Jersey City teachers’ contract upheld by court

Challenge by former state school district monitor dismissed

School Board President Sudhan Thomas said the court vindicated the teachers' contract agreement.
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School Board President Sudhan Thomas said the court vindicated the teachers' contract agreement.

A legal challenge against the recent contract between the Jersey City Board of Education and Jersey City Education Association has been dismissed by a Superior Court decision.

In June, Cathy Coyle, who served as the state monitor over the Jersey City school district until last year, filed a Petition of Appeal with the state Department of Education challenging the new JCEA contract.

She alleged the school board “acted against the interests of the students, families, and taxpayers of the district in the negotiation and ratification of its largest employment contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Coyle said at the time of the filing, “As a lifelong educator, I will not stand idly by while the futures of thousands of Jersey City’s children are put at risk by the radical actions of adult board members.”

“While the Petition of Appeal outlines inappropriate conduct by President Sudhan Thomas, Vice President Lorenzo Richardson, and other members of the Jersey City Board of Education,” she said, “we have no evidence of misdeeds by the Jersey City Education Association or its leadership.”

The Board of Education filed a challenge against Coyle’s motion and on July 10 obtained a ruling that said the contract was valid.

The school board approved a four-year contract with the JCEA in May that had no salary increases for the first year and also stopped increases in the salary steps for the first year for most teachers.

Terms of the four year agreement

The contract runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2023. Under the deal, teachers work on a step process which allows a district to hire them at relatively low wages during the early years when they have the least experience, with the promise of higher compensation later in the process. There is also an increase when teachers get additional educational degrees.

Under the contract, teachers earning a median income of $74,600 in the first year can expect to earn about $95,000 at the end of the contract in 2023. But teachers already at the top of the salary guide will see no increase in salary under this contract.

The board voted 8 to 1 for the agreement, with Trustee Matt Schapiro voting against it, on May 2.

Charges of conflicts and secrecy

The complaint claimed that the board members who negotiated the contract – Thomas and Richardson – have conflicts of interest with JCEA which should have prevented them from negotiating with the union.

Coyle also claimed that the board members who negotiated the contract lacked the necessary board authorization to negotiate with JCEA. They conducted the negotiations without informing non-conflicted board members.

“They conducted the negotiations without legal counsel,” Coyle claimed and added that the board faultily invoked the Doctrine of Necessity several times to try to cover their conflicts but failed to do so properly.

The Doctrine of Necessity is invoked when a majority of the board has conflicts and are unable to take action under the usual state regulations. This document allows normally conflicted board members to vote as if not conflicted.

“Students are the ones ultimately hurt by board members’ improprieties,” said Schapiro. “As the public’s representatives in the Jersey City Public Schools, board members must be honest with the public on the board’s errors over the past year, including the bungled contract negotiation. Transparency and honesty will be key in the process of restoring public trust in their elected school board members.”

Thomas claims vindication

Board President Sudhan Thomas said the July 10 Superior Court ruling was vindication of the board’s action.

“The Court’s complete denial and dismissal of another of Coyle’s complaint vindicates the JC Board of Education, both in the integrity of the collective bargaining negotiation process along with the board’s inherent intent, sense and character,” Thomas said.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com