Teachers Ratify, BOE Approves Contract
After 17 months of negotiations, an impasse, protests, mediation and fact finding, the two sides agree on a contract.
The Millburn Board of Education on Tuesday night approved the contract with the Millburn Education Association that the teachers ratified last week, so the 17 months of negotiations are over.
The teachers will receive a two percent raise to their payroll fund each year until 2014 and $1,750 per teacher for reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred when the BOE changed the medical benefits without negotiating, setting the parties up for a length impasse that involved mediation and a fact-finding session from the state.
“I’m relieved it’s finally over,” said Millburn Education Association President Lois Infanger said on Tuesday night. “I can spend time with my family again. And I can focus on my job – teaching.”
The agreement, which is similar but not exactly the same as the administrator’s contract, assures MEA that should the Board change the health benefits again, the new benefits will be “materially equal to” those in the effect at the time the change is made.
The one-time only reimbursement payment was ordered by the Public Employees Relations Commission after the teachers filed a complaint.
The two percent salary fund increase does not mean each teacher or employee gets a two percent increase – the increase is for the overall fund and gets divvied out in various amounts to teachers, Infanger said.
This is the first time negotiations took so long and included a state fact finder, Infanger said. "We may have gone until the beginning of school, but never this long," she said.
In fact, the stalemate went on so long that teachers are already one year into the three-year contract, which will be renegotiated in 2014.
Teachers also protested several times and toward the end, “worked to rule” of the contract – cutting out the extras that they typically do everyday.
When the Board or Ed approved the contract, the packed house of teachers and employees in their blue MEA shirts, applauded.
The agreement also:
- Includes a cap for an opt-out reimbursement. Instead of a percentage of the premium without a cap, it’s now a percentage of the premium up to a $5,000 cap.
- Transition MEA employees out of traditional health insurance and into the State Emplyees Health Benefits Plan, which includes lower co-pays than current ones.
- Provides for a 13th step in the salary guide, meaning that teachers will need to work one extra year before reaching the maximum salary level.
Board Member Mark Zucker, who has lead the negotiations committee for the board, was also relieved that the two sides came to an agreement.
“The process, as most of the public and all of the board members know, was fairly prolonged,” he said. “Reviewing the details of the past 16 to 18 months at this point is irrelevant.”
What is relevant, he said, is the fact that the teachers ratified the agreement and that the board approved Tuesday.
Board President Michael Birnberg said he is certain that no one is completely happy with the agreement but it was one “that everyone could live with.”
“Now is the time we come together and we move forward,” he said. “We move on and do what we do best and that is educating our kids and keeping this district No. 1 in the state.”