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Teachers Exercise 'Work-to-Rule' Rights

As contact talks go into 15th month, teachers are not doing more than required by contract.

With no new contract for and with negotiations seemingly stalled over three words, teachers this week began "working to rule,” meaning they come in and leave according to contract and don't do anything they're not required to do.

That has meant that some afterschool activities have been cancelled or postponed with no end in sight until the school district comes to an agreement with the teachers' union.

If the talks continue at a stalemate, it could also affect the Strawberry Festivals, because those take a lot of extra-curricular time in planning and preparation that the teachers do not get paid for, said Schools Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield.

At the last Millburn Board of Education Meeting, Board Member Mark Zucker, who is leading the negotiations with the union, told the public that they are “three words away from an agreement.”

“Those are three very important words,” he said, adding he felt an agreement could be reached soon.

Crisfield said that both sides are working to find three other words that everyone can agree on.

“But we’re working on it, as we speak,” he said Friday morning. “Hopefully, we’ll come up with something acceptable. In the meantime both sides try to remain civil and professional and carry on the best that we can.”

MEA Representative Lois Infanger said, "We are continuing to negotiate in good faith with the BOE. The staff will "work to rule" and perform their professional responsibilities."

Several parents, who did not want to be identified, voiced concerns about the length of time these negotiations are taking and how a “work to rule” will affect the students.

Already, they said, a faculty student basketball game has been postponed and several clubs have not met this week after school. There are events coming up that teachers usually attend, like the art shows and the Strawberry Festivals, that they don't get paid for.

And for older students, teachers often write letters of recommendations on their own time, but the assumption is they won’t be able to do that as they go forward without a new contract. Millburn teachers have long put in extra hours they don't get paid for because of their dedication to the students, all sides agree.

At the last school board meeting several parents praised the teachers for all they do and asked the school board to work hard to come to an agreement and put this behind them.

“Parents are getting upset,” said one parent. “I feel like the teachers are upping the ante with the work-to-rule. I just fear if it goes on too long, it will negatively impact the students.”

The sticking point in the contract has been health insurance and how the Board of Education unilaterally changed the teachers’ health insurance without negotiating it with the union.

Crisfield said it is the teachers' right to do work to rule and that both sides continue to work toward an agreement.

“It is accurate to say that the longer this goes on, the more frustration sets in on both sides,” Crisfield said. “But this is no different than any collective bargaining. There are laws in place to protect workers and there’s an existing agreement. Many teachers go above and beyond every day and for now, they are choosing not to do that until an agreement is reached.”

