Alan D’Angelo, president of the Bayonne Teachers Association, which is in the midst of contract negotiations with the Bayonne District, said he believes the move was intended to send a message to tenured teachers.
Teachers and the district are in their third year without a contract and are too far apart to predict a settlement quickly.
School Business Administrator Leo Smith said the issue has to do with possible federal cutbacks due to sequestration, which requires automatic spending cuts on a federal level.
He said teachers who had been used as educational coaches on the elementary-school level are being put back into classrooms, and pushing out untenured teachers. This factor is combined with the return of about 12 teachers from maternity leave.
“We are required by law to save their spots,” Smith said. “If there is a change in the federal funding issue, then we may hire some of the untenured teachers back. They would have first choice of refusal.”
At the same time as these notices are going out, the school district is hiring high-school certified math and English teachers for use in elementary schools.
“Only one of our schools met the college-ready standards on the last state school report cards,” Smith said. “We are mandated by the state to hire these teachers.”
The district currently has about 1,300 employees, of which about 772 are teachers. Currently, about 750 teachers and secretaries are negotiating contracts with the district, which has resulted in a number of heated debates at public forums.
Some teachers had claimed the district has used intimidation tactics to get them to settle on what D’Angelo calls a “bad contract” offer, and that the pink slips come at a time of heightened tensions.
“Many young people in their early 20s don’t understand the politics.” – Alan D’Angelo
School officials flatly deny that there has been any intimidation of teachers, and that the dispute over the contract is simply due to lost state aid.
While some teachers had called the pink slips last week a layoff, Smith said they were not.
“This is redeployment, not a layoff,” Smith said.
Because of the movement of teachers from one-to-one educational coaching programs back into the classrooms, untenured teachers who are in the classrooms now are being given notice.
“The coaches were very successful, but with the possible federal sequestration, they are a luxury we cannot afford,” Smith said. “If things change by September, we may bring some of these teachers back, but we’re not sure about the coaching program.”
The pink slips went to teachers in elementary schools. But the federal cuts would be to the Title I program that supports coaching and tutoring, Smith said.
“These teachers are coaches we will be moving back into the classroom and that means the teachers in the classrooms that do not have tenure are not needed,” he said.
Smith said the district anticipates a $1.1 million cut in Title I funding that affects teachers from Kindergarten to fifth grade—though the cut is not set in stone.
Teachers being hired for math and English would have to be high-school certified and would be assigned to eighth-grade level classes in order to meet the state’s college-ready standards. As of the last report card issued by the state, of the 11 Bayonne elementary schools, only one—the Nicholas Oresko School—met that standard and so requires the hiring of math and English teachers on that level.
D’Angelo said he believes the school’s issuing of non-renewal notices to the non-tenured teachers was timed to affect the negotiations, sending a message to tenured teachers as to what could happen if a contract is not worked out.
“The school district continues to blame the economy,” D’Angelo said. “They tell us that the cut in state aid is why they can’t settle with the teachers, and now they’re saying it’s cuts in federal Title I funding that caused them to send out these notices. I believe this was done to upset some of our younger teachers.”
While he believes some teachers who received the non-renewal slips will not be retained, he believes most will be rehired by September.
“They did this to get teachers to call the union,” D’Angelo said. “Many young people in their early 20s don’t understand the politics.”
D’Angelo said it is an issue of priorities, and it is the union’s position that providing the teachers with an acceptable contract should be at the top of the school board’s priorities.
“Nothing on the table is even close to acceptable,” he said. “We are that far apart, and we’re asking for the lowest increases in 25 years.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.