About a month into the 2021-22 school year, the Sparta Education Association teachers are still working under their old contract.
The association was scheduled to meet with the school board’s Negotiations Committee this week before going into mediation.
At the Sept. 29 school board meeting, SEA President Susan Sawey said the meeting a positive development and expressed hope at being able to reach an agreement.
“My members have been doing their jobs and doing them very well,” Sawey said. “We come to work each day. We face the challenges presented by the pandemic, and we gave our all, although we have been frustrated by the length of this process.”
Angela Feldman, who chairs the negotiations committee, relayed a message from the vice president, Angela DeLuccia. For the past 20 years, the contract was settled on time only once, and that was during a fiscal crisis DeLuccia said was created by then-Gov. Chris Christie’s budget cuts.
“The more we give, the less we are valued,” Feldman said.
’We want the same thing’
Sawey said her members work beyond the contracted workday and do what is safe for themselves and the kids while worrying about their own futures and families. They said they are seeking a contract in line with those in neighboring districts.
“What do you want for students of Sparta because I think we want the same thing,” Sawey said. “We want the best schools. We want the best classroom materials and the best employees. We also want respect. We’ve earned it. We’ve worked hard for it.”
School board member Kurt Morris in a prepared statement said the driving force behind the association’s proposal was a decrease in contracted work time for a significant number of teachers, and a higher-than-average salary increase.
He said the district would be hard-pressed to do that under the state’s 2 percent cap on tax levy increases. The school board has chosen not to propose difficult-to-resolve items, such as increased work time or mandatory benefit reductions.
He said the association rejected the proposals outright and did not offer a meaningful response. The association asked for an impasse declaration, and the two parties jointly asked the New Jersey Public Employees Relations Commission to assign a mediator.
“The board remains confident that the teachers will exhibit the same enthusiasm they always have, and that Sparta students and parents have come to expect,” Morris said.
“The more we give, the less we are valued.” Angela Feldman