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Students Demand End to Teacher Contract Dispute

Job action means letters of recommendation are not written, students claim.

Students demanded Monday night that the school board and the Hopatcong Education Association must find a way to end the ongoing contract dispute  because it is affecting students’ ability to get signed letters of recommendations from teachers.

The two sides have each filed unfair labor charges against the other in the dispute over contract language about health care contributions that is holding up scheduled raises for support staff and teachers aides.

The teachers, in the job action, have been declining to work extra unpaid hours, and students said they have been unable to get teachers to write letters of recommendation to send to colleges.

Rick Lavery, a student liaison to the school board, said the teachers’ actions are causing students to miss college application  deadlines.

“We need this  solved,” Lavery said.

HEA President Susan Hill said the union was willing to discuss the issue at the end of Monday’s school board meeting.

Board president  Clifford Lundin agreed to talk, and at 10 p.m. Monday, the two sides met to discuss how to move forward on getting letters of recommendation written.

The simmering dispute brought the teachers to another picket line before Monday’s meeting, and at times boiled up during the meeting.

Lundin said a Nov. 1  session with the New Jersey Pubic Employees Relations Commission to discuss the dispute was washed out by Hurricane Sandy.  A new session is set for December.

The dispute relates to changes discovered in June to the three-year contract agreed to by the union and the district in January.

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 PERC.  The school board files its own unfair labor complaint at that time as well.

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.

The contract in dispute contains a phrase, “This provision has been superseded by statute” that is set off  by an asterisk.

The dispute is over whether that phrase is sufficient to bring the contact into compliance with the  2011 state law.