CM March 30, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Susan, couldn't agree more. Even prior to this contract issue, my kids would come home citing comments teachers made habitually about how all the kids here are rich. They have always seemed to think everyone in town makes millions and they are stuck teaching our spoiled kids for a mere fraction of that. Well, the majority do not make millions, and we too have to work hard. Only thing is we have to work 12 months out of the year and our insurance plans stink for the most part. Pay ins of hundreds/thousands per month for a family and higher co-pays than they have or will have. That's just the new reality as costs go up and companies foot the bill for less. And, we have to pay for our own graduate degrees and don't have time to tutor for cash because we are working too late. Maybe we should all stick notes in our car windows exclaiming how great we are for still working. Think our bosses/clients would care?
M OKeef March 30, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Was always under the impression our teachers are some of the highest paid * in the state expressly as an acknowledgment that they do not simply "work to contract" and the higher pay was compensation for these little extras. * I say "some of the highest paid" because they once were highest but as time passed and other districts settled newer contracts they may have surpassed MB as highest. I don't have time or desire to ferret out the facts as to who is currently highest and suspect when this contract is settled our teachers will vault back to the top. Fact is community has been very generous with teachers. As the sticking point is health care I suspect the pressure to not settle is coming from outside Millburn as NJEA has always been adamant about not budging on contractual health care issues. It is very sad for everyone that the talks have come to this point as it is difficult to recover "and return to normal" after this type of negotiation. As stated above by MMS student, even the students are starting to look at their teachers through a different lens.
CM March 30, 2012 at 12:04 PM
@MMS Student: Thank you for your comment. So simple, so perceptive, so true! How is it that a student somewhere between the ages of 12-14 I assume is more on target and makes more sense than the teachers, administration, WLM and our illustrious BOE combined?
Susan1 March 30, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Well said CM.
WRR March 30, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Regardless of whether MSH teachers are the highest paid within NJ or not, MSH, as a community, have gone above and beyond in previous years to provide for the fairness and appreciation of our teachers. For examples, their very generous raises in the recent past; not "cracking" the previous contract as encouraged by Gov. Christie two years ago; not laying off teachers; contributions from the PTO drives; and still providing a raise. The "work to rules", teacher's parade, blue shirts and signage on their car windshield only goes to wane the support they had (past tense). BTW: my children have had more substitute teachers this year than ever!
Xavier March 30, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Thank you for leaving this comment. It reveals why it is easier to teach in an urban district than a place like Millburn: the students have a better understanding of the struggles of life and do not have such an entitled, haughty attitude. And the adults' endorsements of your sentiments reveal more about the difficulties about working here.
Susan1 March 31, 2012 at 02:33 AM
Jessica, if you think it's so hard to work here in Millburn as a teacher, you should try an urban school sometime. A friend who works in the NY City public schools told me this week he was punched, kicked, and had a student throw a chair at him. I had some similar experiences in another large US city public school system. There's no teachers here walking through metal detectors on their way to work, breaking up fist fights on a regular basis, or being called vulgar names. The kids and parents may not be perfect, but overall, they're engaged and involved,and almost all of them graduate high school. I'll take that any day over some of the stuff I've seen in city schools. There were times I didn't feel safe, and that doesn't happen in Millburn.
Xavier March 31, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Susan, I will not reveal my personal history on a public forum, but do not assume that you know more about this topic than I do. And the horror stories out of urban districts are well known. The Philadelphia Inquirer or whatever it's called did a big series on violence against teachers in its system a couple of years ago. However, many people make their careers in such places, and most of them remain unharmed. They also encounter students who are much more appreciative of their efforts and don't try to pontificate to adults about how they should approach their jobs.
Carolyn Most March 31, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Clearly, we are not doing such a great job educating our kids if a MMS student derides teachers for participating in a union action. Whether or not one supports this action is not an issue. But understanding the role of organized labor in the history of the US and the middle class is. The organized labor movement - often paying with their lives - gave us the 40 hour work weeks, child labor laws, work safety rules. etc. etc. If our high school students are laughing and demeaning teachers for exercising their constitutional rights to organize, I suggest the school district has a much bigger problem than a teacher contact. Not to mention the haughty privileged attitude of a teenager who probably ought to spend a summer doing manual labor to gain some understanding of what work actually is.
