Greetings members of the board, members of the public, members of the Rockaway Borough Education Association.
At its last meeting, a member of the board read a statement regarding negotiations with the Rockaway Borough Education Association. That statement requires several clarifications.
The board statement incorrectly said that our Association represents over 60 members when in fact we represent over 90 members – 95 to be precise. This includes custodians, maintenance employees, secretaries, aides and teachers, many of whom live in Rockaway Borough. We certainly hope that the full board of education understands who we represent and that we take this responsibility very seriously.
It was also stated that our members’ salaries cost the citizens of Rockaway more than $3,000,000 and our health insurance cost the citizens more than $700,000. First, these figures are not at all unusual. Of course, taken out of context and without additional information, it appears the board statement intended to make our members appear over compensated and out of step with the norm. New Jersey State School Board Association figures clearly show our salary and health insurance costs are indeed in line with all other public school districts, and in fact below many districts. The board statement failed to indicate that our salaries in Rockaway Borough are, in fact, near the bottom of all Morris County school districts – in fact, nearly the very bottom in all job categories. We want to remain competitive with surrounding school districts so we can continue to hire and retain the best people to work with our students.
The board’s statement failed to mention that we agreed to take a wage freeze, a zero percent increase in 2010-2011. It also failed to mention that we agreed to pay a portion of our health insurance costs BEFORE the state legislated that all school employees must now pay a significant share of our health insurance. Due to state legislation, these high costs for our health insurance have caused our members’ take home pay to actually decrease over the past couple of years. We cannot maintain that position. We work hard and we deserve what those around us are now receiving. Lastly, the board statement failed to mention that we are enrolled in the School Employees Health Benefits Program, the state run health insurance program that maintains the steadiest and most competitive rates in our state. Due to the very structure of the program, it maintains the most consistent premium rates year after year.
The board statement tells you that the board has negotiated in good faith to foster mutual respect. We disagree with this since all offers we have received to date are well below the average settlements in Morris County as well as around the state. It is difficult to understand how one fosters mutual respect when we are offered a wage and wage increase significantly lower than all of those who do the same job in districts all around Rockaway Borough.
Clarification is necessary when the board statement reads we continue to receive our full salaries and benefits, that the board continued all of the terms and conditions of the previous agreement. This is correct – however, it is done because the law mandates that the terms and conditions remain in effect. The board has NO CHOICE in this decision. It’s the law.
The members of the Rockaway Borough Education Association continue to provide all of the services we always provide –often even beyond our contractual obligations. In fact, last year, despite issues due to the past Superintendent, when our district failed to follow the new regulations on teacher evaluation and was not providing training and assistance in accordance with the state recommended guidelines to help teachers learn about the new regulations, we continued to work with the district to make sure we got back on track. We are still doing that.
We are now working in our second year without a new agreement. We care about our students. We care about this district.
And because of this, we continue to seek a Fair and equitable settlement. The sooner we reach a fair and equitable agreement, the sooner we can devote all of our time and effort once again where it should be – on our students!