Peter James November 21, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Go Lavery!!
Hnj23 November 21, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Well, so much for the teacher's union saying it's all about the students! I hope it is not true that the students are being penalized. Thank goodness my kids are done with Hopatcong schools. We were lucky to only have to deal with scheduling problems in the middle school and high school years. Never have been sure why other area high schools have so much to offer and Hopatcong keeps cutting.
Amanda Hornick November 21, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Ryder, Hill, Marino...they were teachers of mine 20 years ago. Now I have a child in the district. They should be ashamed of their actions. How could anyone who chose TEACHING as a profession that long ago honestly look a hard working senior (who has given their all) in the face and deny them a simple thing that might help them in their own career? That is not a teacher. That is a selfish person. It's using the very futures of hard-working students as a bargaining chip. It's taking these bright stars of our community and making them pawns for the financial gain of our "teachers". It's shameful. Unions and contracts aside...these are simple letters to help hard working kids get into competitive schools they worked hard for years to qualify for. I think it's about time we clean house. There are many, many parents of elementary level students in town who already plan to send their kids elsewhere for high school based on things coming to light this year. This is just further evidence. Well done, staff. We have lost all confidence in your abilities.
Chrissy November 21, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Way to go teachers! Put the students in the center of your battle. Very nice. I understand the dispute, teachers want raises and free benefits and we can't afford it. Well lets see what's next... should I get my children to fight for unfair property tax? Maybe if the salaries and pensions didn't get so out of control to begin with, we could afford raises. But, when the superintendent makes just a little bit less then the president of our country... how can the budget allow for pay raises and free benefits? I see a common denominator... all the companies who are going bankrupt... it is always the greedy people at the top who get it all... and the little people get table scraps. Eventually, the greedy people on top cause the company to fold. Happens every time! Really, this is like putting kids in between an ugly divorce. It is not the kids concern what the problem is on an administrative level, they are planning their future! How can anyone stand in the way of that? Whoever can't write a letter of recommendation, doesn't deserve to be a teacher.
Surenuff November 21, 2012 at 04:59 PM
SHAME ON HEA!!! SHAME ON MR RYDER!!! How embarrassing for Hopatcong schools. They wonder why so many kids are leaving for choice schools! Here is your answer. The language on that contract is plain. You can get contract book for dummies if you have issues with comprehension. You can't ask or enforce something that is ILLEGAL!!! State law SUPERSEDES whatever your contract agrees too. You are going to pay those benefits...we taxpayers are done footing your bills!!! Selfish is what Mr. Ryder is. I was there and he flat out told the kids "Its not in our contract". MR. Ryder claims the HEA is being bullied so in return its okay to bully these kids. I am surprised all of the senior parents in that class are not storming that HS everyday just as HEA did that meeting. The ranking are low because if 50% of the teachers think the way Mr. Ryder does then 50% are the reason our schools are failing.
Pete November 21, 2012 at 05:00 PM
With all due respect. Hopatcong High School ranks as one of the lowest schools in New Jersey. They rank below Camden which also celebrated its most murders in 1 year this year. How can this be? Hopatcong isn't dangerous like Camden....while there are drug problems, we don't have nearly the drug problems Camden has. I am an Airline pilot who was once a flight instructor. When an instructor has 1 bad student, it happens....sometimes you simply don't have a motivated student or that student has lousy study habits or what have you. But when ALL or most of your students are failing, you have to look at the instructor. The same line of thinking applies on a larger scale when looking at the schools in NJ. Why is it that surrounding schools are ranking toward the top while Hopatcong sits among the ghetto schools? As I said, I am an airline pilot and I am a union member. I have been through union disputes. If my company tried to change contract after we were done negotiating, I would call for an immediate release to strike....BUT we are bound by the railway labor act. Airlines are considered an essential service and therefore there are rules on striking. It is nearly impossible to strike or have work slowdowns without the union being sued and bankrupted. I would argue that teachers are also an essential service and maybe even more so than airline pilots over the long term. Time for citizens to fix Hopatcong. Oust all leadership and tell the teachers to straighten up!
Kelly Herman November 21, 2012 at 05:14 PM
How sad that the teachers who are supposed to be in this job because they care about the students well being but won't do whatever they can to help the students get into college. Shame on them for not writing recommendation letters!!!
Karen Castellano November 21, 2012 at 08:06 PM
So much for teachers caring about their students- wonder what Governor Christie would say about this?
Walden November 21, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Pensions and salaries out of control... Based on the degree of education (most teachers have a masters degree), salaries for teachers are well below the corporate scale. Get the facts...
Hopatcongnite November 21, 2012 at 11:27 PM
I guess teachers only write letters of recommendations on their time, off hours. This situation is a joke. I think the students are acting more mature. By the way, did they drop "Roll Back Our Tax" ? I have enjoyed reading his opinions on these stories, more so than the editors story.
Walden November 21, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Teachers are hired to teach. Writing letters of recommendation are not part of the job description. When teachers, coaches, etc. write letters of recommendation, the letters are written on their own PERSONAL (not the tax payers) time. Secondly, NOT every college requires a letter of recommendation (Rutgers, PA state colleges/universities and local county colleges to name a few, do not require letters). Many neighboring state schools are letter optional. Unlike Hopatcong, there are school districts that prohibit employees from writing letters of recommendation as per policy. For that reason, a section on the Common Application Secondary School Report addresses that particular issue. Should teachers choose not to take time from their families and responsibilities at home to write a letter of recommendation, that is their choice and I totally support that choice. No capable student meeting the admissions criteria will be denied admission due to failure to submit letters of recommendation. To think otherwise is unrealistic...
Walden November 21, 2012 at 11:52 PM
The Governor's children attend private school which most likely costs more that a private college per year...I am assuming those teachers are compensated for their time and effort.
Amanda Hornick November 22, 2012 at 03:02 AM
...hey Walden...you go tell that student who worked their tail off for twelve years to apply to an ivy league school or apply for a merit scholarship that due to contract negotiations and the fact that it's "not their job" for teachers to write them a letter, they will just have to suck it up and go to another school. That's fair, right? Sure. Shows how much those teachers care too. There are a lot of things that are not my job that I do every single day...because I have pride in my work. Something else our teachers clearly lack.
Chrissy November 23, 2012 at 06:00 AM
