Board President: We're Frustrated By Union Offers
The board of education and teachers union are preparing to go into fact finding.
As the board of education and Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association prepare to go into fact finding for contract negotiations, board president Evan Lerner said he is frustrated that the union keeps increasing its requests while the district is trying to meet somewhere in the middle.
"Last year, the union offered 0, 3.6 and 3.6, and offered to move to the state health plan," he said. "Then they declared impasse and moved to mediation."
"Now they are asking for 2.5, 2.5 and 2.5 with the state health plan," he added. "In 10 months, we have gone from impasse to mediation to asking for more."
Lerner announced at the March 27 board of education meeting that the negotiations had not been completed in three mediation sessions, so the mediator has suggested they move on to fact finding.
Throughout the process, and in its most recent offer, the board, Lerner said, is offering 1 percent, 2 percent and 2 percent, and a tutorial period instead of the previously requested sixth period of teaching for high school teachers. This is double the board's last offer, he said.
"I feel we're moving toward the middle, and they're asking for more than they did before," he said. "I feel we will settle, but it's hard to settle when you're moving toward the middle and the other is asking for more."
The fact finding process, Lerner said, takes about three months to complete, but it hasn't yet started for the district. Once a judge makes the decision, it remains non-binding, which means the sides don't have to agree.
"But one might argue that because it is nonbinding, it keeps people away from the table," he said.
Still, Lerner said, the main frustration is that the board of education has more than doubled in its financial offerings, and has switched to asking for a tutorial period instead of a sixth one for the teachers—but the union has not been as understanding.
"And they've asked for more money with five periods," he said.
In addition, Lerner said, he has been concerned by the constant comparisons of the school board to a corporation with profit.
"We don't make a profit, we take money in the form of taxes," he said. "[Union president Steve Beatty] has said we've made money, but we're putting roofs on buildings that haven't had them fixed."
And at this point, Lerner said, if the union does not move toward the middle in terms of what it is requesting, he believes the district will head into September without a contract for the teachers.
"We don't even want to go to May without a contract," he said. "But unless the union moves to the middle, we will go to September without one."
"Going to the middle is typical of negotiations," he added. "We believe the teachers want a contract, but it is by going to the middle that you get to one."
Lerner said the school board has not had this kind of problem with teacher contract negotiations in about 12 to 15 years.
"The most recent two contracts discussed what was standard around town, and they did things nice and easy," he said. "They avoided other issues."
"But it's a different world now," he added.