And so it was done. On Thursday, Sept. 18, a 7-0 vote of the Bayonne Board of Education officially ended a four-year impasse on a contract for the district’s teachers, approving a contract verbally agreed to by the board and the teachers’ union on Sept. 2.
The completed deal was for those four contract-less years as well as for the current school term.
In a battle royal that nearly raged into a fifth year, and arguably may have cost a sitting mayor his job, both sides walked away not pleased with what they had to concede, but were ultimately happy that a deal could be struck.
Earlier in the week, on Sept. 15, the members of the Bayonne Teachers’ Association voted
500 to 33 to accept the pact.
Board of Education President William Lawson said the first four years of the contract were not materially different from what previous mayor Mark Smith had offered during his time in office.
“The big issue was adding the fifth year,” Lawson said. “That’s where there was some modification, when we added steps.”
A state arbitrator had suggested around $8 million for the first four years of the contract, which is the area it ended up in, according to Lawson. The negotiations for the fifth year brought the entire contract to $10 and half million.
Lawson credited the participation of Mayor James Davis, encouraging the two sides to work out their differences in the same room, with ultimately getting the deal done.
“The new mayor was helpful in that he got actively involved,” Lawson said. “The success for the whole thing was really meeting face to face. That’s something we didn’t do for several years.”
Two factors that made the process harder were four years of underfunding by the state, and the sharp increase in students, both taking away dollars from the district’s budget.
“It was a double whammy, a cut in funding, which hurts us big time,” Lawson said, “and a large enrollment, 700 to 800 kids, almost a whole new school’s worth.”
At the end, money to finalize the contract came out of a fund with money set aside for construction costs to update district buildings, according to Lawson.
Since the new contract will expire at the end of the current school year, the two sides will be back at the bargaining table sometime after the new year starts, Lawson said.
One board member was absent for the vote, and one abstained.