Contract Dispute May End Soon, Superintendent Says
Negotiations continue as students unable to get letters of recommendation from teachers.
The school board and Hopatcong Education Association may resolve the ongoing dispute over the contract language about health care contributions in the next few weeks.
District Superintendent Dr. Charles Maranzano said both the board and HEA negotiation teams met after last week's board meeting and discussed the dispute that has been holding up the contract raises for this school year.
"I think we're much closer to resolving it than we were prior to the summer," he said. "There was some language exchanged for consideration to resolve the issue."
Maranzano said both sides said they want to try to end the dispute without spending money on lawyers and having to go to hearings for the unfair labor practices.
Both sides filed unfair labor practice charges against the other earlier this year, and are expected to be in court in December.
Maranzano said the board filed their complaint in June when the HEA refused to meet over the summer to discuss the contract adjustments. The board also withheld the scheduled 1.95 percent pay raise that was due at the start of the school year.
In response, the teachers then filed an unfair labor practice against the board in September.
Maranzano said the BOE will drop their complaint if the union does as well.
"We can put those unfair labor practices aside, back pay the teachers, and then we can move on until the next round of contract negotiations," he said.
Once the contract difference is resolved, Maranzano said he expects the board to pay back the teachers what they lost from the withholdings "as rapidly as possible."
The dispute started last spring when the board made adjustments to the contract that was aproved in January. Changes were made to the contract language because of the new state law that required state employees to contribute to their pension and health care benefit programs.
Teachers, in the job action, have been declining to work extra unpaid hours. Some students said because of this, they haven't been able to get teachers to write letters of recommendation for college applications.
Sue Hill, president of the HEA, declined to comment on Thursday.
Rich Lavery, a student liaison to the school board, spoke at last week's meeting and said the resfusal to write recommendation letters are causing students to miss college application deadlines.
Maranzano said that he, Principal Noreen Lazariuk and Director of Guidance Gina Cinotti have been writing letters for students who need them.
"We didn't want any student not to have a letter of recommendation," he said.