ROSELLE, NJ — The president of the union representing 400 teachers and support staff, such as security guards, custodians and nurses, has asked the local Board of Education to return to the negotiating table.
Claudia Jo, president of the Roselle Education Association, addressed the Oct. 29 board meeting, saying that although a stalemate has been declared and a bargaining session with a state mediator has been scheduled for next month, she wants the board to return to face-to-face negotiations before then.
The REA, which has been working without a contract for more than 17 months, wants to try to strike a deal before the Dec. 19 date with the mediator.
“I come to you this evening, in front of all Roselle stakeholders, to ask that you join me in returning to the ‘phase one’ negotiations table to try once again to hash this out instead of waiting and paying for a mediator,” Jo said. “We shouldn’t need attorneys and people from the outside to direct what we all know needs to be done.
“I am presenting this offer publicly this evening, to formally request that you return to the negotiating table with us in good faith, so we can avoid all this terribly unnecessary waste of time and money.
“There are problems we can’t fix, but there are many problems we that can. I implore that you meet me at the negotiations table to try once again to acknowledge this huge responsibility that we both bear. I await an answer to my most sincere request to meet me halfway.”
Jo said that morale has been “at an all-time low” in the schools since the union’s contract expired July 1, 2017. She said the union is eager to negotiate, but it is difficult to schedule a meeting with a state mediator. She said a session with a mediator had been scheduled for Nov. 7, but was delayed by the board because school is closed for the week.
Keyanna Jones, a member of the board’s negotiating team, said it was unlikely the board would return to negotiations before Dec. 19.
“We unfortunately got to a point where we just could not agree and one side decided that an impasse was the only route they could take,” Jones said at the Oct. 29 meeting. “Now when I’m talking to you and you’re telling me the conversation is over, then the conversation is over. No matter what I want to say, if you don’t want to continue to talk, then you cannot continue that conversation.”
Jones scolded the union for being “disingenuous” and creating the impression that the board hasn’t been coming to the table.
“I would really appreciate it in as much as you can tell the truth and tell the whole truth, and let’s try not to make each other look bad because that’s not what it’s about,” Jones said. “Because, working under an expired contract does not mean that you don’t get paid. It doesn’t mean you don’t get benefits. It doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your stipend.”
About 75 teachers and support staff picketed outside Abraham Clark High School before the Sept. 24 school board meeting. During the meeting, several residents urged the board to give the union a new deal.
“The teachers are giving more of themselves and all I ask is you consider to pay them,” Councilwoman Denise 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.”
According to state records, the annual median salary for a Roselle teacher during the 2017-18 school year was $58,125, which ranks 482nd of 659 school districts and charter schools in the state.
Several residents who spoke during the public portion of the Sept. 24 meeting said the borough lags behind other school districts in teacher pay yet seems eager to give administrators six-figure salaries.
Jo said one of the sticking points in negotiations has been health insurance. Teachers across the state have said the implementation of the so-called Chapter 78 law — which revamped how the state’s public workers contribute to their health insurance — has meant they were taking home less pay each year.
Jo painted a bleak picture facing Roselle teachers during the Oct. 29 meeting. She said there is an “alarming exodus” of staff leaving the school district and “it is getting to the point where it is difficult to get substitutes, let alone teachers or other staff members.”
She also said some teachers are holding classes in basements and hallways, that some classrooms have leaks and are in disrepair and that the classes are “overcrowded.”
“We are on the edge of a very dangerous cliff, with the term ‘state takeover’ being whispered more loudly with each passing day,” Jo said. “Neither of us wants that to happen under our leadership. We are all better than that.”
Nathan Fisher, principal at the Kindergarten Success Academy and representative for the Roselle Administrators Association, also addressed the board Oct. 29 about the expired contract.
“I just want to keep it hot on the plate that we’re right behind the teachers,” Fisher said. “The association has been working with an expired contract. We just wanted to let you know that it is the Roselle administrators that keep these teachers motivated.”
School board Vice President Donna Eleazer said negotiations with the RAA are ongoing and have not yet reached an impasse.