|Photo Credit: Current|
The labor strife existing between school employees and the administration and Board of the Greater Egg Harbor School District inched up another notch Monday evening and continues to escalate while morale continues to 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.
At what began as a normal and calm regular Board meeting Monday evening, quickly deteriorated to a loud and raucous back and forth between the Board members and the staff members.
At the open session to the public, Myron Plotkin, NJEA Representative and negotiator for the Association made the first statement to the Board. He first addressed the procrastination by the Board in setting a date for face to face negotiations prior to the super-conciliation session scheduled for Nov. 21.
He lashed into fact that the Association had been asking for dates for such a meeting, but had not received any response from the Board’s labor attorney, Joe Betley. While the Board had agreed to schedule a meeting, it would only do so with certain pre-conditions that were unacceptable to the Association.
Dates for a meeting without any pre-conditions were finally offered Monday morning by Mr. Betley.
Plotkin also pointed out to the Board that they had already spent over $150,000 to pay Mr. Betley for his work and advice and were no closer to a settlement then when they began negotiating 2 years ago.
In addition, the Board had filed an unfair practice charge against the Association and requested that a Restraining Order be issued by PERC severely limiting the members’ freedom of speech and right to communicate with its members.
While PERC initially granted only one small portion of the Restraining Order enjoining the Association from threatening a strike or other concerted job actions, the Association’s attorneys went immediately into the Appellate Court seeking emergent relief and asking that the Restraining Order be vacated.
The Court on October 13, 2016 did in fact vacate that Restraining Order. Plotkin pointed out that again the Board wasted money on litigation that was not upheld by the court.
Plotkin asked the Board “who is running your ship? Is it the Board or are you blindly following Mr. Betley and Mr. Keenan, Superintendent?” No answer was given by the Board. Plotkin also admonished the Board when he pointed out that if the Board knew about these actions taken by Mr. Betley and Mr. Keenan or if they did not know, then “shame on them”.
Finally, in introducing Stephanie Tarr, President of the Association, he stated that “the actions taken by your central administration, namely your Superintendent in the 2 years he has been there have been reprehensible at best and in many cases irreparable.” He then said he hoped that was not the Board’s intent when they hired Keenan, but has been the result.
He also told the Board that in doing research, he had discovered that the method and manner of administration used by Keenan at Greater Egg was the same as he used in his former district, Northern Highlands Regional in Bergen County with exactly the same results.
He finally asked the Board not to continue to make the same mistakes over again due to pride or some lame excuse and to make the right decisions before this unrest goes on much longer. The staff gave Plotkin a standing ovation at the conclusion of his statement.
Stephanie Tarr then read the Resolution by the members of the Association for No Confidence in the Leadership of Superintendent John Keenan which had been approved and endorsed unanimously by members of the Association on October 10, 2016.
She outlined 15 specific charges against Keenan and concluded with the statement “Let it be now resolved that the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association determines that it has no confidence in the leadership of Superintendent John Keenan.”
The teachers and staff again gave a standing ovation to their President. This was only the second vote of no confidence in a superintendent taken in an Atlantic County School in approximately 25 years.
Following the two statements, Board President Carol Houck told the audience that she and the Board had complete confidence in Mr. Keenan as Superintendent. This led to hoots and howls and loud comments by the staff members.
Board member Marge Guenther then rose from her seat, took the mike and began to reminisce the way things used to be when she taught in the district and was President of the Association along with other negative comments. Her negative comments about the current leadership of the Association only brought more yells from the audience and the members then stormed out of the meeting.
In the hallway, they began to chant “We’ll Remember in November” alluding to the upcoming school board election in which some of the current members are running.
Following the exit of the staff, the Board took its own “Vote of Confidence” in John Keenan in which all voted in favor except for Lois Garrison and Brian Santorio who abstained from the vote.