Teachers’ union president says staff will stay on job

Impasse declared in
Jackson school district;
mediator being sought

By Joyce Blay
Staff Writer

Teachers’ union president
says staff will stay on job
Impasse declared in

Jackson school district;

mediator being sought

By Joyce Blay

Staff Writer

JACKSON — Teachers and other education professionals will remain on the job despite a breakdown in negotiations between the Jackson Education Association (JEA), which represents them, and the Jackson Board of Education, according to JEA President Delores Harvey.

"We have no intention of allowing this dispute to reach the point where we would be in a similar situation to that of other districts," Harvey said at a board meeting held Sept. 24 at the Fine Arts Center auditorium in Jackson Memorial High School.

Harvey, an enrichment teacher in the K-12 district’s elementary schools, was referring to the jailing of striking teachers in Middletown, Monmouth County, last year.

"We have been in negotiations since last February, but our contract elapsed July 1," she said. "If the board is ready to resume negotiations, we will be, too."

The impasse between the union and the school board was declared after a negotiations session held Sept. 19. The two sides declared at that time that they could not find common ground in any of the contract proposals under consideration.

As a result, the board and union have requested that the Public Employment Relations Commission assign a mediator to assist in reopening negotiations. How-ever, Harvey said it will take at least two months before the paperwork is processed and a mediator is assigned to the negotiations. She also said there are only four mediators who specialize in helping to settle such disputes in New Jersey, which compounds the problem.

Despite their differences, both Harvey and board Vice President Ted Koch, the board’s chief negotiator, remained mute on exactly what demands the teachers had made or what the board was willing to give them in return. The one thing upon which the two did agree was their commitment to the children of Jackson.

Although neither Koch nor Harvey was willing to comment any further on the record, many others at the board meeting were.

Kim Reale, who described herself as a concerned parent, spoke passionately during the meeting’s public forum about what she thought of the situation.

"We need the teachers; we can’t live without the teachers," Reale said.

Looking at each of the board members, she said emphatically, "We need a resolution and our kids need [the teachers]."

She was greeted with thunderous applause as she walked back to her seat. But when Donna Hopkins, a paraprofessional at the Rosenauer Elementary School, got up, the subject was not about the contract dispute — at first.

Pointing to an item on the board’s list of expenditures, Hopkins asked board members why they had authorized $50 a day to transport one student to the Goddard School in Howell for approximately 210 days during the 2002-03 school year.

"This is absurd; how did this come about?" she demanded. "I guarantee, Mr. Brennan [the school district business administrator], that if you offered any driver out there $50 to take that child to the Goddard School, they all would [accept]. If I could make that much money [just by driving a bus for one student], I would quit my job and do it, too."

At that point, Acting Superintendent of Schools Francis X. Bygott responded to Hopkins’ comments by explaining that $50 is the going rate.

"This is the rate that other districts are paying, too," he said.

Hopkins asked Bygott why he didn’t try to negotiate a lower rate with the bus company before agreeing to $50 a day, and said she was not satisfied with the board’s financial budgeting.

She was not alone.

"We’re not the highest paid district, [and] you’re not willing to negotiate with us [either]," said Gail Molloy, a sixth- and seventh-grade special education teacher at the McAuliffe Middle School, referring to Bygott’s comment that some bus companies received even higher payments than did the one that was given the contract to transport the child to the school in Howell.

Despite Molloy’s reference to money as the root cause of the dispute between JEA members and the board, Harvey and Koch continued to decline further comment as to what percent increase in wages JEA members want or just how much the board is willing to put on the table.

The JEA is comprised of teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, learning consultants, social workers, speech teachers, school psychologists, librarians, school secretaries, library assistants, paraprofessionals and paramonitors.