Mediation talk set for union, Montgomery school district

Two sides reach impasse; teachers say strike is not a consideration.

By: Paul Sisolak
   MONTGOMERY — Contract negotiations between the Montgomery Township Education Association and the school district will be resuming next month.
   The 485-member MTEA — mainly composed of teachers, and maintenance and secretarial workers — and the district have reached an impasse. Talks between the two sides began in the spring but broke down in June.
   The two primary negotiation issues, according to MTEA President and Village Elementary School teacher Max Rodriguez, are salaries and benefits. At the next session Sept. 15, both sides will rely on an outside mediator.
   "The main goal," Mr. Rodriguez said, "is to have an attractive salary to get quality staff and to maintain the staff you have."
   Reginald Luke, Board of Education member and Negotiating Committee chairman, said he was optimistic an end to the standstill is near.
   "I think we’re quite close to an agreement," he said, "but there are some final issues to resolve."
   Dr. Luke said bringing in a mediator should provide a new, third-party perspective on things.
   "We couldn’t come to closure on some final figures," he noted. "At some point, when you can’t make headway, you need mediation."
   Although this is the first time the board and union have reached a formal impasse during negotiations, according to Dr. Luke, a similar rift occurred three years ago and was not worked out until October of that school year.
   Despite the lack of a contract, Mr. Rodriguez said the MTEA is trying to remain positive for the start of the school year Sept. 8 and is not considering going on strike.
   "We’re keeping it positive and working for the children," he said. A strike, Mr. Rodriguez continued, "is not an option."
   Wearing red shirts as a sign of unity, Mr. Rodriguez and about three dozen MTEA members appeared at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. Mr. Rodriguez said the opening of school and the academic schedule should not be affected by the contract dispute, and told the board the MTEA is hoping to see a new contract soon. The MTEA’s previous three-year agreement expired at the end of June.
   "We’re starting off like every school year. Eager," Mr. Rodriguez said.