The teacher contract dispute between the school board and the Hopatcong Education Association that has been holding up college recommendation letters has come to an end.
The sides resolved the dispute over contract language about health care contributions last week when both sides signed "a letter of understanding," Superintendent Dr. Charles Maranzano said Tuesday.
"We agreed to recognize the current state law as the valid language governing state health benefits," he said.
He said the master contract will be finalized Wednesday when Board President Cliff Lundin and HEA President Susan Hill sign the contract on behalf of their negotiating committeees.
"That brings us to close this chapter," Maranzano said.
The teachers will also be getting paid for their withheld 1.95 percent pay raise that was due at the start of the school year.
Hill said it's a "good feeling" that the dispute ended, where now teachers will resume participating in volunteer hours, including writing recommendation letters.
"People are relieved," she said. "They didn't want any conflict. There should not have been any issue."
Some students have said that they have been denied college recommendation letters from teachers who declined to work extra unpaid hours during the job action.
Rich Lavery, a student liaison to the school board, said he was denied letters after asking two teachers.
"It was a very frustrating experience, and rather upsetting since the teachers who we consider our friends, first and foremost, because we have that close personal bond with them, weren't able to help us further our education because of what the unions were telling them to do," he said.
Although Lavery said he didn't miss any application deadlines because he didn't apply early anywhere, some of his other peers, including senior Jake Parisi, missed three early action deadlines.
Willa Scantlebury, whose son, Trent, is a senior, said her son was also denied a letter during the job action, and believes it is unfair that the students were affected by the dispute.
"It should never ever come to this," she said. "It was a really bad call, and something should be done so that these calls can never be made again, where they're utilizing the kids."
Hill said that the job action was necessary because of the scheduled pay raises that were agreed upon were not met.
"We did what we felt we had to do, which was give up all volunteering because we were not being paid what we should have been paid to work in the classrooms, so we weren't going to do anything extra when we weren't getting what we were due. We now have what we agreed in the contract, and we can move forward."
Hill and Maranzano both said Principal Noreen Lazariuk, Director of Guidance Gina Cinotti, and Maranzano all wrote letters for students who needed them during the job action.
"Any child who wanted a letter, could get a letter," Hill said.
The dispute, which started last spring when the board made adjustments to the contract due to new state law requirements for health care contributions, caused both sides to file unfair labor practices against the other.
The HEA was scheduled to have their first hearing on the unfair labor practice on Thursday, but with the agreement, both parties have dropped the complaints and will not move forward with the hearings.
Maranzano called it "bittersweet" that the contract was resolved, saying the past months have been difficult, but he's "satisfied" with the ending.
"I'm satisfied that both parties have now defined their respective positions and that the matter of negotiations and/or agreements is finalized," he said. "I'm satisfied that we met the legal requirements and that both sides have agreed to their respective positions and recognized the positions of the other side."
He added that the dispute did not benefit anyone, and that all of the energy should have been brought to the classroom.
"If our focus is to be students, and children, and teaching, and learning, then we ought to be putting this kind of energy into professional development," he said.