Carolyn Most March 31, 2012 at 01:27 PM
CM, many it this town may not make millions, but by any standard, the overwhelming majority of people who live in MBSH are in the top 10% of incomes in the country, if not higher. The kids in this town are "rich" relative to most everyone else in the country. The problem is the tendency to compare what we have to folks who have more, not less. And relatively speaking, we have way more than most. This certainly does not justify teachers making these comments where kids can hear them. Regardless of how hard individuals work - and I am not implying that you or anyone else does not work hard and long hours - the idea that we are not so well off here is just not true.
Millerman March 31, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Ms Most, I guess things in this town have improved since your lasts years posts and comments. See below " Carolyn Most, the mother of a kindergarten student at Wyoming school, said the slashing of the courtesy busing would cost her $750 to get her child safely to and from school from their home 1.9 miles away. She said she is a single working mom who cannot afford to pay that " "Trust me... I rented for 20 years. I am not saying all properties in twon - what I am saying is I walked into a any number of apartments with peeling paint, holes in the wall, appliances and basic fixtures older than I am, broken windows, closet doors hanging off the walls., and a level of filth that would amaze you. I rented in Silicon Valley California and Boulder Colorado for years. Both very desirable ares where demand was high and landlords could get away with a lot and I have never seen anything like what i found her. I must have looked at 20 places, a few of which were very nice, but the majority of which were not the kind of place you would want your child to live. I have had neighbors tell me that their landlord's tell them to move out if they don't like the way things are and this is a tough one when you pay a relater a month commission every time you rent a property. I am not saying every landlord in town is like this, I am just saying most residents would be surprised there is a dark underbelly in this town."
Carolyn Most March 31, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Millerman - I guess you struggle to hold two distinct ideas in your head at the same time. The statement that "the overwhelming majority of people who live in MBSH are in the top 10% of incomes in the country" does not preclude the statement there are those in this town for whom $750 is a lot of money.
CM March 31, 2012 at 03:24 PM
What a double standard -- teachers here label the students as entitled and spoiled. But teachers who expect (and hold us hostage to) continued sweetheart deals on raises and health insurance regardless of the economic realities, do not consider themselves entitled. If teachers in Millburn feel that urban district such as Atlantic City, Newark and Camden (or even Irvington, if they don't want to sweat a long commute) offer better pay, more appreciative students, and non state-sponsored (private/high cost) insurance plans, then it's a free country and they should apply for jobs there. Maybe then the SAT scores in Newark, etc. will go up for those kids.
Xavier March 31, 2012 at 08:52 PM
To clarify, I am NOT a Millburn teacher. I think that the rest of this exchange speaks for itself.
Sophie March 31, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Hi Millerman -- First, let me state that I do love your screen name. It conjures up images of super heros in very very tight spandex outfits. I'm sure yours has a big blue "M" emblazoned on your chest. Hedley -- Could Millerman possibly be a challenger for the "protector of Millburn's children (and computers)" title, or just part of a potential dynamic duo? Millerman -- I have read your past postings and it appears that you are very supportive of the BOE and all of their decisions. I am not suggesting that you are a BOE member, but it does appear that you have a good sense of what the BOE is thinking. Considering that the vast majority of the postings on this thread appear the be against a preferential agreement with the teacher union, what do you think the BOE should do? Of course, with the elimination of the April vote, it does make the BOE's position somewhat more complex since the full responsibility for any decision regarding the teachers contract is completely in the hands of the nine BOE members. There is no longer a way for the BOE to divert blame and say to the teachers something like "While we fully value your efforts, it is the public that is not willing to pay the additional taxes."
Millerman April 01, 2012 at 12:55 AM
I would not say pro BOE, but I am pro MIllburn/Short Hills. I am a long time resident who has grown very tired of constant negative blogging by certain people who just want attention. This overheated negativism is a very destructive force and needs to be called out. My property value goes down every time Ms. Most types. Spandex would not be pretty! That would drop real estate value even lower than Ms. Most's poison pen.
Math April 01, 2012 at 12:56 AM
@M. Moore. I agree. They should get paid hourly. Let's pay them the going rate for a babysitter. That is what $5/hr per kid? Let's see, $5/hr per kid in a classroom of 20 is $100 per hour? Add that up to about 6 hours of student contact a day (I subtracted prep time, because we all know they shouldn't get paid for that). So that's $600 a day for the 180 days a year they work...oh wait, that's $108,000 dollars a year. My apologies, I guess we should not pay them what we pay babysitters per hour, that's too much...