I have the facts! I know what our teachers and the admin are getting paid compared to other school districts. So my statement is based on comparison to other schools in neighboring towns. Based on POOR ranking performance. Based on the fact that our tiny town cant afford these salaries. We aren't in Madison and our children are getting below standard education and opportunities. It doesn't matter what kind of degree the teachers hold, their performance matters, our children's education matter. The end result matters! I could have a masters degree in graphic design, but if I suck I wont keep my job... and wont have any new jobs offered to me either! I really wish parents had the power to vote on who stays and who goes. We should be able to vote on everything, since our taxes pay for everything. We should have a say in EVERYTHING! The parents would put an end to all this madness! And put an end to the teachers union!
Walden November 24, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Should a student be applying to an Ivy League school that requires letters of recommendation, I would suggest the student see his/her guidance counselor and call the college to discuss other options. Letters are a small component of the admissions process. The high school transcript, SAT/ACT scores, extracurricular activities and supplemental essays carry more weight. Merit scholarships are based primarily on academic performance and not letters of recommendation. On the bright side, that hard working student must have had some terrific teachers to enable him/her to meet the admissions requirements for an Ivy League school.
hhsstudent November 24, 2012 at 06:10 AM
I graduated from Hopatcong High School in June 2012. I applied to 5 schools, NYU, Boston University, Indiana University, Purdue University, and Rutgers University. I was accepted to all, except NYU. I am currently attending Purdue University on a full academic scholarship. My application to Purdue was due November 15 in order to be considered for academic based scholarships. Most schools with rolling or regular admissions often have deadlines in order to be considered for scholarships. Purdue required 2 letters of recommendation as well as evaluation forms completed by my guidance counselor and one teacher. I can't help but think that if this had happened last year, or if I was a year younger, I would not have recieved the scholarship I worked so hard towards and needed to attend Purdue University. These teachers, the very teachers that spent 4 years teaching me to stand up for what is right, are sitting back and letting the leaders of the union dictate the futures of thier students. The students that need the letters of recommendations are the students that put effort into school work and make thier jobs as our teachers more enjoyable.
hhsstudent November 24, 2012 at 06:13 AM
I graduated from Hopatcong High School in June 2012. I applied to 5 schools, NYU, Boston University, Indiana University, Purdue University, and Rutgers University. I was accepted to all, except NYU. I am currently attending Purdue University on a full academic scholarship. My application to Purdue was due November 15 in order to be considered for academic based scholarships. Most schools with rolling or regular admissions often have deadlines in order to be considered for academic based scholarships. Purdue required 2 letters of recommendation as well as evaluation forms completed by my guidance counselor and one teacher. I can't help but think that if this had happened while I was in school, I would not have recieved the scholarship I worked so hard towards and needed to attend Purdue University. These teachers, the very teachers that spent 4 years teaching me to stand up for what is right, are sitting back and letting the leaders of the union dictate the futures of their students. The students that need the letters of recommendations are the students that put effort into school work and make their jobs as our teachers more enjoyable.
hhsstudent November 24, 2012 at 06:19 AM
Walden, many top universities that Hopatcong students apply to require letters of recommendation, and in some cases completed evaluation forms. Without this, the appication is considered incomplete and is not reviewed. In this situation where teachers are refusing to write letters for students that ask, I would suggest that guidance counselors make a point, in the letters of recommendation that they write, to explain why letters were not submitted from teachers, unless counselors aren't writing letters either....
Jordan Hubbard November 25, 2012 at 05:28 AM
Regardless of what anyone thinks the actions of teachers union was designed to drive home the awareness of the lack of a contract. It clearly worked because here we are reading about it and drawing needed awareness. They are not required and write letters of recommendation and do so mostly on their own (uncompensated) time. One reason Hopatcong is failing is the socioeconomic status of the residents and their involvement with the education of our children. The grading policies enacted in the late 90's designed to pass not challenge children, deterioration of educational programs such as the Art's, Critical Thinking programs and afterschool activities. The teachers clearly have been pushed to teach to the HSPA. The administrative staff is handsomely paid and many positions could be eliminated. Have the unions grown out of control, probably. Should the administration and staff be held responsible, clearly! From the tagline to the byline all media is designed as entertainment with varying degrees of reality. We never have all the facts and to some degree need to be skeptical on both sides.
Walden November 25, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Walden 7:59 pm on Friday, November 23, 2012 Should a student be applying to an Ivy League school that requires letters of recommendation, I would suggest the student see his/her guidance counselor and call the college to discuss other options. Letters are a small component of the admissions process. The high school transcript, SAT/ACT scores, extracurricular activities and supplemental essays carry more weight. Merit scholarships are based primarily on academic performance and not letters of recommendation. On the bright side, that hard-working student must have had some terrific teachers to enable him/her to meet the admissions requirements for an Ivy League school.
Walden November 26, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I do not think colleges would unfairly penalizing a student for circumstances out of their control. The guidance counselor could explain the situation in his letter of recommendation or call the admissions office directly. Problem solved!
Michele Guttenberger November 27, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Hopatcongnite - Randy aka Roll Back Our Tax left this comment on Facebook on why he does not comment on Patch. "Many of you who follow Patch or live in Hopatcong and are friends of mine have been asking why "Roll Back Our Tax" (my alias) "does NOT comment anymore on Patch". Well I am still here unfortunately but I have quit commenting on Patch. Why? Because the Mayor filed a complaint to the Hopatcong Police about me. Below is what I wrote to Chief Brennan. on August 22, 2012." When Randy told me of the visit by the Hopatcong Detective to his home for questioning, I thought this was a real abuse of power by the Mayor. Patch screens its comments and if they thought it was a terrorist comment, it would never have been posted. The comment could also have been flagged but it wasn't. In fact, after his visit by the detective the comment in question remained up on Patch. I believe it was Randy who decided to take the comment down. But the horror of it is that he did not use his real name and the Mayor was able to get his ID. Randy is the individual who got the Ethics violation against the the Mayor for her first class solicitation letter to all Hopatcong households to vote yes to merging two planning boards. She was also running for reelection as Mayor and the vote gave her power over both boards. She is going to appeal the ethics violation, but the public has not been notified of her new rescheduled court date.
The Watcher November 27, 2012 at 03:05 AM
"They" didn't drop roll back our tax his picture and "roll back our tax" were copied by John P (who also posted as the FBI). This offender posted as Randy (including using his picture) and wrote some defaming remarks (as Randy) about Randy. Randy posted that he reported his identity being stolen to Patch, the Hopatcong Police department, and the FBI. Apparently nothing was done to alleviate the situation so although I am not attempting to speak for Randy I can say he has not posted in quite some time, and I believe it is by his choice.

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