ROSELLE, NJ — About 75 teachers, frustrated to be working without a contract for more than 15 months, picketed outside Abraham Clark High School before the Sept. 24 school board meeting.
One group of teachers at the corner of East 7th Avenue and Chestnut Street brandished signs that read “We want a contract,” “No contract, still working” and “Where’s the funds?”
One teacher called out, “I get paid less than I did five years ago.”
Horns blared as passing motorists showed their support for the teachers.
Another group of teachers was at the corner of East 6th Avenue and Chestnut, with one teacher leading others in a call-and-response chant.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
A small group of teachers waited near the entrance to the parking lot where Roselle Board of Education members enter.
Roselle Education Association President Claudia Jo, said the union has more than 400 members, and that the teacher’s contract expired July 1, 2017. Jo said at the meeting that the REA has been ready and willing to negotiate, but that it has been “met with frustration due to delays and constant cancellations that have hindered progress.
“If you want to raise test scores, if you want clean, safe, secure and healthy facilities, and if you truly want to prepare (students) for college, work and life, then a contract is a way to accomplish these goals,” she said.
“A contract is the driving force of the educational process of Roselle. Without it, we are lost. We can only move forward if we do it together. We need to begin immediately. Together, we can find solutions to make the school district, the town and the community a better place for all.”
The BOE has dealt with several issues this year, including an independent audit that indicated the former superintendent of school’s signature had been forged on purchase orders; the dismissal of board member Archange Antoine; and allegations by BOE President Patricia Fabrizio that she has been “racially assaulted” by board members.
During the past several months, the subject of the teachers’ contract has rarely been raised at board meetings.
BOE Vice President Donna Eleazer issued a statement about the negotiations at the Aug. 19 meeting, saying the board had made a “good-faith, last best offer,” but that health care insurance continued to be a sticking point. She said the REA had declared the parties were “at an impasse” and that a state-appointed mediator would be called in.
“The board believes the open issues are salary and health benefits,” Eleazer said. “It will take some time for mediation to be scheduled. Further updates will be made as appropriate.”
Jo said a mediator has not yet joined the negotiations, but that health insurance will be one of the issues addressed. Teachers across the state have said the implementation of the so-called Chapter 78 law — which has revamped how the state’s public workers pay into their health insurance — has meant they were taking home less pay each year.
According to state records, the annual median salary for a Roselle teacher during the 2017-18 school year was $58,125, ranking at 482 out of 659 school districts and charter schools across the state. Several residents who spoke during the public portion of the Sept. 24 meeting rallied around the teachers and urged the BOE to meet their demands. Many residents said the borough lags behind other school districts in teacher pay yet seems eager to give administrators six-figure salaries.
Ethelyne Grimsley filed to run for the open seat for a one-year term to fill the unexpired term of a former BOE member, but then withdrew; when she urged the board to give teachers a 2- or 3-percent increase, several teachers in the audience corrected her by yelling out: “Five.”
Several residents in attendance at the meeting, like Councilwoman Denise Wilkerson, said teachers deserve to be rewarded for their hard work.
“The teachers are giving more of themselves and all I ask is you consider to pay them,” Wilkerson said. “Give them a contract. The contract means more than just a number. It means we appreciate you. It means that we respect you. It means we want you to stay and we appreciate what you do for our children. I hope that is the sentiment for this board and with all due respect, please take care of our teachers.”
Resident Maria Hegener said voters will hold it against board members at the polls in November if the teachers are not given a new contract.
“Whoever’s running this year, I’ve got something to tell you,” she said. “You’re not going to win because we all know your names. So, let’s get to work, get these people some contracts, let our children start learning and do what you’re supposed to be doing up there instead of bickering back and forth because it will be your demise. “
The comments by Hegener, Wilkerson and Grimsley were met with applause from the teachers. Several teachers began to leave the auditorium after the public comment portion of the meeting, but stopped in the aisles to listen when BOE member Keyanna Jones, who tried to extend an olive branch.
“Unfortunately, we got to a point where we kind of got to a standstill, but we’re still moving forward at this time,” Jones said. “We want to keep that going. We want to keep moving forward because you’re never our enemy. Understand, that the board does come to negotiate in good faith because we have faith in you that you’re going to come in every day and do your job.
“We have to show you that same faith that you can have in us, that we are going to continue to work with you to get a solution. It may not be what you like, it may not be what you like, but at some point, we are going to have to meet at the middle and that’s what we’re continuing to work toward.”
Fabrizio filed to run for a three-year term and board member Courtney Washington filed to run for a one-year term to fill the unexpired term of a former member. Eleazer was absent from the Sept. 24 meeting.