, at the Board offices. At the conclusion of that session, the fact finder advised the parties that he was going to conduct a formal hearing at which he would review all the information the BTA and the Board had regarding the negotiations and would then issue a formal report. The fact-finder hearing, attended by representatives of the Board and the BTA, was held on July 22, 2013. Briefs summarizing the parties’ respective positions were filed with the fact finder on July 30, 2013.
At issue are several factors concerning salary increases. Teachers receive an increase in salary currently over 15 years or steps as they are called. The step guide is currently at 15, and the district says it wants to expand it to 17. This, according to school officials, would prevent the district from laying off teachers. By accepting the guide, teachers agree to get lower salaries for the early part of their careers, and then get rewarded later. The point at which their salaries more dramatically increase is called “the bubble” and arrives around year 12. By adding two steps, the school district reduces some of the impact of these increases, so a teacher may see half the raise he or she might have received under the existing guide in that year. The problem for teachers is that raises are cumulative, so that they lose a significant amount of money under the proposal, although the two sides dispute that.
School officials, however, said that the step guide was never written in stone and that it was proposed at a time prior to massive cuts in state aid to Bayonne. Combined with the collapse in the national economy in 2008, the loss of state aid required the district to cut back and rethink things that were forged during a more robust economic climate.
Now the parties are waiting for the Fact Finder’s Report. As soon as it is received, representatives of the Board and the BTA must meet within 10 days.
“We are expecting the Fact Finder’s Report any day,” Lawson said.
In a written report to the state’s fact finder, the school district said that in the first year of the proposed contact, the district lost $8.4 million in funding, but did not lay off any teachers.
“For the Bayonne Board of Education, the economic circumstances surrounding this year’s negotiation marathon can only be compared to the perfect storm,” the report said. “While funding declined cumulatively by $23 million, enrollment increased by 312 students, requiring the board to increase its teaching staff by 49 certified staff members.”
At the same time, the board had estimated a reduction in teachers’ salaries due to retirements and other factors by $3 million. This did not happen, school officials said.
The Board also concluded that taxpayers could not afford the increase that would be required to meet the teachers’ demand.
The Board said that a 7.86 percent increase to teachers over four years was a fair contract offer.
“The first three years of a new agreement are past,” the report said. “We can’t go back to those budgets looking for money to increase the board’s proposal. The only money available for settlement is in the 2013-2014 budget. The surplus is limited. The BOE has made it clear it is not going to spend what it doesn’t have. The board has done the right thing by not laying off teachers which has dramatically limited what we can do in negotiations.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.