TOMS RIVER – With a negotiations meeting scheduled this week with a mediator, the Toms River Education Association again spoke up at the recent school board meeting to urge administrators, board and union to come together on a contract.
Filling aisles of the Toms River High School North auditorium with teachers and their supporters, the January Toms River Regional School Board meeting had both board members and union speakers offering emotional comments.
Toms River Education Association members and supporters walked in together at the January 18 meeting, and voiced concerns during the public comment portion over a lack of contract and increases they’ve faced over time such as cost of the district’s day care, and a pay freeze.
Teacher Andrea Vahey, who also chair’s the union’s action committee, said the pay freeze resulted in a loss of “lost tens of thousands of dollars over our careers.”
Teachers who are parents that use the district’s child care saw an increase in the cost of that care, to $1,465 a month for two children, Vahey said. The day care operates out of the district headquarters on Hooper Avenue and Maple.
Teachers are also being squeezed by health benefits, as state law has required their contribution to increase, and only a modest reimbursement for class supplies, she said.
“We are not greedy,” she said. “We just want to continue to do the jobs we love while being able to support our families.”
Former board member Ginny Rhine also took the podium to support a contract resolution.
“Our teachers are the backbone of our district,” said Rhine, who has worked as a teacher and has children in the district. “We’ve been facing such a low morale problem in our district for a while, and we need to show them that we love them too, and give them a fair contract.”
Board President Ben Giovine, who also chairs the negotiating committee, said he and the board has the utmost respect for teachers, and that it was his many positive experiences as a student of the district then that inspired him to run for a board seat.
“This board and this administration never has, and never will, demonize our teachers. I’m up here because I was a student here. I know the impact the teachers have in this community,” Giovine said.
At one point in her comments, Vahey called open the crowd of teachers. She asked any teacher present who volunteered their time after hours as coaches, at charity events, fundraisers and other civic events in the community to stand up, and called on teachers who exhausted their $18 budget for supplies to also stand up.
The entire crowd did, with a raucous ovation from the audience. She then asked, who on the board would stand up for teachers, and all did.
Board member Christopher Raimann used his comments before the business agenda to call for resolution as well.
“I say this with respect, I know a lot of people in the crowd are teachers and administrators, I’d rather see you elsewhere than here,” he said, referring to the fact that their presence meant ongoing and not resolved contract negotiations. “My hope is that the board as a whole can come together so that we can resolve our differences sooner rather than later.”
Giovine echoed those comments later in the meeting.
“Both sides can agree that this negotiation process has not been easy at all, but I certainly think we can all agree – and at least I hope – we can find a resolution to the crux of the issue,” said Giovine.