BERKELEY – A sea of yellow filled Central Regional’s March 17th school board meeting – as a crowd of furious students, parents, teachers and residents packed the gymnasium of CRMS Thursday night, to confront members of the board of education for their alleged role in the ongoing impasse between the board and CREA on the teacher contract.
The current contract expired on June 30th, 2015 and ongoing negotiations since late 2014 have seemingly gone nowhere. At issue is the rising cost of healthcare – and the contributions that district employees are being asked to make.
Susan Hopson, a Biology teacher at Central that resides in Forked River told the board that “We are being asked to accept a raise that is lower than any other school in Ocean County.” Many of her fellow teachers joined in her criticism.
A Chorus Of Criticism
The Central Regional School District recently spent over $250,000 on a charter bus, and improvements to the football field – which some attendees of Thursday night’s meeting chided as “lavish” in light of the failure to reach an agreement on a teacher contract.
Controversy has been no stranger to Central. A recent shakeup on the board saw longtime member Bob Everett voted out – and the eligibility of Denise Pavone-Wilson questioned due to her current employment situation.
Student representatives said that they felt they were being used as “bargaining chips” by the board in the hotly contested negotiations between the board and union. Rumors have circulated that student events, including the prom may be cancelled because of the impasse.
Accusations were levied against both the board and union for how the negotiations are impacting students.
“Kicking The Door Open”
Attorney Threatens Unfair Labor Practice Charge Against Union
A particularly contentious exchange took place between Board Attorney Mark Toscano and Central Regional Education Association President Mike Mannion. Mannion began by criticizing the board:
“The board of education is offering us by far, the worst settlement in Ocean County.“
Toscano threatened that the union could be “kicking the door open” for public disclosure of all confidential offers made to the board during negotiations in addition to intimating that the board may file an unfair labor practices charge against the union, for disclosing confidential negotiations details publicly. But when asked by Mannion to outline what they can and cannot speak about, Toscano demurred.
Mr. Toscano claimed that ground rules between the two sides prohibited the public discussion surrounding collective bargaining.
But union leaders claim there were never any ground rules to begin with. “Which ground rules are you referring to?” questioned Mannion.
“When we began negotiations on December 1st, 2014, the board refused to sign ground rules,” he said. “I think that speaks to the type of negotiations we’re dealing with – you wouldn’t even sign ground rules.”
Attorney Toscano claimed that as a result of statements made by union members and student speakers at the meeting that “you are opening the door for the board of education to public disseminate all offers, all requests made by the CREA in this matter.” Toscano claimed that specific details of confidential negotiations related to Central Regional employee health beenfits were revealed by speakers from the public at the meeting.
“Are you going to use an assumption as evidence?” retorted Mannion, to an applause.
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An unfair labor practices charge could be brought by either the board or by the union for certain types of activity and would be adjudicated by the New Jersey Public Employee Relations Commission.
Board Member John Hudak joined in the antics. “I am curious as to why you are here tonight,” Hudak questioned of Mannion. “You are the business manager of the school play, which opening night is tonight,” he said.
Hudak implied that Mannion was not doing his job. “I’m curious as to why you’re here asking for a raise and not doing the job that you’re getting a stipend for.”
“You’re trying to catch me right now?” replied Mannion. The union president said the school play started at 7PM, the same time that the board meeting began. He claims that he sold tickets until 6:55 PM and somebody covered him for the remaining 5 minutes. Hudak said that Mannion received a $2500 stipend for being the business manager of the school play. Hudak received some “boos” from the audience.
After the union president finished speaking, other district teachers and members of the public spoke, and they nearly all had something to say about the ongoing impasse. Some were students, concerned about their teachers not having a “living wage,” some were parents concerned about the state of the district going forward, and many were Central Regional employees.
Despite the ruckus Thursday night, no progress has been made on resolving the impasse between the CREA and board. Superintendent Dr. Parlapanides told WOBM news that they are hoping to “bring both sides back to the table” in the coming days to begin another round of negotiations.