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School Board, Teachers Union Clash at Meeting

Teachers fill the school board meeting room asking for fair and respectful negotiations after filing paperwork saying there was an impasse.

A large group of teachers filled Monday's Millburn Board of Education meeting seeking fair and respectful negotiations after the Millburn Education Association filed paperwork with the state saying there was an impasse.

The board has had one formal and one informal negotiating session with the teachers union, according to Mark Zucker, the board negotiations committee chairman. The teachers union presented its first proposal, which he said was "unrealistic" under current economic conditions. The board's negotiating team felt it was not proper to continue negotiating that night and would find a future date for another session, he said.

In his report, Zucker said he and board Vice President Jeff Waters met informally with union leadership last week and felt there was progress.

Scott Kamber, a board member, questioned about an impasse, which is when Zucker said there was paperwork filed at the state level about an impasse and "unfair labor practices." The union was under the impression the board walked away with no intent to come back, he said, but that was not the case.

Kamber further asked Zucker about what the teachers had proposed, and he said the teachers had asked for a 3 percent increase not including the step increases. It means the salary increase would be 5.2 percent. The board had proposed a 1 percent increase including the step increase, he said, and other area districts are settling on 1.5-1.8 percent increases.

"With a 2 percent cap (on taxes) and a more than 10 percent increase in health care, the math does not work out," he said, also saying the opening proposal from the union was shocking.

Additionally, Zucker said, the union asked if school officials could ask for waivers from state officials to exceed the state-mandated cap on a tax increase of 2 percent. It hadn't been considered "because I don't think the public would accept (the waivers," he said. "We would need to argue all (of the extra tax increase) would go directly to the students."

Lois Infanger, the MEA president and the only teacher to speak Monday night, said the opening proposal "was exactly that."

The union's team was optimistic headed into negotiations because board members had "vowed to the community that they would be respectful during negotiations and not create a hostile environment."

"They admonished our team and refused to schedule any future meetings," she said. "The board's team didn't even allow us the opportunity to discuss any of the issues. They didn't even take the time to see if we agreed on anything. This kind of behavior reminds me of a child who doesn't like the playground game, so he takes his toys and goes home."

The teachers work in Millburn and many live in town and send their children to the district, she said. "The truth is we are also taxpayers," she said. "And just like the rest of you, we have taken a financial hit this year. We spend our own money on our school supplies. We are trying to do more with less."

Infanger said the union offered to join the state insurance plan three years ago, which would have saved $2.4 million in insurance premiums. But Zucker, who headed the negotiations team then too, disagreed, saying the union was against entering the state plan. There were 111 people in the traditional plan who would not go over to the POS plan, he said, so it was unlikely they all would go into the state plan.

The union wants to return to the negotiating table, Infanger said. "We can become entrenched in negativity and hostility or we can get back on track toward respect and collaboration," she said.

Zucker said Infanger was mischaracterizing the negotiations. The union had heard for six months the financial issues facing the district, he said, and asking for an increase is inappropriate. Further negotiations could not happen that night, he said, but they wanted to continue to do so in the future.

Waters asked Infanger if the union knew about the filing when they were sitting with him and Zucker a week ago, before the district received it. She said yes. "Actions have reactions," she said.

Kamber said what is happening with negotiations is different than what has happened in previous years, which have been a cooperative relationship between the union, administration and the board. He's now concerned where they are after one week of negotiations and that everyone is being used as "pawns of other games." He wants to reach an agreement that is fair and sustainable.

He wants to see the contract settled before the proposed 2011-12 budget goes to the taxpayers because it will be harder to ask for a tax increase without it. "What we think you deserve is much different than what we can afford," he said.

