The 2018-2019 budget allocates $50.5 million for teacher salaries, which amounts to 38.67 percent of its budget. The contract could be seen as a positive development for teachers, who haven’t had the security of knowing their salaries for the next three years.
Compensating younger teachers enough to retain them in the long-term has been a problem in Bayonne. Teachers’ unions abide by a 15-step salary guide that is agreed upon by the members, and it divvies up the chunk of money allocated for teachers based on years of experience – the higher the step, the higher the salary. Teachers with less experience inevitably make less than more experienced teachers. While it is important to attract and retain talent, the union also has a responsibility to compensate its more experienced teachers who have been promised raises for years without it becoming a reality.
“Teachers play a very integral role in the education of our children, and we have to show them some respect by at least giving them a decent raise,” said Trustee Ava Finnerty, who was a teacher at the Bayonne school district for 40 years. “This is a decent raise. Do they deserve a lot more? Beyond belief they deserve a lot more.” She continued, “My only regret is that I wish it was more.”
“We have not had a contract of this length in years,” said Trustee Maria Valado.“We, a fully elected board, are telling our teachers that we appreciate the work they do in the classrooms, and they deserve to feel safe and stable when they come to work in September and that they have three full years of a contract.”
Trustee Michael Alonso was asked to remove the “Make America Great Again” caphe wore to the meeting because it violates the dress code. He was the lone “no” vote on the board.
“Not only is this contract unacceptable, unworkable, but it’s definitely unaffordable,” he said.“It neither meets the needs of the taxpayer or the students.Nor does it help the school system,” implying that not enough money was allocated to teachers at the bottom of the pay scale.
“They could have afforded to spend more money without a doubt.” – Alan D’Angelo
“Unfortunately, we deal with board members, especially Alonso, who doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said BTA President Alan D’Angelo. “If he wanted to put more money for the younger teachers, then give me the money and we’ll put it there.”
What really hits younger teachers is the 13.2 percent increase in the cost of the state healthcare plan, which effectively negates many younger teachers’ retroactive payments.
“Many of my teachers will make less money in September than they made this year because their medical insurance has gone up $1,100 or $1,200 and they didn’t get that much of a raise,” D’Angelo said.
“Especially in steps 1-10 are the lowest paid teachers in Hudson County and this contract goes to addressing that,” said Trustee Christopher Munoz.
D’Angelo maintains that the district could have afforded to pay teachers more, and takes offense at the notion that younger teachers are getting the shaft and that older teachers do not deserve their raises.
“They could have afforded to spend more money without a doubt,” D’Angelo said. “Look, they have a $130 million budget. All I needed was another $600,000, and I could have done better.But their position is that we’d rather spend it somewhere else.”
That “somewhere else” includes increased spending on school security; curriculum updates to math and science programs; upgrading of aging facilities (the average building is 83 years old); a growing student population; and a low reserve of funds from last year’s fiscal mistakes. A breakdown of the district’s expenditures and increased costs over time are available on its website: bboed.org.
Trustee Mary Jane Desmond abruptly resigned from the board to allow heryoung cousin to apply for a full-time teaching position. Desmond’s position on the board would be a conflict of interest. Desmond, who is one of 11 children, has many family members in Bayonne. The school district is, by far, the largest employer in Bayonne, and conflicts of interest in that field are inevitable in a city of 65,000. Her cousin has worked in part-time positions at the district over the last six years while studying to become a full-time teacher.
A letter will be sent to the public to solicit resumes, after which, the board will conduct interviews and appoint a replacement within 60 days. That replacement will serve as trustee until the next election in 2019.
“I stepped down to get out of the way,” said Desmond, who was a city council member from 1998 to 2002, and was elected to a three-year term at the BBOED in 2016.
“She is an accomplished person, and she deserves to have life on her terms, too,” Desmond said of her cousin who’s applying for the teaching position.
Desmond said she’s eligible to run for the school board again in November, regardless of whether or not her cousin is hired by the district. But she can’t sit on the board during the contract process.
“I am honored and grateful for all of these opportunities. I believe I served honestly and fairly, and I like to think that I was instrumental in steadying this ship financially,” she said at the meeting, holding back tears.
Speaking to her colleagues, past and present, Desmond urged cooperationover ideological differences.
“We worked through some tough times together,” she said.“We agreed, and we disagreed throughout. But regardless of individual opinions, we ultimately shared the same goals and values and only wanted to do what is best for every student, every teacher, every taxpayer, every parent. And I believe through the process, we gained a deeper respect for one another, and I thank you.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.