Roselle teachers union head chides school board over contract

ROSELLE, NJ — The president of the Roselle Education Association, which represents 400 borough teachers whose contract expired almost 18 months ago, chided members of the Board of Education last week for not negotiating, as a date with a mediator looms.

At the Nov. 19 BOE meeting, REA President Claudia Jo, who represents teachers and support staff who have been without a contract since July 1, 2017, urged the board to resume negotiations although a Dec. 19 meeting has been set with mediator Anthony Bagliore. She listed several dates of meetings the board canceled and invitations to negotiate that were turned down by the board.

According to Jo, the board canceled four negotiation sessions in 2017: June 5, June 19, Aug. 24 and Sept. 12. And she alleged that the board had turned down several invitations to meet with the REA between December 2017 and March 2018. On March 15, Jo said the BOE announced it was suspending negotiations until after an audit was conducted.

She said the board most recently turned down an invitation by the REA to negotiate Nov. 7, because school was closed. She said union members were willing to meet “on our own time off” but that, while Bagliore has agreed to meet with the board and the union on Saturdays, board members refuse to meet on weekends.

At the Nov. 19 meeting, Jo went on to respond to several comments made by school board member Keyanna Jones at the Oct. 29 BOE meeting, when Jones referred to the REA as “disingenuous” and said the board could not return to the negotiating table before the date with the mediator.

Jo said that although a date with Bagliore is set, “that does not mean that we cannot come to the table. The only thing that is keeping us from coming to the table is your ultimatum. So, yes, you were wrong when you said we could not turn back. There is a return at this point. You said you have been coming to the table, however five meetings were cancelled and for three months there was no movement because of the board. Never did I try to make anyone look bad, I have been professional and positive and, in return, I was called ‘disingenuous’ and it was claimed I was not telling the truth.”

Toward the end of the Nov. 19 meeting, Jones said, “In reference to the comments made by the union president, I have no comment because, in the words of my granny, ‘A hit dog will holler.’ I have no need to justify anything, so if it don’t holler, we’ll just let it lie. We are waiting on our date for mediation. We will continue negotiations as such.

Jones also stated at the Oct. 29 meeting that the board and the teachers had both been coming to negotiation sessions, adding, “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. 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.”

The exchange at the Nov. 19 meeting was the latest volley between the two sides at reaching a contract, which has included legal declarations and picketing amid a tumultuous year, including two changes in the superintendent and a board member being dismissed.
In August, BOE Vice President Donna Eleazer announced that the two sides had reached an impasse and that a mediator would be called in, with the main sticking points being health insurance benefits and salaries. Union members are currently working under the terms of the expired contract.

Before the Sept. 24 school board meeting, approximately 75 teachers and support staff picketed outside Abraham Clark High School, and several residents and a councilwoman complained that the board hasn’t given teachers a raise, but often hands out six-figure contracts to administrators.

“The teachers are giving more of themselves and all I ask is you consider to pay them,” Councilwoman Denise Wilkerson said at that meeting. “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.”

According to state records, the annual median salary for a Roselle teacher during the 2017-18 school year was $58,125, ranking at 482nd of 659 school districts and charter schools in New Jersey.

“If you’re truly willing to talk, as a board member said before, then let’s talk,” Jo said at the Nov. 19 meeting. “Again, we do not need to wait for a mediator. The contract expired two years ago and while, yes, you said that we were being paid and were still getting our benefits, however, I must question how is that coming to the table in good faith?

“Staff members still also continue caring for and educating our students. We continue to stay after hours and take our work home. The expiration date was always set, and it should not have come as a surprise. So again, I question how was that ever coming in good faith?”

According to the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission’s website, Bagliore is a staff mediator. He has been brought in during contract disputes in the Kearny, Wanaque, Paterson, West Deptford and Jersey City school districts, among others.