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Deadlocked: Gloucester Twp. Teacher Negotiations Still at Impasse

Fact-finding is coming up in two months, but could an informal meeting before then bridge the contract settlement gap? Only if the school board and teachers union can actually agree to meet.

It’s become something of a routine by now. At every recent Gloucester Township school board meeting, a contingent of red-shirted teachers shows up. Usually someone talks about the stalled teacher contract negotiations, sometimes not.

But in truth, the board of education and the Gloucester Township Education Association (GTEA) teachers union are treading on unfamiliar ground. The two sides agree on very little, except this: No one can remember the last time negotiations took this long or progressed to this point.

“We have never been to this stage,” GTEA President Angel McDermott said at the Jan. 28 board meeting. “In my 16 years as president (and) my six years as negotiations chair before that, we have never reached this stage. This is new to all of us.”

The 600-plus teachers in the K-8 district’s 11 schools have worked without a formal contract . Negotiations are so stalled and mediation so mired that the school board and GTEA decided to proceed with fact-finding, a formal process where a mutually agreed upon fact-finder holds hearings and makes recommendations on a settlement.

But even that decision is caught up in disagreements. The school board says GTEA cancelled a planned Jan. 7 fact-finding meeting; GTEA says the school board didn’t allot enough time for a fact-finding meeting on Jan. 7 and it was prepared to meet more informally instead. With the meeting called off, the next available date is in late March.

And that’s just a very minor disagreement on a list of issues creating an impasse on the teacher contracts. As the school board and GTEA slog to find common ground, students have or will start to see the effects of the protracted negotiations as teachers begin job actions.

Teachers could begin upholding the letter of their employment agreement and refuse any extra work not required. That may mean no extended afterschool hours or no extra work to plan activities and trips.

The school board denied on Monday knowing whether job actions will occur, but a board member spoke out against it. While saying she has the utmost respect for Gloucester Township teachers, Linda Gilch said job actions only harm students.

“You’re not hurting us, you’re not hurting the board, you’re not hurting administrators by doing any type of job action—you’re hurting the children,” she said. “I understand you want a contract and I understand we need to come to a consensus. But you’re not taking anything away from us.”

A parent and teacher in another district, Debra Hines, countered that the board expects “250 percent” from its educators, who don’t like the job actions either.

“It’s crushing them to be lowered down to the level to treat (students) as minimally as possible,” she said. “If they start to give what they’re contractually supposed to give, and they pull back, it’s breaking their heart inside. They would prefer to have a contract and be treated with dignity and the respect they deserve for educating children.”

A ray of hope?

The impasse between the board and teachers shows little sign of cracking. Both sides stood resolute in laying the blame at the other’s feet, although they may meet again before the March fact-finding session.

“We would be willing to meet again to try to discuss it. But meeting also entails the parties compromising on some situations, and part of the difficulty we have is we haven’t been able to bridge that gap,” John Wade, school board solicitor, said.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we have 2-percent cap, we have restrictions on us now the likes of which we’ve never had before. So, we came to the table and said we have certain restrictions and we need to operate within those restrictions. You folks didn’t take that position.”

The school board didn’t approach its 2-percent cap in budget talks, McDermott retorted.

“Do you want to settle the contract for 2 percent?” Wade shot back. “I’m a little frustrated because we’re hearing this now. The reality is you’re not willing to settle for 2 percent. You’ve told us that.”

McDermott later said GTEA and the school board are “approximately 2 percent” apart on their demands for the contract. She also acknowledged there are unspecified school-board positions that the GTEA will not agree to.

“Yes, compromises need to be made, but we have to see where that will lie,” she said.

The next Gloucester Township Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at Lewis Middle School. If recent history is any indication, the room will once again be filled with teachers wearing their signature red GTEA polo shirts.

Sybil Evans February 22, 2013 at 12:27 AM
Darren ironic you would ask anyone to vote when your nickname is "Just Vote I Don't Gladden" inquiring minds want to know did you even vote when you were on the ballot? Rumor has it you only voted in 2 elections out of 48 public elections in Gloucester Township in the last 10 years. Your primary and your general elections. Seems you like telling others to vote, but you don't. Now thats the type leadership you bring to the table. Poor choices, poor attitude and even more poor voting record.
M February 24, 2013 at 05:23 AM
GT residents need to keep pushing the board to give them answers. Parents need to pay attention and ask questions. Where is your money really going? Do you see it in your child's school? So many comments blame the teachers and feel they don't deserve anything, but these teachers are educating and caring for your children. They don't even have the resources most other districts have in the classroom. Many comments are so untrue.They don't have summers off. They have July and August off, and that's if they're not working another job. August is spent in the classroom preparing for the upcoming school year. So, maybe they have off a month...that's 4 weeks vacation...plus holidays during the year, UNPAID! They also work past their contracted 6.5 hrs. It takes more than a 1/2 hr prep time to plan, prepare, grade, call parents, write notes, and take care of anything else that involves students and the school day.The district's money mess isn't the teachers' fault.
M February 24, 2013 at 05:26 AM
For those who bash teachers, check this out... Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work10 months a year. It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do,babysit.We can get that for less than minimum wage.That’s right. Let’s give them $3 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school.That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan– that equals 6 1/2 hours).Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day,maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day.However, remember they only work 180 days a year.I am not going to pay them for any vacations.LET’S SEE…That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on. My calculator needs new batteries.) What about those special education teachers and the ones with master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour.That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here.There sure is!The average teacher’s salary (nationwide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student– a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!
l t Paine February 24, 2013 at 05:35 AM
Just looked at Monday's School Board meeting agenda and guess what? Suprise, suprise the shell game continues, more budget transfers. Keep moving the money around until people lose track, and we still get to look forward to the May, June buying spree.Hard to believe they have all this extra money in these accounts that they can move money around every month. Wonder what other surprises Bilodeau and the Board have that's not on the agenda. You have to know they wil try to slip something by most. Time to bring this Board and Bilodeau into the light.
l t Paine February 27, 2013 at 06:02 AM
Do you think the Board and Bilodeau are finally willing to start doing the right thing?

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