After nearly two years without one, the teachers and school staffers who are members of the South Orange Maplewood Education Association now have a contract.
The new SOMEA contract, unanimously approved by the South-Orange Maplewood Board of Education on Monday night, was ratified by 97.1% of the SOMEA membership on Friday, May 20. Subsequently, the Board of Education unanimously approved the contract Monday night.
However, before voting began, former Board of Education member Richard Laine took the Board through an explanation of the major points of the contract, as Laine was the chief negotiator for the Board of Education throughout the two-and-a-half-year process.
Laine first acknowledged those on all sides of the process — school administration, Board of Education members and SOMEA members. He said that all worked hard to create a contract that would allow for "better education with less dollars." He particularly applauded SOMEA for communicating the contract to its membership effectively and eliciting a 97.1% approval vote.
Laine then got quickly down to business.
The contract will grant retroactive salary increases of $1,200 for those SOMEA members at the top of the guide who did not receive pay raises for the 2009-2010 school year.
For 2010-2011, the contract awards a 2.5% increase in the aggregate, explained Laine, meaning that some members would receive a bit more, some less, some 2.5%.
Salary increases for 2011-12 and 2012-13 would be 2.5% across the guide.
Laine said that there was also a revised salary guide that allowed for an increased starting salary and larger raises in teachers' early years of employment with the elimination of outsized (sometimes 12-14%) step increases in later years that existed in the previous contract.
"Now the guide is more attractive to starting teachers," said Laine. "The small increases in early years was not enough in this community." Laine said the new guide was effectively "spreading out and smoothing" salary increases across teachers' careers.
The other most significant factor in the new contract, according to Laine, was changes to health care payment.
He noted that the district is "passive" in setting health care rates since the state controls that number. Therefore, "we needed to ask employees to contribute more on top of what the state asks them to do. Laine said that the new formulation would save the district some $250,000 for this year and approximately $500,000 for next year.
The district will only pay for NJ Direct 15 health insurance for all new employees and all current employees as of January 1, 2012. SOMEA members do have the option of paying a supplement for a more expensive health care plan. A benefit for employees will be the fact that all health benefit deductions will be paid pretax. In addition, the parties agreed to abide by state law regarding employee contributions to health benefits, which is currently 1.5% of salary — to be paid pretax.
Other major points of the contract include a "cleanup of the teacher evaluation process," which Laine said was now improved especially for non-tenured teachers. "It ensures granting tenure only to those who earn it," said Laine. With the new process, first-year teachers are notified the morning of observation for one of three formal observations; second- and third-year teachers have one unannounced formal observation.
National Board Certification for teachers is now memorialized with a dedicated subsidy and incentive for those who wish to undertake the process.
A big change that parents may like: There will now be two parent/teacher conferences each school year (instead of one), with a conference in the fall and a newly added conference in the spring.
There were also changes to all teachers' prep time. Said Laine, "Teachers need time to prepare. We want to make sure teachers have the time to be ready to teach."
Laine said many of the other changes were "inside baseball" and did not go into detail (a quick list provided by Laine is published at the end of this article).
He noted that the contract would end June 30, 2013, and urged the administration, Board and SOMEA to "work on the relationship now." Explained Laine, "You can't build trust at the table."
Board of Education member Lynne Crawford particularly commended the work of SOMEA negotiators Paula Bethea, Hannah Edelman and Suzanne Ryan. She said that the contract "gives the opportunity to highlight the proficiency of teachers but has significant changes." Crawford said that SOMEA leadership and membership were "brave to embrace" those changes.
Later, Bethea implored the Board of Education to approve the contract. "We think it's the best we can get for teachers and children." Edelman alluded to the tough environment facing public education: "We have many challengers we will be facing and hopefully together." She added, "I'm happy with the result given the tenor of the times."
Edelman also acknowledged that the process had been difficult: "We do commend the Board for the persistence and the respect given that our perspectives were opposite at time." Despite past differences, said Edelman, it was "time to move on."
Ryan's comments hinted at a bit more difficulty at the negotiating table. "Now the hard work begins. It's building trust. Without trust we will not be able to further the goals that we have set." Ryan noted that years ago, SOMEA and Board leadership met regularly outside of contract negotiations. She said she hoped that the two parties would do that again.
Said Board President Beth Daugherty, "The Board shares that wish."
Finally, Board member Mark Gleason noted that, while it was "happy night" for the district, he was "troubled that we don't have a single speaker because we didn't put information out until five minutes before the vote."
Daugherty noted that the meeting was noticed and that the Board had wanted to allow SOMEA time to inform its membership, but said his point was "valid" and "well taken."
Additional highlights of the Final Contract between SOMSD BOE and SOMEA:
- guidance conselor's day same length as teachers' day
- athletic traners' day same length as teachers' day, but flexible weekly schedule
- Early release for High school students after one session day, teachers remain for back to school night'early release for elementary students after one session day, teachers remain for back to school night
- school secretaries can attend faculty meetings if coverage is available
- notification of yearly assignment for teachers and support staff — provide new job descriptions if job changes
- positions exempt from supervisory duty
- management can intervene with teacher for appropriate reasons in under three days
- complaint process to include informing the staff member
- extend school year by 1 day to add emergency day, if needed
- SOMEA president receives 6 days/year for SOMEA business (up from 3)
- NJEA convention is comp day
- 11 month employees get 11 sick days
- New definition of "immediate family" — includes civil union/domestic partners
- replace IRS rate for mileage reimbursement with OMB rate
- time off for temporary active military duty granted according to law
- sick leave — align with FMLA
- contract length: 1 year + 3 year (ends June 30, 2013)