Hillside school board, teachers union members clash over assignments

HILLSIDE, NJ — Tempers flared at a June 21 school board meeting between a representative from the state’s largest teachers’ union and board members over a decision to move faculty and staff in the district.

New Jersey Education Association UniServ Representative Ted Tympanick responded quickly when board member Joi Stanley said it “disturbs” her to read a statement from the local union saying it has “endured the pushback from (the) administration” for years.
“We feel disrespected,” Tympanick yelled, interrupting Stanley during her closing statement.

Hillside Board of Education President Hawaiian Thompson-Epps told Tympanick to “relax” or he would be escorted from the meeting.
He was not escorted from the meeting and school board members continued to speak.

Members of the school board also expressed frustrations because they worked to finally reach an agreement on a contract with the Hillside Education Association. Faculty and staff had been working without a contract since last July, LocalSource previously reported.
Lawler, who has been working as a high school secretary for 18 years, also claimed the administration’s decision to move her to a different school was a form of retaliation.

“It’s retaliatory because he feels if he can separate the union leadership and put them in different buildings,” Lawler said, referring to Superintendent Antoine Gayles, “then my theory is that they don’t have the power he thinks we’re going to have.”

In the days leading up to an agreement, faculty and staff made their contract negotiations highly visible by staging demonstrations after school. They called for salary increases to make up for pay freezes and a reduction in employee contributions to health care premiums.
Currently, the union and school board are at an $11,000 deficit in the salary guides, according to Tympanick.

Lawler makes about $61,000 annually, but claimed the administration was moving her to an elementary school secretarial position, a job that can be performed for a much lower salary.

“By putting her in that spot they’re losing $15,000,” Tympanick told LocalSource. Lawler chimed in, adding, “And we’re here arguing over $11,000.”
HEA Vice President Dewanna Johnson was also moved from her position teaching AP psychology, a program the superintendent praised earlier at the meeting. She too claimed that change was retaliatory.

“Teachers, you guys know that we try our very best,” Thompson-Epss, the school board president, said at the meeting. “We try. Yes, there may be some personal vendettas like what was said, maybe some misunderstanding. But at the end, children come first. Children are first.”
She later clarified her statements about personal vendettas to LocalSource, saying “Some people may feel there are personal vendettas because there is change.”

While the school board claimed the AP psychology class would be eliminated, the superintendent said the district plans to train another teacher during the summer to teach the class.

Gayles also added that “No one on the board is retaliatory.”
“We have to take a look on the needs of the district and put personnel where we think they will provide the maximum benefit for our district and students,” Gayles told LocalSource after the meeting.

Gayles added that district officials are still working on some issues with the salary guides and that he hoped to resolve the matter “rather quickly.”