BRICK – More than 700 teachers and paraprofessionals attended the Dec. 13 Board of Education meeting in a show of unity since negotiations for a new contract have reached an impasse.
Brick Township Education Association (BTEA) President Tim Puglisi, a teacher at Lake Riviera Middle School, said he had met with Superintendent Gerard Dalton a few days before the BOE meeting to let him know about the unity rally so he wasn’t blindsided, Puglisi said in a phone call the next day.
The meeting was held in the auditorium of Brick Memorial High School, when the award-winning Brick Memorial High School Marching Mustangs Band was scheduled to perform for the public and Board members.
“We said we didn’t want to interfere with the students, so I asked if he could put us on the agenda so we could speak in the beginning of the meeting, and a few days later he got back to me to say we couldn’t do that because they have an agenda where you can only talk after each subject, so we could only talk at the end of the meeting,” Puglisi said.
After the meeting, Dalton said that the administration is obliged to follow the order of the meeting, when public comment is held at the end of the agenda.
Instead of asking the teachers and paraprofessionals to stay until the end of the meeting, they walked out together after the band performed and before the business portion of the meeting began, Puglisi said.
Before the performance, a number of teachers who were in the audience (who did not wish to be named) spoke to a reporter from The Brick Times.
“We are here in solidarity. We would like a contract,” said one teacher who was there with her young child. “It’s belittling that we were told we have to wait for public comment.”
Teachers said they are not repaid for hundreds of dollars they spend of their own money to buy school supplies.
Several said they volunteer after-school hours to run extra-curricular activities, such as the chess, cooking and guitar clubs.
“We’re not going to be volunteering our time until there is a contract, except for holiday-related activities like The Giving Tree. We don’t want to impact holiday-related activities,” said another teacher.
Puglisi said a BTEA negotiating committee, comprised of himself and nine teacher/officers, has been in negotiations with Board of Education President Stephanie Wohlrab and vice president Victoria Pakala.
While he said he could not discuss the specifics of the negotiations, Puglisi said the BTEA wants a “fair and equitable contract settlement,” and is asking for less than what teachers’ associations in neighboring towns have received.
BOE President Wohlrab said she wore black to the BOE meeting in support of the teachers.
“I want a contract [for the teachers and paraprofessionals] too. It’s not personal, but there are a lot of things going on in the district,” she said.
Wohlrab was referring, in part, to the recently announced cut in state funding of $25 million over five years that could result in larger classrooms, a reduction in staff and the elimination of full-day kindergarten.
“We’re trying to look at the budget we have, and we’re trying to make things work within the numbers of the budget,” Wohlrab said.
Meanwhile, since the impasse, the BOE has filed for mediation, and the State PERC (Public Employment Relations Commission) would be assigning a mediator to try and reach an agreement, she said.
Puglisi said the administration would cite the funding cut as the reason for not reaching a settlement but “they can do what we’re asking for. It would be fair and equitable.”
Negotiations between the two groups started out cold, but “they warmed up a little” before declaring an impasse, he said.
“The arbitration is non-binding, which means one side says yes and the other side says no; it doesn’t mean anything, so we’ll have to go to the next stage and it drags on forever,” Puglisi said.
“Compare our contract to other surrounding districts; it’s best to judge on that,” he said.
The next Board of Education meeting is the Reorganization meeting on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. in the Professional Development Center at the Veterans Complex.