South Orange-Maplewood Education Association (SOMEA) members gathered on Friday morning outside South Orange Middle School before school began. Carrying placards reading “No Contract, Still Working,” the teachers walked on the sidewalk in front of the school until they entered at 8:10 a.m., the contractual start of their workday. Some teachers wore green t-shirts that read, “I am SOMEA.”
This “work to contract” action demonstrates teacher frustration at the pace of contract negotiations, according to teacher Marty Weber. The last three-year contract expired in June 2009. at which time both sides agreed to non-binding arbitration. Both sides applied to the state for a mediator, said Board of Education President Mark Gleason. A date for the first meeting with the mediator has not yet been set.
Parents and students throughout district schools report that hallway bulletin boards usually covered in student work are now covered in green, SOMEA’s signature color. This is another “work to contract” action.
Susie Adamson, Co-Vice President of the Seth Boyden PTA, said she noticed this week that the bulletin boards have been cleared at Seth Boyden. But, says Adamson, the atmosphere at Seth Boyden is not tense. "The relationship between the parents and the teachers is very strong at our school," said Adamson.
However, students and parents have begun to ask questions about the bulletin boards. Gleason notes, “We are starting to hear sporadic reports of teachers making references to the contract negotiations in classes, even in those of our youngest students. It is at all times inappropriate for teachers to make statements to students that are in truth meant for their parents and which make the students pawns in the negotiations process.”
Indeed, neither side can speak publicly or explicitly about the negotiations. SOMEA representatives did not return emails for this story. However, in January, Hannah Edelman, SOMEA’s Vice President and chief negotiator, spoke to a group of teachers gathered outside a Board of Education meeting about “our total frustration” with the pace of negotiations and said the other side “is pressuring us to comply with their wishes, which are unacceptable.”
Edelman referred to SOMEA’s “big ticket items,” but didn’t state explicitly what those are. A SOMEA negotiations update released to Patch in January notes, “The Board believes that it is incumbent on us to take less in order to shoulder the District’s financial burden…The Administration is receiving Merit Pay as well as longevity pay well before the 15 years that we must serve in the district in order to qualify for this additional compensation.”
In November, the board announced for the 31 ASCA [administration] members ranging from 2% to 3.5% of base salary and related to student performance; the ASCA members also took a for the 2010-2011 school year after the state announced an to the district
As students and parents await developments, Adamson said she would urge parents to be more involved. "It's important for us to be involved with the Board of Education elections and to be aware of what's going on at the Board meetings. All parents should be aware because it affects their children."