Sophie April 01, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Millerman -- From your comments, one can deduce that (A) you're not planning on getting a room with Carolyn Most anytime soon and (B) you are against anything that will adversely impact upon your property values. A 2% budget increase is being advocated by some in the community in order to support an increase in teacher pay and benefits. Do you believe that a 2% budget increase for this year and for future years, and the tax increases that will come with it, will be good for your property value? Ms. Most does sound like a "spread the wealth" kind of gal.
JKH April 01, 2012 at 02:13 PM
@ Carolyn Most and Jessica: What the heck is the matter with the two of you? Are you really trying to go toe to toe with an MMS student? Have you no empathy of what it's like to be a kid and get up to a room full of adults and give them your opinion? What is the matter with you? Jessica: "the students do not have such an entitled, haughty adults". Carolyn Most: "Clearly we area not doing such a good job educating our kids." Seems to me like this was a kid stating his observation. Agree with it, disagree with it, keep it to you damn selves. Don't start debating/berating a kid younger than 14, mind you, online. Seems to me that the only haughty entitled comments came from Jessica and the only lack of "education" here is the ones showed Ms. Most. MMS Student: Good for you for posting your comments but please be careful. People often forget there are real live bodies typing their words and they don't care who they hurt as long as they get their point out.
baxter April 01, 2012 at 03:30 PM
This is very helpful information on salaries and contracts. People should take the time to read and also for municipal employees. This explains where your tax dollars are going.
baxter April 01, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Teachers donating time for festivals, dances and proms--all this can be done by PTO. Parents are very willing to help their students in every way in Millburn. John you are not correct about writing college recommendations. This is part of the teacher's job and has always been done. Show me an example of a contract dispute where they did not write college recommendations. There is not one I can find. This is a clever way to scare parents especially in Millburn.
baxter April 01, 2012 at 03:39 PM
The system is broken. What are schools like that do not have unions?
baxter April 01, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Ms. Most has a point that organized labor had a role in US history that is very important. Students should know about that she is correct. The pendulum has swung too far. Fair, reasonable agreement should have already been made in the most difficult economic times we have experienced in decades. Teachers are cutting into the education muscle and generous community is not happy.
baxter April 01, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Sophie and Millerman should be ashamed too personal comments. Are you students? Talk like teenagers.
Xavier April 01, 2012 at 05:34 PM
JKH: I am not going toe to toe with the putative 14-year-old kid. In fact, I have made it a point to avoid engaging him/her. If you look at my comments, the only time I addressed the student directly was to briefly state that the the comments reveal an entitled attitude (which I had alluded to in an earlier post). I responded directly to Susan (who is presumably an adult) on a point of debate and also clarified that I am not a MSH teacher. I refused to respond back to anything from the supposed student. Others noted similar problems with the kid's tone/attitude. I think it is time to sign out of this discussion thread.
DidUReallyJustSayThat April 01, 2012 at 08:11 PM
The steps at the bottom have 4% increases, then a couple near the middle have 2% raises, but from Steps 6 to 12, the raises range from 6% to 11%, and at the Top of the Guide (Step 12), they've been averaging 1.75 to 2%, which in this economy is very good. Additionally, the teachers at the Top of the Guide also have the most expensive HC coverage, and when you add the increases from HC to the salary increases, their overall comp is jumping by 4% per year, thus the move to the state HC plan.
mg April 03, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Actually Millburn has laid off teachers. The Middle School eliminated one team at the end of the 2010-2011 school year
M OKeef April 03, 2012 at 03:31 PM
MG A tenured teacher was "laid off" or a position was eliminated because class no longer runs or reduced enrollment?
Sophie April 07, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Hedley -- There's a terrible story coming out of Hamilton NJ today where teachers are actually being sexually assaulted by the students in the Middle School http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/04/hamilton_schools_to_investigat.html I'm sure that those teachers in Hamilton would welcome teaching our "entitled and spoiled" children and "put up with the self-entitled and self-important parents in this town" in exchange for a safe and welcoming work environment. Don't you think so?
MarkDS May 02, 2012 at 06:38 PM
There is a preliminary contract agreement. http://thealternativepress.com/articles/millburn-board-of-education-teachers-reach-agree

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