The Bernards Township Education Association announced that faculty and staff will conduct two "Work to Contract" days this Tuesday and Wednesday, in which they will work only the hours and perform the duties required in a previous contract that expired last July.
The BTEA's announcement came after negotiators for the teachers' union and school district met last Tuesday with a state-appointed fact finder to try to work out the terms of a new contract to replace the three-year pact that expired at the end of the last school year. Another meeting with the state-fact finder now is scheduled for this Wednesday, Denise Graff, co-president of the BTEA, said on Monday morning.
Schools Superintendent Valerie Goger said late last Friday she would not comment on ongoing negotiations. School Board President Susan Carlsson was not available for comment on Sunday evening.
However, Carlsson said prior to with the fact-finder that "money" is the main issue of disagreement in contract talks.
While only two "Work to Contract" days now are scheduled, further "action" days "may be necessary to continue sending the message," Graff said in the announcement. The BTEA includes all teachers and other staff at the district's six schools.
Graff said last Tuesday's session with the state-appointed fact-finder, an attorney who may issue a recommended settlement for the contract, started at 8:30 a.m. and lasted until 4:30 p.m.
"During this session, proposals did go back and forth," Graff said in an email on Monday. "While there was movement, a settlement was not reached," resulting in the scheduling of one more meeting for this Wednesday, she said.
Graff said the BTEA was disappointed the meeting ended abruptly, as decided by the state labor fact-finder.
“Work to Contract” days entail that teachers and staff will work according to the hours, duties, and requirements specifically required in the previous contract with the Board of Education, according to the BTEA.
[Further information added] The action means that no extra-help sessions would be held before or after school, except at the William Annin Middle school, where the contract requires the staff designates an additional 15 minutes at the end of the school day, from 2:20 to 2:35 p.m., for supplemental instruction, Graff said in an additional email on Monday.
Students requiring extra help at Ridge High School should schedule time during the teacher's tutorial period, Graff said. Students at the four elementary buildings should seek additional support during the teacher's contracted hours for the school day, she said.
During the two “work to contract” days, faculty and staff are being requested by the BTEA to arrive and leave according to the contractually-mandated times. Coaches, directors, and before and after-care supervisors, at the elementary schools and William Annin, will still continue working according to their contractual requirements, the announcement said.
On this Tuesday and Wednesday, Nick Beykirch, a teacher at the William Annin Middle School said students are encouraged to meet with teachers during scheduled tutorial periods and regularly scheduled teacher-student contact hours. "Classes and the actual school day will be 'business as usual' as far as our students are concerned,” he said.
“Our teachers and staff frequently go above and beyond what the contract requires of them," Graff said in the announcement. "Many of them arrive well before their paid start time to set up their classes and labs, and you will find them conducting study sessions well into the evening hours to accommodate our students’ busy schedules. They plan lessons, grade essays, and update websites on holidays and weekends."
"We are professionals who are proud of our students and this community," Graff said in the announcement. "We wish the Board of Education would recognize that,” Graff said last week.
At the previous Board of Education meeting, held May 9, dozens of teachers filled the back of the auditorium at the , wearing red as a show of solidarity in a negotiations process that continued since before the end of the last school year.
Another Board of Education is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday night, tonight. That meeting is scheduled to be held at the office at 101 Peachtree Road.
Continued Red Fridays are planned throughout the rest of the school year or until a settlement is reached.
According to the association, approximately 150 members of the BTEA assembled outside the board office during last week's negotiating session. The 700-member union contends that the action is intended to send a message to the board regarding how teachers frequently work above and beyond their contractual requirements.
Current listed starting salaries for teachers in Bernards Township is $44,232, based upon the 2009-2010 contract, according to the BTEA announcement. That is lower than at surrounding districts in Somerset and Morris counties in similar socio-economic communities, the BTEA said. list starting salaries significantly higher. The Somerset Hills School District lists a 2010-2011 starting salary at $51,790, the BTEA said.
Bernards Township teachers, particularly younger staff, can make significantly more in other communities, such as Montgomery and Millburn, according to the BTEA. The lack of a settlement now places Bernards Township teachers at the lowest starting salary of nearby districts, according to Graff.
"How will this attract the best new teachers for our students?" Graff asked. "It’s time for the Board of Education to recognize the ‘value’ of their teachers, both fiscally and justly, and reach an agreement that upholds the educational standards and expectations of the Bernards Township community. The teachers are ready to defend their professionalism and contribution to this community.”
Sandra Somers, teacher at Liberty Corner School, said teachers also work during the summers getting ready for the school year. "They continuously volunteer their time on committees that support our students’ learning and lives," she said in the announcment.
"We want this to end as soon as possible so we can all do the things we normally do for the students," Beykirch said. "After all, that is why we are all professionals and more than that, we are teachers.”
Co-president, Lori Thompson also accused the Board of Education of "political grandstanding" by refusing to acknowledge the teachers' contributions, cuts already accepted and participating in "collaborative dialogue" at the table.
Carlsson has noted that teachers are in effect making 1.5 percent less than last year, since the state has imposed a requirement this year that teachers contribute that percentage toward the cost of their health benefits.
Linda Saalfield, teacher at Liberty Corner, said in the announcement that teachers are not seeking a "Cadillac" benefits package, but are seeking a "fair living" salary comparable to other districts with a similar situation and similar costs.
BTEA members, including Saalfield, said they have reached agreements that have continued to keep the township's cost-per-pupil low.