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More Than 100 Teachers Picket BOE Meeting

Board, union at odds over health benefits language in new contract.

The dispute between the Hopatcong Education Association and the school board landed before the board Monday in the form of about 150 picketing union members.

The picket line marched in a slow circle between the high school and the board office prior to Monday’s board meeting, which was moved to the high school auditorium to accommodate the large crowd.

The picket line was held to bring attention to the lingering issue of contract language regarding a new state law about health benefit payments  that both sides say should be in the contract.

The sides reached agreement on a 3-year contract in January, and the contract language issue was discovered during the process of reconciling the old contract and the new one.

The board is withholding a scheduled 1.95 percent pay raise that was due at the start of the school, and in response the union filed  an unfair labor practice complaint with the New Jersey Pubic Employees Relations Commission.

The contract language relates to changes in the state law that mandate the level of payroll contributions required of teachers to pay for their health care benefits. Both sides agree the levels of withholding is set by state law.

“This could be settled in 10 minutes,” said Superintendent Charles Maranzano.

What’s needed is a firm date for the mediation session between the union and the board, which had not yet been set. Maranzano said the session might be scheduled in November.

What’s needed is a “clarification” of the contract language to indicate that state law supersedes any provision on the contract, he said.

Maranzano said he understands the teachers’ frustration. By law they must pay a portion of their health benefit costs, and since their pay hike has been withheld, “their pay has dropped.”

John Ropars, union representative for the Hopatcong teachers, said a meeting with PERC has been set Nov. 1.

The protest was created to bring attention to the issue, he said. The union claimed that a clause in the contract that says that nothing in the contract can supersede state law is sufficient.

“The board knew that language is in the contract,” Ropars said. “This will not save the board a nickel or cost them one nickel.”

In the board meeting, board president Clifford Lundin said that a signed copy of  memorandum of agreement dated Jan. 30 contained a note with an asterisk that indicated the state mediator noted that the health benefit language needed a clarification to show that the provision for “full health care coverage” written into the old contract had been superseded by state law.

That statement was greeted by a chant by the teachers of “bad faith, bad faith,” which carried on for a minute or two until they left the auditorium.

Lundin said the salary increase due for the first year of the contract was paid retroactively, but until the board and the union settle the contract language issue, and thus have a ratified contract, the board can not pay the next round of salary increases.

A copy of the Jan. 30 memorandum supplied by Ropars does not have the comment with the asterisk that Lundin claimed.

Instead an italicized notation with an asterisk is present in a copy of a June 6 note from Maranzano to Jeff Ryder, then president of the Hopatcong teachers union, and Jim Marino, chairperson of the high school negotiations committee, which Lundin made available.

In that June 6 memo, Maranzano said he failed to point out a change in the article of the contract related to “insurance.”

That change, printed in bold under the section entitled “full health care coverage” says “*This provision has been superseded by statute.”

