Kenilworth, teachers reach deal after year without contract

Photo Courtesy of Dawn Horling
AGREEMENT REACHED — About 25 teachers, whose contract expired more than a year ago, picketed before the Kenilworth Board of Education meeting at David A. Brearley Middle and High School on Monday, Aug. 13. The teachers union and BOE reached a tentative agreement Thursday, Aug. 16.

KENILWORTH, NJ — The borough’s teachers, who have been working for more than a year without a contract, reached an agreement with the local Board of Education on Thursday, Aug. 16.

Details of the agreement were not released as the Kenilworth Education Association’s membership had not yet voted on it.
The tentative pact comes days after the BOE meeting on Monday, Aug. 13, when about 25 teachers stood outside David A. Brearley Middle and High School with signs reading: “Show that you care … Fair contract now!” and “BOE actions speak louder than words.”

BOE President Nancy Zimmerman said it was important to reach a settlement before the start of the school year, “because the situation being what it was creates an air of low morale among the staff, among the teachers.”

Zimmerman said in an Aug. 17 phone interview that she had often seen teachers picketing as she dropped her daughter off at school in the morning.

“It hurt her on a daily basis, walking through that,” Zimmerman said, “as well as other students who saw that and some of the other activities and things that were undertaken that made the general air of the schools less than happy, is the only way to say it. Less than happy.

“It affects everybody. Teachers, the secretaries, the custodians, the aides, the students all had a negative effect from the situation. So, having that resolved so we can move forward into September with a better sense and a better feeling of things certainly has me excited.”

Union Vice President Leslie Bedford said the main sticking points in the contract had been salary and benefits. The implementation of the so-called Chapter 78 law, which changed how the state’s public workers pay into their health benefits, meant several teachers were taking home less pay with each succeeding year.

When the board voted in the spring to cut funding for some teachers’ stipends for special projects, it sent morale plummeting, Bedford said. And, according to union President Lynne Smith, teachers were stung when the district recently received about $1.6 million in state aid about the same time the stipends were cut.

Bedford added that the teachers began to feel unappreciated by the BOE.
“We want the board members to understand how important this is,” Bedford said before the Aug. 13 board meeting. “This is our livelihood. I have a colleague of mine who always used to say, ‘I leave my three kids every day to come here and educate the students of Kenilworth. Why else would I leave my three kids, if it wasn’t for something big? And that’s how important my job is, so that I leave my three kids to come here?’ So that shows the board, ‘Look how committed we are. Our job is to get up every day and take care of the students of this district and we’d just like a little recognition that we’re doing that.”

At the Aug. 13 BOE meeting, Kenilworth resident Alessandra Bonnachi asked the board to work to reach an agreement with the union, saying it should take, “some steps to repair this relationship. As an outsider, I’m not a teacher here, I’m not on the board here, it does not come off like a very good relationship here right now and that really worries me for my children. My children are little. They have a long way to go here in this school system and I don’t really like sending them to this type of environment.”

Zimmerman said she and the rest of the negotiating team had to weigh the union’s demands with their responsibility to borough taxpayers.
“You have to be responsible and reasonable at the same time,” she said. “You look at many factors involved. It just can’t be the emotion of, ‘My child loves her teacher so and so because they did such a great job with them.’

“There are teachers that my daughter to this day from her grammar school up to high school speaks of fondly, but it still comes down to what is the responsible thing to do as a whole.”

Although the students have had the summer off, the Board of Education has been at work. The board reached an agreement to pay former Superintendent Thomas Tramaglini more than $100,000, according to a separation agreement between the school district and the former official, who was charged with defecating near the track and football field near Holmdel High School in May.

Tramaglini, whose arrest in May by Holmdel police drew international attention and set off a flurry of internet headlines referring to a “mystery pooper” and “super pooper,” will receive five months’ pay for the time between May and his final day in September, according to a copy of the separation agreement obtained by LocalSource through an Open Public Record Act request.

Tramaglini will also receive a one-time payment of two months’ salary equaling $24,584 as part of the separation agreement signed Thursday, July 26, the day the board voted unanimously to accept his resignation, effective Sunday, Sept. 30. Tramaglini will also receive $23,827 for the 42 unused vacation days he accrued since he started at the position Feb. 16, 2016. Records show Tramaglini had a yearly salary of $147,504.

The board voted Aug. 13 to hire Marilyn Birnbaum as acting superintendent from Aug. 20 to Sept. 30, and as acting and interim superintendent until June 30, 2019, or until a permanent superintendent is hired.

Zimmerman said the board will soon turn its attention to hiring a permanent superintendent.
“You have to find candidates and then we start the legwork,” she said. “We start the background searches and the checking the references and the interviewing and weeding down the candidates and just go forward.

The BOE president emphasize that the decision, “takes time, especially when you are trying to find the right person. No sense rushing into what is a major decision for the district because the superintendent is the educational leadership for the district, sets the tone for the district, so it is very important that we find the right person.”