Lakewood school board, teachers reach new deal

LEA members
will get 4 percent
increase per year

Staff Writer

Lakewood school board,
teachers reach new deal
LEA members
will get 4 percent
increase per year
Staff Writer

The Lakewood Board of Education has ratified a new three-year contract setting salary and benefits for the Lakewood Education Association (LEA). The union’s current contract is due to expire on June 30.

Membership in the LEA includes teachers and affiliated professionals such as nurses, social workers and psychologists; paraprofessionals; and secretaries.

The contract ratified by the board on May 20 was the same agreement the board declined to approve April 26. LEA members ratified the agreement April 16.

LEA President Pat Forse addressed the board at the May 20 special meeting after board members unanimously ap-proved the contract as well as reductions made to the defeated 2004-05 school budget by the Township Committee.

"Our town has been held hostage by the board," Forse said. "You are definitely out for blood. Why should we be grateful?"

Board Vice President Norman Bellinger, who was a negotiator during bargaining sessions and signed the agreement the full board turned down in April, insisted that the board needed further givebacks. The agreement ratified by the board reduces the union’s previous 4.5 percent annual increase to 4 percent per year over the three years of the contract from 2004-07.

Bellinger said he also wanted LEA members to contribute toward the cost of their health benefits.

However, board member Leonard Thomas, who was also a negotiator during the contract talks, maintained that the district wanted to do all it could to help union members as well as the children of Lakewood.

"We’re here to give (teachers) a fair contract and educate the children in this district," Thomas said.

Board President Abraham Ostreicher asked whose opinion he was supposed to believe in deciding whether or not the board should vote to approve the first agreement, which was also negotiated by former board member Neil Price, whose term ended in April.

After meeting in closed session, the board returned to ratify the agreement in public session.

The contract gives teachers and affiliated district personnel the same terms and conditions as the present contract, according to Carol Cousins, the LEA’s vice presi­dent.

Union members will continue to receive health and dental benefits without having to contribute to their cost. The issue was also the fo­cus of intensive bargaining be­tween board negotiators and union representatives during collective talks. Despite an agreement be­tween the two sides that health and dental benefits would not be sub­ject to givebacks by the union, the full board declined to ratify the tentative agreement on April 26 that the union had ratified on April 16. One month later, board members changed their minds.

"We’re very glad its over," said Cousins. "This will be the third (contract) that’s signed, sealed and delivered before the end of school."

Due to the board’s delay in rati­fying the agreement, changes af­fecting the hours worked by the transportation secretary during the special education summer school program will not take effect until the second year of the new con­tract.

In addition to a deferment in implementing all the contractual obligations, the board stipulated that representatives of the teach­ers’ union must agree to meet with designated board members in a continuing effort to raise students’ test scores.

"Test scores still aren’t higher," said board member Meir Grunhut. "They’re not up to par. All I want is accountability."

Grunhut said during the meeting that he wanted all children attend­ing Lakewood public schools to graduate and get a good job.

Cousins told the Tri-Town News there are reasons that may not be possible.

"Our elementary schools are 70 percent Hispanic," she said. "We’re getting children that haven’t even been schooled before. There are cultural differences that make us the diverse community we are and those things have to be addressed. We (also) have to (meet the re­quirements) of the (federal) No Child Left Behind Act. We are sup­posed to get a few dollars more un­der the governor’s new budget, but it’s just not enough to make a dif­ference."

Thomas said the teachers’ con­tract should not be held hostage to the district’s goal to raise test scores.

"I want higher test scores, but one (should not) be tied to an­other," said Thomas.

Cousins said the pay increase of 4 percent would be distributed among union members according to a salary guide. The guide is based on a formula calculated by the New Jersey Education Association. The organization will formulate several different guides that the LEA will examine. Cousins said one formula would be selected to com­pute the distribution of an increase under the new three-year contract that will be in effect on July 1.

"We don’t each get 4 percent and that amount is distributed (according to) our aggregate salaries," said Cousins. "Many peo­ple think the teachers get 4 per­cent, but not everybody gets the same amount."

Under the current teacher’s salary guide for 2003-04, union members with a bachelor of arts degree in education and no experi­ence start out at $37,436 a year. Those with a bachelor’s degree and 15 years or more of experience earn $38,436 a year. With 30 years of experience, a teacher beginning his or her first year of employment in Lakewood will earn $39,436.

If a teacher has a master of arts degree in education but no experi­ence teaching, he or she will earn $40,436 a year of employment in Lakewood. With a master’s degree and at least 15 years of experience, a first-time teacher in the district will earn $41,436 a year. That first year salary rises to $42,436 with 30 years or more of experience and a master’s degree.

A teacher starting his or her ca­reer in the Lakewood school dis­trict will earn $43,436 a year with a doctorate in education.

Teachers can progress through a series of 23 steps, which all deter­mine salary according to the same categories of education and expe­rience. If a teacher has reached the 23rd step, he or she could earn from $63,835 to $69,835. After those steps are attained, a series of six additional steps off the guide de­termine salary pending a teacher’s retirement. Under those guidelines, teachers can earn from $65,935 to $81,688. However, Cousins said that only a very small percentage of teachers fall into that category.

"This is my 28th year in New Jersey and my 30th in teaching and I still haven’t reached the fi­nal step," she said.