Wednesday, January 28, 2009

SPEAKING ON YOUR BEHALF: The Roxbury Teacher Contract

"The dissenter is every human being at those moments of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself".

....Archibald Macleish 1892-1982 American Poet

The Roxbury Board of Education approved a 4 year teacher contract by an 8-1 vote during this past Monday's Board of Education meeting. I was the only school board member to cast a vote against this egregious settlement. The Daily Record characterized me as "the lone dissenter" but judging from the great number of public comments posted on the Daily Record and Star-Ledger's websites about this settlement, I am far from alone.

Click on the links to read full articles with comments.

New 4-year deal raises Roxbury teacher pay a total of about 20%
District to see savings on benefits in contract

By Matt Manochio • Daily Record • January 28, 2009
Read Comments

ROXBURY-- Teachers in Roxbury will see their salaries rise by close to 20 percent over the next few years under a contract approved this week by the school board.

The four-year contract calls for a retroactive 4.3 percent raise for the last school year, 4.7 percent for the current school year and 4.7 percent in each of the next two school years.
School board members approved the contract Monday with an 8-1 vote.

Board member Maureen Castriotta was the lone dissenter, saying she felt the deal wouldn't improve student achievement, and that it wasn't fiscally responsible to the taxpayers given the downturn to the economy.

Board Vice President John Moschella on Tuesday said the 4.7 percent figure isn't per teacher, rather it's an overall figure percentage of dollars. Actual percent raises vary depending on where a teacher falls on the 17-step salary guide.

"We gave a 4.7 overall, but we took money from the top steps of the guide and earmarked it from the bottom," he said.
He said the district was able to settle upon the percentages because the Roxbury Education Association agreed to enroll in a cheaper "Direct Access Plan" benefits program operated by the state.

Moschella said the district stands to save $300,000 over a 12-month period during the first two school years in the contract.
He said the health coverage in the new plan resembles what teachers had in their former one. As it stands teachers don't pay into their health benefits, but have co-pays for doctor visits.
The previous contract with the Roxbury Education Association expired in June 2007. This new contract covers four school years, beginning retroactively in July 1, 2007, and concluding on June 30, 2011.

The association represents about 450 school employees, including teachers, secretaries and paraprofessionals.
The new base salary for teachers is $40,417, which is a $917 boost from the former base of $39,500.
The salary guide for all employees gets a retroactive 4.3 percent increase for the 2007-08 school year. Raises of 4.7 percent began on July 1, 2008, and will increase by the same percentage on July 1 of both 2009 and 2010.

"Roxbury will no longer have one of the lowest starting salaries in Morris County," board member Pat Miller told the audience of more than 100 people, most of them teachers, at Monday night's meeting.

The board also unanimously approved a three-year contract for cafeteria workers, which runs from July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2011. New hire hourly rates are $10.65 for general workers, $17.25 for elementary school cooks/managers, $18.25 for middle school cook/managers, and $19.25 for high school cook/managers.

Cafeteria salaries see a 4.25 percent increase this school year, a 4 percent increase next year, and a 3.75 percent increase during the final school year of the contract.

and the following by Fred Snowflack from the Daily Record opinion page:

Teacher wage increases recession-proof
January 28, 2009
Read Comments

On Monday, Pfizer said it would buy Wyeth for $68 billion, a transaction that could result in cutting 20,000 jobs worldwide. That same day, such well-known firms as Caterpillar and Home Depot also announced plans to layoff thousands.

On Monday night, the Roxbury school board approved a contract that would give teachers 4.7 percent raises annually in each of the next three years. The teachers also will get a retroactive 4.3 percent increase for the 2007-08 school year. No matter what happens in the real world, nothing changes in the insular world of teacher contracts in New Jersey.

The contract was approved with one dissenting vote.
That came from Maureen Castriotta, a member of the negotiations committee.
She said the board had blown a great chance to truly serve the community by trying to bring about smaller increases in these troubled times. She said many of her constituents were upset with the contract.

In response, board member Greg Somjen said there always will be critics and that the board is in the business of education. Then, Somjen suggested that those who disagree with the board's approach can try to find another place to live.

That was a pretty snotty line, but it did raise a point Somjen may not have known he was raising. And that is, unless you move to perhaps Kansas, you're not going to avoid these salary increases.

You see, there is nothing unique in New Jersey about teachers getting raises of more than 4 percent a year. That is the problem. And it's one that can't be solved by moving somewhere else in New Jersey.

What is needed is an overhaul of how teacher negotiations are conducted.
As of now, teachers are bound to get the county's average salary increase. That average in Morris County is about 4.5 percent a year.
Say, a school district offers an increase of 2 percent a year. The teachers' union would say "no way," and if there is no movement, one moves to "fact-finding." In the end, the increase is going to be at, or around, the county average.

Change can only come about if a district is courageous enough to challenge the system. Let a district refuse to budge from its 2 percent offer and let the negotiating process in all its steps be carried out. And when the district inevitably loses, let it go to court and challenge the system.

That's the only way to bring about a negotiating session that considers such external factors as the general economy and the state's high property taxes.
Some school district officials understand this, but they lack the will, or the vision, or is it guts, to take a stand. That's a shame.

The alternative is the status quo.

Some may wonder if the state Legislature could change the system. Of course it can.
But that's unlikely. The clout of the New Jersey Education Association is substantial. Its pattern is to support virtually every incumbent legislator regardless of party. It's funny, unions are thought to be liberal, but the NJEA is anything but that. It loves the status quo.

And so would you if you were getting raises approaching 5 percent a year in what has been called the worst economic times since the Depression.
Fred Snowflack is editorial page editor of the Daily Record.

No comments: