(UPDATED) MEA and BoE Impasse Dominates the Montclair Board Meeting

MEA at BoE meeting

(UPDATED: Video of the full meeting at the end)

The Montclair Education Association (MEA) held a meeting on February 25 in the George Inness Annex of the Montclair High School, which the Montclair Board of Education attended.  At least that’s how it seemed, as MEA members turned out in the high school’s annex in a standing-room-only crowd and appeared to dictate the agenda of the scheduled BoE meeting.  The board managed to present a preliminary budget, but the night clearly belonged to the MEA.

After numerous attempts at negotiating a new contract with the Montclair school board, the MEA is officially at an impasse with the school board.  TheB board filed a notice on Thursday, February 21.  Sticking points in contract negotiations with the union that the principal items in dispute involve salaries, the return of health benefits for aides, and flexible scheduling.

Montclair Board of Education President Robin Kulwin began the meeting, which lasted over three hours, on an ominous note for what was to come.  Mrs. Kulwin had a severe case of laryngitis, and there were technical difficulties with the sound system that made her impossible for some folks to hear.  Feedback from the system would periodically pop up for the rest of the night.

“The board and MEA negotiating committees met numerous times over the past year,” Mrs. Kulwin said in a statement.  “On February 1, 2013, the parties had concluded a three-day bargaining session, with the MEA cutting the final day short and declaring impasse.  In an effort to achieve a settlement, the board provided the MEA with a proposal with the hope that the parties could settle the contract. Despite best efforts, the parties were growing farther apart in their settlement departments, not closer together.”  Mrs. Kulwin then explained that a mediator would be brought in to settle the dispute in a matter as expeditious as possible.

MEA President Gayl Shepard disputed the cause of the crisis, explaining that, while she believed the two sides were at an impasse when the MEA walked out early on February 1, the MEA never sought to officially have an impasse declared.

“We waited and waited for the board’s negotiation team to come back, and we actually waited quite a bit in the three days that we were in those sessions,” Shepard told the overflowing crowd.  “In waiting and waiting and waiting, when the board came back in, we were not in any way comfortable with here the conversation was.”  Shepard told the crowd that she verbally indicated an impasse at that moment, but urged anyone who wanted to talk to her to call her.   She said that Mrs. Kulwin called to make the offer to have the board pay for the mediator in the event of an impasse to expedite the process.

“I hope that offer is still available,” Shepard said.

Shepard added that she continued informal negotiations with School Superintendent Dr. Penny MacCormack until February 14, and she again insisted that at no point did the union file an impasse.

The meeting was primarily dominated by additional comments from the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and public commentary lasting nearly ninety minutes.  Beth Wilensky, co-president of the Montclair PTA council, was particularly distressed over the situation.  She admitted to find the possibility of a strike “very frightening,” and she expressed frustration with how the PTA was being left out of the loop while the school board and the MEA are at odds with each other.

“The PTA should be aware of the decisions made in negotiations,” Wilensky said.  “This is the part that upsets me the most . . ..  I know we can’t sit at that table.  I know we can’t be part of the negotiations back and forth.  But to find out from a high school student that the town of Montclair is at an impasse is unacceptable from this town.”  She added that she found it unacceptable that the meaning of an impasse hadn’t been explained to her sooner.

The public comment was mostly in support of the teachers, with the crowd cheering and hollering with the zeal of an evangelical congregation while the school board sat silently, taking it all in.  Special needs students’ aide Jim Zirilli, a Bellevue Avenue resident, cited the health benefits issue, chiding the board for eliminating his health insurance in September 2011 and forcing him to pay more under COBRA – $22,000 – than he takes home in a year, which expires at the end of the month despite his need for continued medical care.  Other residents praised the efforts of the teachers and said they needed more support.

Acting Business Administrator Nicholas Puleio managed to present a preliminary budget blueprint for the 2013-14 school year during the early part of the meeting.  The plan, a rough draft contingent on the availability of state aid and mindful of the looming federal budget sequester, takes into account $2.4 million from the $13.4 million fund balance acquired in June 2012 to the capital reserve and $500,000 to the maintenance reserve, with $4.7 million used as revenue in the current school year budget, with a projected fund balance of $2.1 million at the end of June 2013.  The 2013-14 budget reduces the overall fund balance by 46 percent and holds the line on taxes, with no levy increases; the operating expenses fall slightly, by 2.23 percent, with a total overall expense of $111.6 million, a 3.32 percent decrease compared to 2012-13.  Details are on the school district’s website.

MEA President Shepard took a jaundiced view of the continued surplus, suggesting that the provided an opportunity to restore salary and benefit cuts to teachers, while resident Ira Shaw lamented the emphasis on taxes in public comment, saying that the district cared more about numbers than children.

The board members were mostly upset with what they perceive to be a divisive and insolent atmosphere during the proceedings.  Board member Tanya Coke, as a member of the negotiating committee, found the tone of the meeting “distressing” and insisted that the board and the MEA have more in common than not, saying that both groups support a healthy salary increase and the return of the aides’ benefits that Mr. Zirilli cited.

“I do really believe that both sides have a desire to see this contract resolved quickly and expeditiously,” she said.

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  1. Why are the “comments closed” on the other two posts on the subject? I understand doing it IF the conversation turns ugly and unproductive, but why the pre-emptive closure on one of the most important issues Montclair has faced in years?

  2. Comments closed? ….Teachers refusing to give students “extra help”….that is disgraceful. They should be ashamed of themselves. I get a kick when they say “its about the kids’…BS if it was they would show a little professionalism , suck it up and help the kids. They’ll get their money (in a time when everyone else is seeing job loss and salary cuts) so at least give the kids some extra help. Babies.

  3. Herb, you seem to think that teachers should care more about “the kids” than their own economic well being.

    Teachers LOVE students. But they have an obligation to their own families before the students. Hate to break it to you. So YES. They will (for most begrudgingly) must continue this job action if only to show YOU and others how much extra work they do.

    Extra work you and others think they SHOULD do, regardless of compensation or work conditions. Sorry pal.

    But to call it disgraceful shows you believe they are servants (suck it up, babies!!) and SHOULD do (cro believes this too) ANYTHING for the students- paid or not, ANYTHING the students want or need.

    Sorry pal. These are highly skilled professionals (let’s see you handle 25 6th graders, you’d FREAK OUT), they should be paid and treated as such. But to hear foolish comments like yours only shows that while YOU and others say how important teachers are, in truth, you think they are just glorified babysitters.

    What’s disgraceful, I will say, is that both sides seem so close, yet they cannot meet in the middle and be done with it. Here I’ll agree with you- the kids deserve better.

    Still unsure why comments are closed.

  4. Great recap. I was watching on TV. While I appreciate what Shepard is doing for MEA, teachers, and teacher aides, I don’t like her style one bit. Walking out on negotiations and verbally asking for impasse doesn’t mean she wants an impasse? Really?!?

    Also, the complete disdain for the residents of Montclair and our tax bill is palpable. Just because we live in Montclair doesn’t mean we gave the Township a blank check. Yes, we should not skimp on our children’s education, but we also should take care where and how we spend the money. I’m sorry it has come to this, but I stand with the BoE on this one.

  5. I disagree, we are all asked to do things we dont want to at various times in our careers. Even in times when we are not compensated for it. It’s called professionalism. Great to be in a union, in the ‘real world’ you would be canned for that bs. Your there to teach, do your job and the siutuation will work out and most of all dont take it out on a kid that needs a little help.

  6. Herb, you gotta stop with this “real world” stuff. Again: non-unionized employees are “at-will” employees- meaning they can be fired for ANY reason (save for race, sex, religion, etc.) ANY REASON. Thankfully, through hard-fought battles, this is not true for union workers.

    It’s obvious though that you view teachers as servants: “Your there to teach, do your job and the siutuation will work out…” Sure. We all know employers are EAGER to do what’s right for their employees. History is filled with employers doing right by employees….

    You sound so uninformed and entitled, but worse: you show that you have a disregard for what teachers do, and their value to a community.

  7. @Selma, considering your dreadfully entitled behavior during Sandy (much like Walleroo), your opinion, like his, has no credibility.

  8. We all appreciate the hard work, dedication and extra time that the large majority of the teachers in this district put in. However, if the teachers are going to “work to the contract,” which is their right, the MEA must make it clear to the rank and file teachers what is and what is not in the contract.

    On its website, the MEA asks its members to consider the following in calculating its volunteer hours:
    – Calculate the amount of time you come in early to ready your room, make copies, conference with parents, etc.
    – Calculate the hours you stay late (after contract time).
    – Calculate the hours spent helping students during lunchtime.
    – Calculate the hours spent attending after school activities or evening functions at your school.

    While it is obvious that some of these activities are outside of the contract, it seems that the MEA believes that ALL of these things are “outside of the contract.” Based on the contract language, however, it appears that some of the above items are arguably in the contract.

    7.1 Teachers.
    (a) Responsibilities. As professionals, Teachers are expected to devote to their assignments the time necessary to meet their responsibilities, but they shall not be required to clock in or clock out by hours and minutes.

    (d ) In-School Workday/Duty Free Lunch. The total in-school workday of Teachers shall consist of not more than four hundred forty (440) minutes,. except as provided in Sections 9.1 and 9.2.

    (e) Arrival and Departure. Except as provided in Sections 9.1 and 9.2, a Teacher shall not be required to report for duty earlier than ten (10) minutes before the opening of the pupils’ school day and shall be permitted to leave twenty (20) minutes after the close of the pupils’ school day. On days preceding holidays or vacations, the Teachers’ day shall end at the close of the pupils’ day, except on Thursday early closings.

    6.2 Assignment to After-School Responsibilities. Except to the extent that such activity is included in the normal responsibilities of his position, no Employee shall be required as part of his employment to serve as adviser, coach or supervisor, or in any similar role with respect to any student clubs, organizations or teams, or any similar activities, to the extent such activities are carried on outside normal school hours.

    6.3 Declining After-School Responsibilities. When asked to accept an assignment described in Section 6.2, the Employee shall be told that he can refuse without prejudice. If the Employee accepts such an assignment, he shall be informed of the duties, responsibilities and stipend in connection therewith.

    9.2 After-School Responsibilities. The departure time set forth in Section 7.1(c) shall not apply in the event of general faculty meetings called in accordance with Section 9.1 department meetings or after-school activities such as clubs and parent and student conferences. IT IS THE PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY OF TEACHERS TO BE AVAILABLE BEYOND THE REGULAR DEPARTURE TIME FOR AFTER-SCHOOL HELP FOR STUDENTS IF NEEDED. SUCH PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY SHALL INCLUDE ACCESSIBILITY BY PARENTS OF STUDENTS ASSIGNED TO SAID TEACHER’S CLASS, INCLUDING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF APPROPRIATE MEANS FOR ACCESS BY PARENTS TO TEACHERS BY WAY OF TELEPHONE OR INDIVIDUALLY SCHEDULED CONFERENCES, ON AN AS NEEDED BASIS, WITHOUT ADDITIONAL COMPENSATION. The parties further agree to meet and confer during the life of the agreement to address and resolve any security concerns of the Association as they relate to this provision.

  9. haha Prof, considering mrs. herb was a teacher, herbs sister and others around his Thanksgiving Day table are teachers I hardly believe they are servants. I just don’t compare teachers who are compensated quite well in terms of job security, yearly raises and top notch benefits at the tax payers expense to the plight of sweatshop workers at the turn of the 20th century. I don’t have an issue with teachers it’s their union that see the taxpayer as a never spout of funds. I love when you go against a teacher they throw out the Rodney Dangerfield ‘no respect’ line. It’s old my friend and many have turned a deaf ear to your whine.

  10. @profwilliams, I beg to differ. My opinion might not matter to you, because you are a contradicting and disrespectful person who thrives on conflict. But, there are those who appreciate it, and I wouldn’t dream of depriving them.

  11. @ herb, just who makes up this teacher’s Union? And forgive me if I laughed at the “some of my best friends are teachers” line. As if that makes you immune from your words: “Your there to teach, do your job and the siutuation will work out…” Also, in EVERY negotiation, folks ask for MORE than they expect, but have a floor to what they will accept.

    @selma, your hilarious description of me made me laugh out loud considering your tweets telling me that children were “freezing” to death in Montclair during Sandy (cold, perhaps, but freezing?). I hope you had time to realize how lucky you were with simply loosing power for a few long (and cold) days, considering what others lost. Though from your entitled tweets, and comments above, I bet not.

    Funny, while I post here I have NEVER thought that there was anyone who might “appreciate” my thoughts. My ego is not that big. But for you, an infrequent poster, to feel that some folks “appreciate” your comments is telling of your ego.

  12. The school aides that lost their health insurance are classified as part time employees (even though they claim to work full time). The fact they were getting benefits to begin with is BS. Sorry but you should not qualify for health care benefits as a part time employee. And if you cant afford cobra, go out and purchase a private plan, they are far cheaper.

  13. ProfWilliams: Montclair public school families and residents are in need of fact-based information and perspective. If there are teachers on this thread, are you aware of the offers/counter offers that were made by the Board and Union? I think we are all relying on yesterday’s Bnet post with the offer details. Thank you, Bnet.
    Are we all working from the same set of basic facts? Interpretations and positions can respectfully, but the facts should not.


    From your perspective Prof and others, is there anything in here that is completely unreasonable or disrespectful to our teachers and students? There’s obviously room for negotiations on the edges, but a controversial topic — restoration of aides benefits — seems to have been a done deal (maybe I’m reading it wrong). Does this mean that a majority of union members are willing to put that restoration at risk so that the definition of Full Time work can continue to be 20 hours/week (vs. 32) as proposed in another point? As a Montclair parent and often a school volunteer (I have kids in the HS, middle and elementary schools), I am a huge supporter of our excellent teachers. But I do not think it is contradictory to also expect the effective administration of our district’s and town’s resources. With best regards.

  14. @profwilliams, there is a difference between entitlement and a demand for service (for which you pay handsomely). You should look it up in the dictionary. That is, actually, also applicable to the article above.

    And it is not the frequency of comments that matters, it is the substance. And, yes, I do have a healthy self-esteem. What of it?

  15. As one person pointed out in the public comment period last night, the kids are being used as pawns by the MEA.

    My daughter is at MHS, and I heard from her about this coming situation (work-to-contract) last week, when the teachers told their students about it. What is very distressing is that some teachers DO want to continue offering before-school, lunch-period, and after-school help to their students, but they are facing pressure from other teachers to toe the MEA line; being treated like scabs, in effect, as if by giving extra help they would be crossing a picket line that does not (so far) exist.

    So instead of being able to get extra help before today’s physics test, my daughter had to try to track down a private tutor. I can only imagine how many other kids are going to be in this boat until the impasse is over. Besides being hard to come by, depending on subject matter, tutors are quite expensive. Guess which kids will be hurt the most by work-to-contract? The most vulnerable students who cannot afford help that comes at $80-100/hr. (and up).

    The MEA undermines itself by using such a tactic, particularly at the high-school level.

  16. Prof, I’m sorry to say your arrogance and condescending comments are becoming increasingly off putting.

    Selma, on the other hand, presents a refreshing view point. I appreciate all her comments. Keep them coming Selma!

  17. i’m starting to remember why i stopped reading baristanet…such uninformed/misinformed and/or hobbesian conservative selfishness and vindictiveness from so many the commenters…

  18. I thought Ms. Shepherd was quite disrespectful to the Board – she attended their meeting, and addressed her comments to the teachers in attendance — with her back turned to the Board! She complained that several meetings with Board members had been cancelled over the course of the past year. Sounds like she forgot that Board members are volunteers, with other jobs and responsibilities – not paid representatives as she is.

    I was disappointed that most of the comments last night addressed whether the Board understands how hard teachers work and how much their students love them. In fact, the issue is the allocation of scarce resources.

  19. @ oliver, And the BOE is just a little innocent in a corner being bullied by those evil teachers? C’mon. BOTH sides “use” the children as pawns. And our tax dollars pay for it all. But to blindly blame one side– which is what the BOE hope you’d do– makes no sense.

    @ sohobound considering your rather foolish comments on the other MEA/BOE thread, I’m not surprised you find me arrogant and condescending. Likewise, I’m not surprised that you find someone as entitled as Selma “refreshing.”

    @ iteachthereforeiam, I have no idea what you’re talking about, “hobbesian conservative selfishness and vindictiveness”? Huh? Perhaps you lost a step while you were away? ‘Cause I’m struggling to understand you.

  20. How do Montclair student results compare to peer group district score improvement results?

    How do the teacher/student ratio, aides/student ratio, class staffing levels and salary levels in the Montclair district compare to districts that Montclair would consider similar? Places like Westfield, Summit, Ridgewood, Maplewood, etc.

    How about administrative expense? Which districts are in that peer group and how does Montclair compare in metrics like supervisory coverage, % of total salary expense represented by the top five administrators, etc.

    If the school district is punching above its weight and delivering above average results, that would seem like a great reason to reward the people who delivered those results.

    If the district’s aides / teachers / administrators aren’t delivering that superior result, getting to the reason and fixing the problem would seem to be in everyone’s interest. Before divvying up a surplus that may not even exist.

    If the peer group comparison has been published, I’d be interested in seeing a link.

  21. Public-sector unions negotiate with other public servants for wage and benefits…conflict of interest much? The members (and the same goes for the other public sector thugs…just look at their behavior) SHOULD be thankful for the entitlements they have extracted, not from their bosses at the BoE, but the apparently endless well they draw from, the taxpayers.

    I can’t wait for the day that their entitlement bandwagon, including and especially their pensions (this goes for existing pensioners too) comes to a screeching halt. That day can’t come soon enough. See you “for the children” whiners on the bread lines with the rest of the private sector servants.

  22. What are you talking about, eventhorizon?

    Teachers (and administrators) negotiate with the BOE for wages and benefits.

    While the teachers and administrators are indeed public-sector employees, the BOE members are most assuredly not. They are unpaid volunteers. The BOE are not “their bosses”.

    It is pretty hard to take anything you post seriously when you start from such an ill-informed premise.