M.Moore March 02, 2011 at 11:56 PM
Rather than just blame the governor, you may want to consider the Education Law Center and their lawsuit against the state. The Abbott districts get most of the education tax dollars in this state and even now the ELC is suing the state over the cuts last year. Yes, teachers do accept a greater degree of job security for lower pay. I am an RN and I made the same trade-off years ago. But they can't have it both ways - job security and pay increases, not any more, or at the very least not right now.
MOMSH March 03, 2011 at 01:47 AM
Plus, let's not forget that in addition to job security that comes with tenure, teachers also get a nice vacation policy to boot with the summers off and more vacation and holidays than most. I'm not trying to bash the teachers in any way. I'm simply saying that in this bad economy, unfortunately, everyone suffers - from the bankers in this neighborhood who lost their jobs or whose income was cut in half, to the nannies who supported former dual income households now faced with layoffs, to the shop owners in Millburn who's sales have declined and who went out of business. I guess I believe that this is the way our capitalist economy works and teachers are not immune to this. Truth be told, I do believe teachers deserve to be paid at a higher level across the board. I think this is an incredibly undervalued profession. But, fact is, we got significant cuts from Trenton, have a 2% tax increase cap, and have to make ends meet. I just don't see how we do that without some sacrifice from our teachers. I don't call a 5.2% increase a logical starting point for the union given this backdrop. I also think it was more than generous of our BOE to use a 2% raise as a starting point. Finally, what about benefits negotiations? that seems to be the largest area of possible savings?
curbside mom March 03, 2011 at 02:28 PM
@mommakiddies. I think you are making my point. I swiped at Anne because, while less overt than others, her comments still seemed to be slamming our teachers. I understand the need for many to have a dual income household. Guessing that about 80% or more of our teachers are female, don't you think they too come from dual income families? If I sent a dig at anyone making a living...what have the majority of these comments been doing? Are MSH dual income households that require care-givers the only ones in the state? Of course not. To live in many towns in NJ you need dual incomes. That was my point earlier when I said that based on the (needed) reforms in healthcare benefit contributions and the caps that are now in place, the teachers will be seeing a loss of spendable income. Some on here have called for their firing, reductions in salaries and have said they should feel priviledged to teach our children. That priviledge won't pay for their mortage or their "nannies". As I also said, our BOE should understand the current climate and negotiate accordingly. Does it do us any good to be making these snarky comments about them as the negotiations are just starting?
jill March 03, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Let's have a bit of historical perspective here. From the NJ school report card, average salary in for faculty in the 2002-2003 year was $54,311. In this 2009-2010 school year it is now $79,142. This is a 46% increase over seven years! And, I don't think this even includes benefits. It also does not include any supplemental income that our teachers get from tutoring during the school year or any income they have from work they do over the 3 month summer off. How many people in the private sector have gotten a 46% increase in salary in the last 7 years? According to government statistics, US median household income has only increased by 15% from 2002 to 2009. So, our teachers have received an increase over 3 times the national average. I am not posting these statistics to say that are teachers are overpaid, or that they are any less than very well qualified professionals. However, we need to dispel this image that they are not being treated fairly, or that they have not been taken care of in the past. We have dramatically increased their pay over the last decade, all of which comes from Millburn taxpayers. The demand for a further 5% increase in these economic times on top of large benefit cost increases just smacks of a lot chutzpa. The BOE needs to recognize this and hold firm. Any less would be a betrayal of the town and the voters.
Anne March 03, 2011 at 05:37 PM
@curbside, I am not going to get into a tint for tant with you but you totally miss read my comments. I am a dual hard working family. (hence the need for childcare). I have seen many of my colleagues get laid off. We are all trying to work for the common goal here and I am not blaming the teachers for the reason we are where we are now. But going forward, we need to realize that asking for >5 % in addition to a 0% contribution to healthcare premiums is over. As is mine and my husbands bonuses. Remember, we have a cap here and if you demand too much, there will be greater layoffs. You can't get away from it.
MOMSH March 03, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Thank you Jill for posting these facts! Very enlightening and well done! You should share these via email to our BOE members as it provides a solid rationale for holding firm. Holding firm (at a BOE proposed 2% raise) does not mean we don't care about or value our teachers. I think people mis-interpret. Rather, it simply means that with a 2% cap on tax increases, we have no other way to make ends meet. We must touch the teachers' salary and benefits in order to make this work. That will come in the form of either a lower raise (2% vs. 5%), or teachers being layed off and larger class sizes, in addition to benefits contribution more in line with national averages.
MOMSH March 03, 2011 at 05:46 PM
