Stakeholders in negotiations regarding the Bayonne teachers’ contract are scheduled to meet again on Monday, Aug. 25, following an “encouraging” gathering at City Hall on Aug. 1, said Business Administrator Joseph DeMarco.
Bayonne Teachers Association head Alan D’Angelo, Board of Education attorney Robert Clarke, board member Michael Masone, and a New Jersey Education Association representative were among those at the approximately three-hour gathering, according to DeMarco, who represented the city.
Mayor James Davis had asked DeMarco to sit in on the session to get a sense of where the negotiations were and what is necessary to resolve the issue.
DeMarco described the meeting as a “productive” one, but without any decisions on “hard resolutions.”
“Everyone is trying to get to a point where both sides can go back to their respective boards,” DeMarco said. “So the committee can go back to the full board, and the union rep to the teachers.”
The four-plus year impasse will be entering its fifth year when school begins next month, and the administration is hopeful the issue can be remediated by school opening on Sept. 3.
“The goal of all is to have this deal that can be presented for all sides for approval by Labor Day,” DeMarco said. “That’s the goal.”
According to DeMarco, the Aug. 1 get-together engendered the feeling that a resolution can be achieved.
“The good news is everyone at the meeting on the first was committed to coming back on the 25th, even if it takes two or three days to get it done. We’re blocking out that week to hammer out a deal,” DeMarco said. “There's dialogue, communication. Everyone's talking. There’s progress.”
One of the current issues is how long a term should now be negotiated, since the contract talks have gone on for a few years.
“The question is do you settle the four years, or do you try to create a contract for additional years going forward,” DeMarco said. “What are the terms of the contract?”
An eight-year deal is being discussed that would include the last four years as well as the next four.
At the Aug. 1 meeting, time was spent discussing contract length, along with the numbers proffered thus far by the two sides. The state fact finder's report and his recommendations were reviewed.
“We left Aug. 1 with a tasking to take a look at budgets again,” DeMarco said. “We’re looking to see if there’s money from prior budgets, and potentially going forward, to pay for the raise and any increase.”
As with most union contracts, the belief is this one will come down to the numbers.
“There is money there; $7.8 million. That’s what the fact finder recommended,” DeMarco said. “The teachers are looking for additional money. What is available from the past four years? What can the taxpayers tolerate going forward?”
Where the additional funding for the increase would come from, and how much would be supported by city residents, are the major questions.
“It’s a balancing act between the needs of the teachers, the students and parents, and then the taxpayers,” DeMarco said.
There is continued debate over whether there is any additional money over the $7.8 million.
And while Mayor Davis said “some progress” was seen on Aug. 1, the negotiations are not being seen as a cakewalk.
“There’s a still a lot of work to be done. It’s not like there’s a small difference,” DeMarco said. “The teachers are still looking for the salary increase. The board of education members are still saying there’s not the amount of the money for that.”
The city says a “creative way” to finance the teachers’ increase will be found without hurting the education system in Bayonne.
“No one wants to cut programs,” DeMarco said. “The ultimate goal is to provide a quality education for the students of Bayonne.”
The business administrator acknowledges there is “a lot of pent-up frustration” over the contract.
He is hopeful that the new administration can be helpful in settling the issue, so educators can put their full focus back on their mission.
“We want teachers to worry about students, not about their rent or their other bills,” DeMarco said.
“It’s hard for them to move forward. The mayor and I realize the challenge.”
He said that they are aware of the pressure that the strained negotiations have put on all those involved with education in the city.
“Teachers feel it in their paychecks, kids feel it in the classroom, and administrators feel it in hallways,” he said. “The mayor feels it. We’re all aware. It's a good time to get it done. And we want to get it done.”
‘Heading in the right direction’
The business administrator admitted that the eventual agreement will likely be one that will leave no one feeling 100 percent fulfilled.
“When you get to this point, probably no one will walk away truly happy or truly satisfied,” he said. “We’ll walk away knowing we all did what we could. We’re trying to strike a balance.”
DeMarco feels the parties involved are heading in the right direction.
“I think we identified a framework; what needs to be accomplished,” he said.
Repeated attempts were made to reach BTA union head Alan D’Angelo and Board of Education attorney Robert Clarke, but no responses were received from either.