|Superintendent John Keenan|
Photo Credit: Shore News
Frustrations continue to grow while morale goes down for the over 400 members of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association who have been working without a contract since June 30.
The Association represents the teachers and support staffs in Absegami High School, Oakcrest High School and Cedar Creek High School. On Wednesday, members gave a unanimous vote of confidence to its union leadership. The vote of confidence stated “The Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association gives a vote of unconditional confidence to its Negotiations Committee, Action Committee and Association Leadership and will support all actions that may be determined by the Action Committee and endorsed by the Leadership.”
Stephanie Tarr, President of the Association told the members that “Your leadership believes that many of the problems we are facing this year and last are due to ideas and changes suggested or implemented by Mr. John Keenan, our new Superintendent.
Mayor Don Purdy when reached for comment stated, "I am concerned" but wanted to reserve comment until he reaches out to the Superintendent.
Tarr included in the statement, we have filed more grievances since his arrival than we have filed in the last 15 years and I am happy to report we have been successful in all that have gone to arbitration. I have had discussions with Association representatives and NJEA staff who dealt with him in his prior position as Superintendent in Northern Highlands Regional High School in North Jersey.
His attitude and actions that he has demonstrated since he has been here are no different than those that he attempted to use in Northern Highlands Regional. Everything he has changed or is attempting to change, from the colors of the custodial/maintenance shirts to red to the changing of our evaluation system from Danielson to Marshall, is exactly what he did or was using while at Northern Highlands Regional. Your leadership believes he wants us to become Northern Regional Highlands South!! That will not happen under my watch!”
Tarr stated “While we have had our difficulties in negotiations in the past nothing comes close to what is happening under our current Superintendent and this Board of Education.
The teachers and staff have been working without a contract since July 1. The district is one of only four in the County that has not settled a contract for the current year. Negotiations began in December of 2014. Four face to face negotiations did not produce a settlement and as such, a state mediator was appointed who attempted on two occasions to help the parties’ settle the contract.
When those attempts failed, a state fact-finder was appointed who met with the parties and again attempted to mediate a settlement. That also was unsuccessful so a formal fact-finding hearing at which both sides must present documentary evidence to substantiate their proposals and positions to the fact-finder is now scheduled for January 14. The fact-finder will then issue a written recommendation for settlement which is not binding upon the parties.
Joe Seaman, Chairperson of the Association’s negotiation committee gave a detailed report to the membership on the status of negotiation. Seaman said “The Board’s salary offer is an insult to all of us. We are only asking to be compensated in a manner consistent with other school employees in the County.
We are not second class teachers and staff and we deserve to be treated with respect.” While Seaman would not divulge to the media the exact salary offer by the Board outside of the meeting, he did state that the Board’s offer would not even allow for the current salary guide to remain in effect and was not even close to the going rate in the County.
“The Board’s salary proposal would barely buy a dinner for 4 at a fast food restaurant” Seaman said. “ In addition to the insulting salary offer, the Board is looking to extend our current working day to an unspecified number of hours which would be determined by them as well as extending the number of work days within the year for no additional compensation.”, Seaman continued. He concluded by saying that “the Board’s proposals include many others that reduce current benefits and increase work time without compensation, basically gutting the current contract.”
Rob McConville, Chairman or the Action Team stated to the members “I am not going to beat around the bush. I am ready to do whatever may be necessary to achieve an equitable settlement.
This district is not poverty stricken especially when it can give close a $25,000 bonus to the new superintendent and a $10,000 bonus to the business administrator for one year of work and who are already the two highest paid employees in the district. And these bonuses are in addition to their normal salary increases. How dare the Board say that they have no money for us – the ones who do all of the work with the students?”
When asked about actions that may be taken, McConville stated that small actions have already taken place such as putting up stickers in the classrooms and work areas to show unity.
Mr. Keenan did not like those as they left “smudges” on the windows and ordered them to be removed” McConville said. Teachers have also been wearing buttons showing their solidarity. “Other actions are planned for the near future” he said.
“Our actions will be slow and deliberate but make no mistake, they will escalate based on the Board’s actions or lack of actions. And yes at some point the students may be affected. Do we want that – no, but obviously the Board doesn’t care as they are the ones holding up a settlement.
They are the ones that are not showing respect for us and our profession and they are the ones forcing us to do things we do not want to do. They are the ones who don’t care about the kids and they will be to blame for any actions that may affect the students, not us.” McConville stated.
“We are not the cause of any actions – they are. If they cared about the students, they would not force us to take actions that we are taking and may have to take. We are a united front and are not afraid of a confrontation if needed to protect our rights and help us attain a fair and equitable contract. We hope that does not become necessary.” he said
McConville and his Action Team, unanimously asked for a vote of confidence in the Negotiations Committee, Action Committee and Association leadership and that the vote of confidence be without conditions.
“This vote will send a very strong message to the Board that we are united, we want a settlement and we will not accept less than other teachers in this county. The vote we asked the membership to take was in no way to be construed as any vote to withhold services at this time, but no future actions are being ruled out. This vote is to show the membership’s unconditional support of our Negotiations Team, Action Committee and Association leadership.” McConville said.