According to Alan D’Angelo, president of the Bayonne Teachers’ Association, the protest was designed to send a message to Mayor Mark Smith, who as leader of the community, D’Angelo said, should be helping to settle the dispute that is going into its fourth year.
Teachers and secretaries in the Bayonne School District have been negotiating for a new contract since the last one expired three years ago.
School officials claim cuts in state aid made it impossible to meet teachers’ demands. Teachers’ representatives claim the school district should rearrange its priorities in order to offer an acceptable package.
While both sides have gone public with their sides of the story, nobody can agree on the details.
D’Angelo is negotiating on behalf of 750 teachers and 50 secretaries in the Bayonne school district,
D’Angelo said the district offered a zero-percent increase the first year, and a freeze the second year for teachers at the top of the salary guide. At the same time, he said, the school district awarded a 2-percent increase to some of the top-earning administrators, which has teachers crying foul. Teachers are also upset by the construction of a new Arts Academy in Bayonne High School as well as other upgrades that took place over the last summer, saying that settling the contract should be the district priority.
Bearing signs of all sorts, the slogan most popular among teachers asks “How can you put students first if you put teachers last?”
The protest came a day after the city settled contracts with four police and fire unions, something D’Angelo said did not discourage him or the protesters.
“The police and fire departments deserve a contract, but so do the teachers,” D’Angelo said, noting that the Board of Education’s negotiating team has not met with union officials since last November. “They said it was their final offer.”
At issue are several factors concerning increases in salaries. Teachers receive an increase in salary currently over 15 years or steps as they are called. The step guide is currently at 15, and the district says it wants to expand it to 17. This, according to school officials, would prevent the district from laying off teachers. By accepting the guide, teachers agree to get lower salaries for the early part of their careers, and then get rewarded later. The point at which their salaries more dramatically increase is called “the bubble” and arrives around year 12. By adding two steps, the school district reduces some of the impact of these increases, so a teacher may see half the raise he or she might have received under the existing guide in that year. The problem for teachers is that raises are cumulative, so that they lose a significant amount of money under the proposal, although the two sides dispute that.
Teachers claim the Board of Education is changing the goal posts now that many teachers have reached the point where they are getting their due.
“This is about the money,” D’Angelo said. “The problem for [the school board] is that too many teachers are reaching the bubble and [the school board] does not want to pay.”
School officials, however, said that the step guide was never anything written in stone and that it was proposed at a time prior to massive cuts in state aid to Bayonne. Combined with the collapse in the national economy in 2008, the loss of state aid required the district to cut back and rethink things that were forged during a more lucrative economic climate.
Currently, the teachers union and Board of Education are waiting on the outcome of a state fact- finding committee that will issue a report.
The problem is that this is nonbinding, and if it comes out in favor of the teachers, then the Board of Education, D’Angelo said, can simply ignore it.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.