So - from a town/parent perspective, isn't better to institute a lower raise than lay off teachers? I guess I just don't understand how the teachers' union would propose that we balance the budget with a 5% raise? Don't they realize that teachers will get let go? Or, perhaps their benefit plan will require a significantly higher contribution... either way, is this really a "win" for them? Where exactly do they propose getting the needed funds to implement a 5% raise?
MOMSH March 03, 2011 at 05:50 PM
@Anne, my advice is to just not respond to curbside mom. She just seems to want a fight for some reason, takes exception to almost everyone's comments, and miss reads most things.
M.Moore March 03, 2011 at 05:58 PM
I think it's also important to remember that for most of us who work in the private sector, the yearly health care cost increase is directly passed on to us in the form of higher payroll deductions. If the salary increase doesn't match the health care increase, then we can see a net decrease in take-home pay. The yearly increase in health care costs that the district sees is covered entirely by our tax dollars, none of it is passed on to the teachers. The union needs to be reasonable and talking about paying for schools supplies, test scores, rankings and all that doesn't change the facts. The facts are as MOMSH says, lower raises and benefit changes or more teachers lose their jobs with all that that entails. I'll say it again - the union does not care about its younger members, it seeks only to maximize the salary and benefits of those members relatively safe from layoffs because of their seniority. It will let younger teachers be laid off rather than give away too much. We've seen this recently in Camden and Newark with respect to police layoffs. I am not someone who posts here disparaging teachers. I have always supported the teachers and the budget, but this is too much and I think the union has gone too far this time and they should be called out on it.
Anne March 03, 2011 at 06:27 PM
what you also need to remember is that teachers do get an increase of about 2.2% when they go up a level.
MadInNJ March 03, 2011 at 06:32 PM
That's why the union asked for "only" 3%, but it was exclusive of the 2.2% step increase. Both are too high in this environment and considering the 2% cap.
curbside mom March 03, 2011 at 06:49 PM
I really dislike being the defender of the teachers and to be very clear I'm in no way affiliated with them, but before you e-mail these facts to the BOE perhaps you may take pause to look at the data first. I've attached a link from NJ.com dated October of 2004. http://www.nj.com/education/ledger/index.ssf?/specialprojects/teachers/teacheressex_1003.html For those not inclined to click the link, it states that in the 3 years leading up to 2003, over 100 new teachers were hired due to enrollment and retirements. In 2003 alone 76 were hired. Unfortunately Jill referenced the MEAN but stated the figures were the AVERAGE. With this many new hires in the the couple of years leading to and including 2003, of course the mean would be lower. Most were probably hired at the starting salary or close to it. With cuts to lower paid aides the past year(taking them out of the base), and not as many new hires, of course the mean would increase in 7 years. This would mean a compounded increase every year of almost 6%. We have not seen that when they announce the contract settlements.
Marty Wilson March 03, 2011 at 06:54 PM
MomSH, they want the raise and they want the junior unionmembers to get fired. it is the union way. look at the newark and camden police situation - they laid off many rather than have any take a paycut. the laid off get to go on public unemployment and the union figures that when they get a Democrat back into office, they will hire them back. never ever cut salaries. witness wisconsin - they want to keep collective bargaining, which isn't bargaining. it is more like a one-sided negotation with the Dems and the unions on the same side spending the taxpayers $$...same story, different state. Dr. Crisfeld - can we put in 'no tenure' into the new contract? can we put in merit pay? can you give the BOE or the principals the right to fire incompetent teachers rather than seniority based? Can we do background checks on prospective hires?
curbside mom March 03, 2011 at 07:19 PM
MOMSH and Anne. I'm not wanting a fight for any reason. It seems though that this thread has been less about stating that any settlement needs to stay within the cap, and more about teachers are greedy, tax cheats, and unthankful. I think that's one of the problems when negotiations go public. What have I misread? If I point out that most teachers also come from dual income homes, I hear crickets in reply. When I point out that they will be losing net income because of healthcare contributions, no matter what the settlement brings, it's either no response or "well I've lost my bonus too". To reiterate my position again...teachers have to contribute a fair amount to their healthcare benefits. Whatever that takes when you combine a salary increase (or not) needs to be respectful of and within the cap. I'm just doing it without calling them overpaid and ungrateful. There have been many snarky comments on here. They just all seem to be one-sided. My opinion seems contrary to most and I will continue to share it.
MOMSH March 03, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Curbside - I have no issues with sharing of opinions. I do take issue when you misquote and misinterpret what I have said. I also take issue with YOUR "snarky" tone. Speaking for myself, I have NEVER called any teachers "overpaid and ungrateful." In fact, I do believe that most of us on this site do not believe that of most teachers. I think we do believe, rightfully so, that the teachers UNION demanding a 5.2% raise, and then filing an impasse was out of line. I think we are also all trying to point out that the money has to come from somewhere given the state mandated 2% tax increase cap. This is the reality and has absolutely nothing to do with any ill will that you seem to think exists between myself and the MSH teachers. You read into comments and add your own slant on what people say. I would appreciate you not doing this, and I do not plan to respond to you again if this continues. I truly feel somewhat verbally assaulted by you and I'm not sure why!
