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Montgomery Teachers Information Meeting Scheduled for Feb 20 Is Postponed Due to Snow

Postponed Due to Snow. The Montgomery News is awaiting the new date, and will publish it once received.

The Montgomery Township Education Association (MTEA) will be hosting a Community Information Meeting on Wednesday, February 20, at the Montgomery High School Media Center from 7 pm to 8 pm, in which teachers will discuss the state of contract negotiations and their planned implementation of "Work to Rule."

There is no dispute that Montgomery Township public schools rank among the best in the state and the nation. Such an achievement is made possible due to the dedication of all of Montgomery’s educators – teachers and all educational support professionals in the district.

Our negotiations with the Montgomery Board of Education began in November of 2017 and what is being disputed is that the compensation of these dedicated educators is not comparable to the level of accomplishment of the district as a whole. One would think that a teacher working in a district which receives so many accolades would be making a salary that reflects the achievements of the district; however, in Montgomery, a teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree and twenty years’ experience is making $76,650 per year. How does that compare to our neighboring districts?

Princeton $93,050, Hopewell $89,430, West Windsor $87,350, Hillsborough $79,215, and Montgomery $76,650

We do not expect to gain parity with these districts in this round of negotiations, only that we keep from falling further behind in our attempts to achieve the Board established district goal of attracting and retaining high quality teachers.

Not only is salary not comparable to the outstanding reputation of the district, Montgomery Township Education Association members’ take-home paychecks have been steadily decreasing every year due to the effects of the State law passed in 2011 known as Chapter 78. This law, mandated health insurance deductions for school employees, was an extremely significant, unilateral change in public education compensation. In many cases, MTEA members are paying over $12,000 per year in employee deductions for family health insurance as mandated under the Chapter 78 law. Not only do employees pay more every year due to astronomical premium increases, as many private employees do, but the percentages are tied to staff salaries. A Family plan is averaging $4,000 a year in premium increases, the MTEA teacher is obligated to pay $,1000 of that each year. This wipes out almost all MTEA members annual increases.

All of this was shared with Montgomery BOE representatives during the interest based bargaining process, which commenced in the fall of 2017. The interest-based approach is designed to be a more collaborative process compared to traditional positional bargaining, for both sides to be able to work to a fair deal. Some progress was made on non-monetary items, but once salary and benefit discussions got more involved, it became clear that the Board was approaching this process cynically. It then became necessary for the MTEA to file for impasse. Impasse is when one or both parties determines that they can go no further in the bargaining process without assistance from a neutral third party, the State Department of Education.

Impasse was filed after the last session between the MTEA and the Board on June 19, 2018. We have been working without a contract ever since.

In the interim, the Board has broken with the spirit of Interest Based Bargaining with its unilateral decision to release it’s view on the details that transpired during 13 months of negotiations, to the public through a community wide email. What was portrayed as fact was easily proven false. The IBB facilitators from Rutgers, condemned the Board’s misrepresentations in the Board’s “Update of IBB”, in a public letter. The MTEA is investigating the possibility of an unfair labor practice with its attorneys.

As contract negotiations continued into the 2018-2019 school year, MTEA members began to diminish any extra time that they routinely volunteered of themselves. Email correspondence would be limited to school hours. Faculty members very often answer phone calls, texts, and emails before and after contractual hours. We all put in countless hours, before/after school and on the weekends to keep the line of communication open with the parents and guardians of our students. We work with a group of both dedicated and hard-working educators that give 100 percent of themselves to their students.

The MTEA feels that all of this hard work and dedication, beyond the confines of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (Contract), has for far too long been taken for granted by the Montgomery Board of Education, that effective Thursday, February 21, 2019, we will no longer participate in any volunteer activities held outside of school hours. This includes, but not limited to, various unpaid district activities, chaperoning school trips that extend beyond the school day (with the exception being overnight school trips already committed to), chaperoning after school and evening programs in music and art, no writing of letters of recommendation, no participation in graduation ceremonies held outside the school day, limiting after school help days to Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and only fulfilling our professional responsibilities as stated in the expired contract.

We look forward to resuming these activities upon settlement of a new contract. The MTEA includes all certificated staff, secretaries, custodial, grounds and maintenance workers, technology assistants and paraprofessionals. We have had a tremendous amount of support from the community. We are truly thankful for the parents and community members who continue to advocate for us.

As with the entire Montgomery community, the Montgomery Township Education Association wants to see only the best and the brightest educators in our public schools. However, many college-age students are watching their parents and former educators struggle and are choosing not to enter the profession. This comes precisely at the time when many of us will be retiring, and our schools will need to attract and retain new educators to take our collective place. Unless we do something to restore the respect for our public-school employees and right the wrongs caused by Chapter 78, we could be faced with an educator shortage soon, leaving us unable to maintain our world-class school system.

The previous contract expired on June 30, 2018. There have been several meetings since that time but the inability to reach an agreement has resulted in a stalemate. Board members and board attorney met in Mediation along with members of the MTEA Negotiations Team and a field representative from the New Jersey Education Association on Jan. 31, but a settlement couldn't be reached at that time. The major point of contention in contract talks is the impact of health insurance premiums on salaries.

The MTEA will be hosting a Community Information Meeting on Wednesday, February 20, 2019 at the MHS Media Center from 7-8 pm where we will discuss the state of Negotiations and the implementation of Work to Rule.

Scott Mason is president of the Montgomery Township Education Association

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