CLARK – If there was one thing teachers in the Clark School district wanted for Christmas it was for their union contracts to be wrapped up once and for all. It’s a good thing no one counted on that package arriving in the nick of time.
The three-year teacher contracts expired June 30, but neither side has been able to come to a meeting of the minds as of yet. In fact, the issue became a bone of contention in November when teachers, parents and the board of education aired their feelings on the matter.
Clark Education Association President Chris Taillefer, a teacher at Kumpf Elementary School, approached the microphone, accused the board of stalling the negotiations to date and pointing out that the CEA thought the contracts were settled in August.
“But here we are Nov. 12 and we have no deal,” he said, adding that teachers were still working.
“I know that this has happened before and we have gone this far into the school year without a contract and you would think we would know better, because it doesn’t benefit any of us,” Taillefer said to the large contingent of parents and teachers assembled that evening.
One board of education member interjected to say the board was continuing to negotiate in good faith and trying to balance the need for fiscal responsibility with resolving the contract as quickly as possible.
However, countless teachers approached the microphone to speak about the dedication of fellow staff members.
Some parents accused the board of not having the best interests of parents in mind, urging the board to stop holding back and vote on the contract “right now.”
Parent Kim Baglieri mentioned that teachers were only working their contracted hours from 8:15 to 3 p.m. and stopped working altogether with students before and after school. This did not sit well with school board member Carmen Brocato, who was the only board member to speak out that evening.
“My problem with your union is you stand up at the mic and say you care but when a student comes in at 3 or asks to come in early, you refuse to help them,” he said, adding that this was the same as being a police officer and refusing to help a child in need.
Bracato said he was well aware of the problems involving contract negotiations since he is in a union and involved with negotiations, but eliminating before and after school help was going too far.
“If you think you are helping your cause with this board you are wrong. I know what you are going through but what you are doing to hurt students’ education is what I have a problem with,” he added.
Although there has been some confusion over the teachers working without a contract, this is not true, according to a letter written by the board of education to the public in late November. The letter tried to clear up several misconceptions about the unsettled union contracts and untruths that have circulated regarding settlement issues.
“The Clark community should hear true and accurate information regarding the teacher’s contract and the bargaining process,” the letter said, prefacing this comment by explaining an open letter to the community by the Clark Education Association on Facebook had not presented the true state of the negotiation process.
“The board and association has not been bargaining for over a year and a half. The parties began substantive bargaining in February,” the letter said, explaining that the teacher’s union agreement technically ended June 20.
More importantly, the school board wanted the community to know that school district teachers are not working without a contract.
“Every staff member continues to work under the contract that ended June 30. They continue to receive their full pay and every benefit contained in the agreement. No term or condition of their job has changed at all,” the school board said.
The board also pointed out that whatever salary adjustment is ultimately agreed upon will be retroactive to July 1, 2013.
“It is true that the parties are ‘close’ in their respective positions. However, close does not mean settled. The board’s negotiation committee met with the association to try and bring the parties to a compromise. The association rejected further compromise,” the letter indicated.
The letter went on to explain that rather than continuing to bargain, the teachers decided to stop performing any duties outside of their seven-hour workday.
“The association wants you to believe that they had no choice but to stop helping your children, but that is not entirely accurate. The teachers voluntarily decided to ‘work the contract’ as a ploy to force the board to accept its offer. The board believes that using Clark’s children as hostages in this process is not in anyone’s best interest and does nothing to foster the kind of communication necessary to work towards amicably settling the contract,” the letter said.
The board went on to explain that they believe their offer is reasonable while still being fiscally responsible to Clark taxpayers and “maintaining a sustainable budget.”
“The board believes that their offer demonstrates significant commitment to fairly compensate the staff while preserving the high standards and educational expectations for Clark’s children,” the missive said, adding that the board “stands ready, willing and able to continue to bargain in good faith, but will not be forced to accept a deal that is not in the community’s best interest.”
Calls made to Clark Superintendent of Schools Ken Knops were not returned.
Efforts to reach the Clark Education Association also resulted in no contact.