Anne March 03, 2011 at 08:03 PM
@curbside, even though MOMSH advised me not to respond to you, I am stubborn too. You are missing facts here, the teachers currently don't contribute to their healthcare. No one knows what they will be contributing. So to say that they will be contributing a fair amount, either you know more than the rest of us, or this is just an unvalidated answer. As for snarky, you just misread them as snarky because we don't agree. I grew up in the area, so the teachers, from way back, have been a part of my upbringing and I do value what they do.
Dr. James Crisfield March 03, 2011 at 08:20 PM
With regard to tenure, that's covered by state statute, so we cannot override employees' rights at the local level. Districts ARE able to grant tenure earlier if they are so inclined (rarely happens). The period of time (three years now) that we have to evaluate a teacher to see if we want to be married to them for the rest of their career is too valuable, in my opinion, to shorten. Merit pay is another matter entirely, rife with problems about measurement, teaching to tests, etc. We do fairly extensive background checks now, but of the criminal variety and of the standard, reference type. Where I think the answer lies is in your reference to being able to dismiss teachers when they have become ineffective for some reason. That's what I like about the recently proposed tenure reforms. It is imperative that we be fair and not fire somebody for some arbitrary reason, and that we give them a chance to remediate the deficiencies that we've noted, but if the deficiencies are fairly observed and if the teacher fails to fix the problem, then by all means districts should move on the problem. Currently, districts CAN take steps to dismiss the teacher, but it's a very, very long and arduous process. Not impossible, but long. With the reform proposals, that process would be a lot more realistic and a lot more consistent with how hiring and retention works in the business world. Our world is not business, to be sure, but it would be nice to have certain elements of it here.
Anne March 03, 2011 at 09:06 PM
http://summit.patch.com/articles/proposed-schools-budget-approved-tax-hike-averted http://caldwells.patch.com/articles/caldwell-west-caldwell-schools-present-historic-2011-2012-budget
jill March 03, 2011 at 09:27 PM
not sure what you are talking about curbside...I referenced the average salary for faculty, please scroll up. Also, average and mean are the same thing: "average av·er·age  –noun 1.a quantity, rating, or the like that represents or approximates an arithmetic mean" Also, I don't get your point. If you mean that the 2003 average was lower than that of previous years due to new hires, then you are just plain wrong. And if you mean that somehow the numbers are inaccurate, and the average salary has not gone up at that rate, then take it up with the state report card, since these are just the facts. We now pay a heck of a lot more than we used to, that is indisputable.
MOMSH March 03, 2011 at 09:31 PM
Very interesting article in Summit Patch - thanks Anne. I noted only a 2% increase in teacher salaries and 5% increase in benefits. Compare that to our situation where teachers union wants 5% salary increase and benefits going up nearly 14% as I recall from the BOE handout (assuming no change to contributions from teachers). Hmmm.... maybe that's why Summit can balance their budget (with no tax increase either!) and we can't?
jill March 03, 2011 at 09:47 PM
As a follow up, average salary was $47,800 in 2000-2001, $46,000 in 2001-2002, and $54,300 in 2002-2003. So from 2000-01 to 2009-2010 the increase was 65% over 9 years. Again excluding benefit cost increases to the district, with no benefit increases passed on to the teachers.
SHMill March 03, 2011 at 10:33 PM
Read Dr. Crisfield's comments about the average salary numbers in "Millburn's School Per Pupil Cost Increases" from February 8th. The salary info for 2002-03 is wrong on the NJ report card. However, salaries have gone up each year with no health insurance contributions by the employees.
MadInNJ March 04, 2011 at 03:37 AM
Dr. C. - Sad to hear you say that Merit pay is too problematic for the world of public educators. I don't know a good manager in the world who would want to automatically hand out raises based on an arbitrary (albeit negotiated) system known as a "Salary Guide," the way all school districts do.
Dr. James Crisfield March 04, 2011 at 03:27 PM
The topic of "merit pay" is a very interesting one. Actually, the problem with it in the field of education is not that we don't like the concept, per se. It's that we are dealing with (little) human beings as the "output" in our "business," and therefore any attempt to measure "merit" of the people "producing" the output in a quantitative fashion immediately falls into dangerous territory. Using student test scores as the primary metric for the "merit" of a teacher just doesn't work. It naturally breeds teaching to the test and it as a result infects the entire classroom learning environment. Teaching and learning is too much about style and perception of the teacher and the relationship the teacher has with his or her students, and cooperative learning and problem solving, and these things can be evaluated, but not in a quantitative way and merit pay almost always falls back on needing numbers to work. Having said that, I love the concept of paying people based on how good they are, and I definitely agree that the concept of a "salary guide" is unsavory. I think we can devote our time and energy to cultivating good teachers, and helping them get better at what they already do well, and as a result, "merit" will be injected into the system, if not in the pay arena.
MadInNJ March 04, 2011 at 03:42 PM
