With 2015 rapidly slipping away, it’s become clear that a teachers’ contract settlement by the end of the year probably won’t happen.
At the start of school in September, both Bayonne Teachers Association President Alan D’Angelo and Bayonne Board of Education board member and negotiator Michael Masone expressed the hope that the contract would be agreed upon by the holidays.
This was in part because of the five newly elected board members who will take their seats at the Jan. 7 reorganization meeting, and what Masone said was a six-month learning curve for them to get up to speed on Bayonne School District matters.
But with a week to go before the holiday recess, there is no end in sight.
As he had in September of last year in the previous contract negotiations, Mayor James Davis once again jumped into the proceedings. He proposed that teachers be moved along in the step process—gradations at which they reach certain levels of seniority and pay—as the negotiations continued. They would receive their incremental raises for progression to the next step.
“The district offered to pay as if there was a fifth year in the agreement that expired [June 30],” said Masone. “We would pay the fifth-year increment, and negotiate any additional increase.”
“We had a negotiating session, and frankly, it didn’t go well.’” – Michael Masone
On Dec. 9, D’Angelo said he would not comment on that or anything else related to the contract talks. He represents 750 teachers, 40 secretaries, and about a half dozen school psychologists in the negotiations.
Masone said the two sides last met on Dec. 2, when the board laid out its position.
“We had a negotiating session, and frankly, it didn’t go well,” he said.
The central issue is health benefits, according to Masone.
“We want them to change their health plan,” he said. “We’re willing to entertain their request for the money they were looking for with the savings from the health plan.”
Bayonne teachers currently pay a portion of their benefit plans offered through the state system. But the board would like them to pay more into it.
“They have ‘Direct 10.’ The goal is to get them to ‘Direct 30,’” Masone said. The program names refer to subscribers’ responsibility for co-pays. In Direct 10, there is a $10 co-pay; in Direct 30, a $30 co-pay. The plans also differ in how much teachers would have to foot for deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.
“This saves the district one million dollars,” Masone said. “A million dollars goes a long way toward pay increases.”
The city’s municipal workers agreed to accept the more economical Direct 30 plan when they settled their contract in the fall.
A veteran teacher, who asked that her name not be used, said that her union representative held a meeting on Dec. 7 and told teachers that the talks were stalled.
“From what I understand, the benefits are the big thing,” she said. “We’re hopeful the contract gets resolved soon.”
Cutting programs and staff not endorsed
Masone said teacher contracts are complicated, because any raises above the incremental ones would affect a two-percent state cap on the school tax levy.
“Even one percent raise equals an extra half million dollars a year,” Masone said. “And then it’s repetitive, you have to pay that each year.”
The only other options to fund a pay increase would be cutting staff or reorganizing or eliminating programs, which the board doesn’t want to happen. Eliminating all of the district sports programs would save about $1 million a year.
Masone said the board was amenable to doing the incremental raises with the step upgrades with no strings attached.
“The board was okay with it,” he said. “There’s no reason to stop movement on steps and money due to the teachers.”
Masone said the incremental raises vary, with many at the lower rungs getting about $200 a year. However, for those higher up, at around the 14th year and with advanced degrees – the “bubble people” – the raises can be quite steep, in the high thousands of dollars.
Without adding additional raises now, teachers’ pay is going up, according to Masone.
“Right now they’re getting an increase. They’re getting about two percent every year by getting increments and not adding anything else,’ he said. “It’s 2.32 percent this year (2015-16), 2.94 percent next year (2016-17), and about three percent for the next year after that (2017-18).”
The two sides are scheduled to meet on Thursday, Dec. 17.
The negotiations have gotten contentious, with D’Angelo calling for a teachers’ march on City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 15. A similar march took place in 2013, when the teachers were in the midst of a multi-year impasse on their contract.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.