Lynn Anne Cutler September 25, 2012 at 10:46 AM
To withhold Hopatcong teachers' earned pay raises over this issue is ludicrous. I am embarrassed that this school board would go through such lengths to show the teachers how little value they place on our teachers and the work they do for ALL of us.The state treats them with little enough respect, can't they at least get a little support in the town that reaps the most immediate benefit from their labor? Any excuse to treat the teachers poorly? *shudder* We are the parents of two children in Hopatcong Schools (with one more upcoming next year), and we stand behind our teachers. Give them their pay raises!
Rob Bond September 25, 2012 at 12:14 PM
On the flip side; why is it too much for the teachers to agree to remove contract language that is not in alignment with current State law? It seems like a reasonable request. Is there some benefit to keeping language that is in conflict with State law in the contract? This certainly does not seem like best practice for any legal document (i.e., including language that you know is voided by an existing legal document - i.e., a State statute)
Chrissy September 25, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Hello, welcome to the real world. I've "earned" a raise for the past 5 yrs and haven't gotten one. I love how it's called "earned" when we just read not too long ago that our schools drop to 289th place among other NJ schools. I thought the task at hand was addressing the horrible news of dropping 89 spots lower than two years ago and in the lower half of the state. Is that how you "earn" a raise? What happened to the task force of parents that was being put together? I was hoping to read about that on Patch. Honestly, its always about the teachers and admin, and what's in it for them. What about the kids? Does anyone care about the educational aspect anymore? Or is it just about the money, money, money???
Fed up! September 25, 2012 at 03:43 PM
If it is such a mute issue, why have the unions dug their heels in so much over it? If it is old language, why not remove it and put in the correct language? Its because the unions hope that some day they can use the language again and go back to getting their medical at 100% out of the schools pocket. Don't the articles say that the board tried to meet with them over the summer and the union refused. So it sounds like they brought this upon themselves. And now they are using the students as pawns as they tell them the union propaganda and try to turn the students on the board DURING THE TIME THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE TEACHING THE KIDS IN SCHOOL! The teachers are threatening the students by telling them they will not write college recommendations for them. How are the kids suppose to apply for college without those. They are willing to harm our kids because they are not getting their way. Wow!!! Talk about bullying. Who is really the bad guys here?!?! Watch how these factual statements incite them and their responses. Then you will get an idea of the mentality going on here.
Ms September 25, 2012 at 05:16 PM
It is Hopatcong, Rob.
Lurky Loo September 25, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I love it! The teachers are once again showing their true colors. Holding our kids education for ransom as usual. Think the budget will pass this year?
Warren September 25, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Raises? Raises? Your talkin' 'bout raises? Hopatcong is one of the worst school districts in the area! We should be talking about how to get rid of the bad teachers (most), retain the good ones (few), and replace the administration (all of it). Raises, for what? In the private sector one "earns" a raise by beating the competition...
The "Original" Hopatcong Mom September 25, 2012 at 07:37 PM
It's not a mute point!! If you start allowing companies to change the rules after they have already signed them, that is unethical and illegal!! From my understanding the contract already states that should any law superceed any negotiated item, the contract will honor the law. So why eliminate anything?? It's all principle...if the BOE didn't want it there, they should have removed it prior to having it ratified but to withhold their salaries in absurd and I believe ILLEGAL since you have a signed contract!!
PJ_Wolf September 25, 2012 at 10:16 PM
...And don't expect much from the public appeasement, I mean 'task' force. Remember, Lundin's son was able to 'rise above' - how inspirational.
Ken September 26, 2012 at 12:51 AM
The raise was earned through negotiations. Until we have actual merit pay in NJ, dropping to 289th place means nothing as far as teacher salary goes.
Kristine Hall September 26, 2012 at 01:06 AM
This is stupid! I have negotiated for my school district for several rounds. State law always supercedes contract language so it doesn't matter what a contract says! Just take all of the language out about it and advise the membership of what the law is and be done with it! I have a hard time believing that there aren't some facts missing here!
Mabel Rivera September 26, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Class sizes triple, self serving board of educations disband honors track, academic track and general track. Teachers have the class valedictorian, the school burn out and poor Billy who is special Ed. and reads at a six grade level all in the same room. You really wonder why scores have gone down? I am a proud teacher. I leave my home at 6:15 and get home at 5:00. I come home and help my own children with their homework. I cook dinner, bathe my seven and five year old, clean up and put my kids to bed. I then grade papers until I can barely keep my eyes open. I should only work my contract hours, meaning never grade or create a lesson plan unless it is during the school day. I should never buy a school supply not provided by my employer. I think then and only then would you realize what greedy and self-serving is. I dare any of you be a teacher for a week.
PJ_Wolf September 26, 2012 at 10:45 AM
I see the Patch cronys are at it again deleting my commentary. Humorous that the truth is seen as 'offensive'.
Mom Average September 26, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Each year, my portion of my health coverage (via payroll deductions) goes up - but I certainly don't get an increase to OFF SET that increase so I'm not sympathetic on that front. HOWEVER, if they are legitimately due to receive an increase, then it must be given. Lets face it...1.95% isn't much .Just another battle of who's is bigger in this town....embarrassing as usual.
Caroyln September 26, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I was in attendance for that BOE meeting. I was shocked at how badly the union behaved. Standing and chanting "Bad Faith" repeatedly at a public meeting and then storming out in an obviously staged, pre-planned walk-out was absolutely childish. If they are so sure they are right, then why not meet with the board and attempt to resolve? If students ever interrupted speakers on stage, yelled, chanted and then stormed out, diciplinary action would be taken against the students. If an employee were to behave that way in the corporate world, they would be fired. What is with the complete lack of professionalism? By the way, there were a few students present, so students did get to witness this behavior.
Jessica September 26, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Mom Average you are right. My health coverage costs go up every year and I haven't received a raise for 6 of them.
Christie DaLiar September 27, 2012 at 01:36 AM
I agree.... you two should go get one of them there cushy teaching jobs, and show those greedy teachers how it's done! When you drive your shiny Beemer to the school.... be sure to park in the faculty lot: Thats the one with the 02 Hyundais and the '97 accords.
Christie DaLiar September 27, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Politicians have really neglected your profession lately; but after what happened to Elliot Spitzer, who can blame them?
mike September 30, 2012 at 12:51 AM
I do not teach at hopatcong, however I am a very proud graduate who has been teaching for years now. While I don't know the exact details, state law does supercede contract. However, state law regarding health benefits is due to end in 2014, once again allowing districts to negotiate. Removing this language makes it impossible to ever try to get it back. The board seemingly didn't realize this until after ratifying. Now, they want to go back and change language. Absolutely an unfair labor practice. As for the kids, teachers will always be there for them, and they know it. Sometimes, however, we need to take care of ourselves and our families. Shame on you, if you disagree.

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