The state now has reams and reams of data on all the kids in the elementary and middle schools because of all the testing we have implemented in the past decade. Yet none of it is being utilized to help us identify which teachers are making a difference, and which ones aren't. Statistics can sometimes be misleading, but a top level person could devise a database system that would track all students as they move through the system and compare how each teacher did in advancing the students that he/she had in a given year versus how they had done in previous years, and how they did in subsequent years. And thought I agree that I wouldn't want to fire people based on a year or two of testing, or evaluate them just on testing data, to completely ignore the data as a way to grade teachers, or even to identify which ones need help or more constant monitoring, as the NJEA demands, is foolish and ultimately damaging to all the kids who could have been saved from bad teachers. We have to stop saying that testing is bad, merit pay is bad, etc. and start to use all the information we have to build a better teaching corps.
MadInNJ March 04, 2011 at 03:45 PM
So the questions would be: Have you seen the report that was issued yesterday by the Education Effectiveness Task Force - http://www.state.nj.us/education/educators/effectiveness.pdf ? and Do you think there is any merit to what they are proposing?
Dr. James Crisfield March 04, 2011 at 06:43 PM
I completely agree that we can and should use all these data we've collected, and that we need to learn how to get better at that. But I want to use the data in ways that help us understand exactly what individual students need. In other words, in ways that help direct our instruction. Or, to assess entire programs. But the research overwhelmingly shows that using student achievement data as a metric for determining what a teacher is paid is bound to fail. Yes, that does contradict directly what's in the Task Force's recently released report. I am very sorry to see that they simply ignored the research. They do cite examples of where it's been implemented, but one cannot conclude that it works just because a few places have it in place. I completely agree that we need to identify which teachers need remediation, and then give them a chance to fix what's wrong, and then, if they can't or won't, then we need the ability to let them go (i.e., tenure reform). I support that 100%. But I do not support using student testing data as a metric for determining teacher pay. We would be very foolish in implementing such a system--if we think we're taking the creativity and problem solving out of classrooms today, just wait until teachers are told their pay depends on how their students do on tests. Education is not all about tests. Tests are important, and necessary, but not in determining teacher pay. The unintended consequences of doing so are very real...and disturbing.
Marty Wilson March 04, 2011 at 11:54 PM
Dr. C - thanks for answering my question above thoroughly and thoughtfully. An aswer I don't like is better than the silence we generally received prior. As for determining who is a good teacher and who is bad and the pitfalls involved - there are pitfalls involved in every approach...but doing something/anything is better than tenure. It is the fear of potentially being fired that installs some sense of accountability and hard work in teachers. When they know they can't get fired, no matter what they do and how poor they perform, they have no motivation to work hard. Ask anybody in the private sector if the potential for getting fired makes them work harder and more effectively - the question is so ridiculous to even ask because the answer is so obvious. Even talking to the teachers who live in town - they know they have had a sweetheart deal for way too long and they know the shouldn't get all the benefits they are getting. It is only the union bosses who are out of touch with reality. Let's try to rectify this situation - zero budget increase (actually, a decrease might be in order) and demand salary cuts to make up for the extragavant, over the top raises the teachers received during the Great Recession.
MOMSH March 05, 2011 at 12:48 AM
Marty - don't you think it is a bit extreme to say that teachers have no motivation to work hard when they know they can't get fired? I know human nature may say this makes sense, but I have known many tenured teachers who actually truly enjoy teaching our children and make a strong effort every single day. Keep in mind, teachers are a rare profession where they have to go through quite a bit of education and testing in order to qualify for a job that pays relatively low. Granted, they do get to be home when their own kids are off school, and their benefits program has been significantly better than most, but still... they must inherently enjoy children and the satisfaction that comes with helping a child learn. That is a motivation which exists whether or not you can be fired. I would argue that corporate jobs don't come close to having this motivation, unless you are one of the lucky ones who finds him/herself in a job you truly enjoy.
jean p March 05, 2011 at 02:58 AM
Back to teacher evaluations, and using standardized testing to measure teacher performance. I agree wtih Dr. Crisfield's POV because it could disproportionately and negatively impact the special needs population. Students who receive accomodations and modifications due to IEPs or 504s do not receive those same ones during standardized testing. Using the results of those exams to measure teacher performance would be very problematic. Even though accom and mods are put in place to level the playing field for students due to their specific disabilities, students sit these tests without them (for the most part). So how can these results have meaning for each individual student or for that subset of students? To go further and use these results to measure teacher performance would be wrong. Testing needs to be redesigned so that it allows students to have the same level playing field we strive to give them each day in the classroom with IEP/504 accomodations and modifications.

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