Mendham Borough

School District

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Message from the Mendham Boro Board of Education

  • Response from the Mendham Borough Board of Education to the MBEA Statement
    April 26, 2017 
     
     
    Dear Mendham Borough Families:


    Negotiations are always challenging and often difficult—particularly when they are conducted among colleagues and friends and involve matters like compensation for excellent work and the health care benefits that every family needs.  And sometimes unfounded acrimony erupts when the best of intentions collide with the economic realities of budgets and available funds.  That is how the Board chooses to interpret the April 25 Statement from the MBEA.  The Board understands and appreciates the frustration clearly expressed—indeed, it shares that frustration—but that cannot give license to the sort of misrepresentation and outright fabrication the Statement contains.  We write to correct the record.

    The Board has maintained throughout its negotiations with the MBEA that improvements in the salary package for our teachers required that savings be achieved on health care benefits if we are to maintain our budget within the 2% annual cap on increases to the Borough tax levy. The Board had initially wanted the contract to eliminate the most expensive plan offered to MBEA members, leaving many high quality plan options still available. Although the MBEA refused to consider that move, the Board continued to negotiate in good faith and investigated additional ways to achieve the necessary savings. The state-sponsored plan in which the teachers are enrolled today is the most expensive and expansive offered, and was requiring premium increases exceeding 8% annually.  School districts like ours are fleeing that state plan due to its excessive cost and the districts that remain tend to be the highest risk groups that cannot obtain insurance in the private market, exerting even greater pressure on premiums.  But it was not until November that the MBEA expressed even a willingness to consider leaving the state-sponsored plan, and a bit of time and cost was expended by the Board to obtain competitive options.  Nonetheless, in February we presented to the MBEA the option of a move to the Schools Health Insurance Fund, a state-approved Joint Insurance Fund administered by PERMA that insures over 45 New Jersey school districts and affords benefits identical to those of the state-sponsored plan at a significantly lower price.  The MBEA was sent a proposal on March 15 and invited to attend a meeting on April 6 with our insurance broker to describe the new plan and to answer any questions, but it failed to respond, instead waiting until the mediation session on April 19 to make inquiries and raise concerns.  This delay was avoidable, made the April 19 mediation session needlessly protracted, and is entirely attributable to the actions of the MBEA.

    In any event, the Board believed that progress was being made at the April 19 session at narrowing the issues in dispute.  In exchange for an 8.35% increase in salaries over the three-year term of a new contract (a figure exceeding all but one of the most recent contracts entered in local comparable districts), the MBEA consented to enrollment in the Schools Heath Insurance Fund and dropped its demand that members’ contributions to their health care premiums be rolled back and imposed on the District and its taxpayers.  However, the parties reached a snag on a rather unexpected issue—that of a required minimum amount of non-instructional “planning time” to be guaranteed to both the classroom and related arts teachers.  Although the teachers are currently receiving far more, the MBEA was demanding that its contract guarantee from nearly 6 to 8+ hours of weekly non-instructional time be fit within the 36.25 hour work week (in addition to a daily duty-free lunch period plus other “non-student contact” time).  In light of the declining enrollment we are experiencing, however, the Board thought it unwise to so limit the ability of the District to adjust schedules to fit changing needs.  And the MBEA wrongly interpreted our reluctance as a desire to strip them of all “planning time.”  While various proposals were exchanged on this point in the early morning of April 20 and into April 21, the Board determined that negotiations on this final point needed to be concluded before the April 25 public meeting so that any tentative agreement could be considered at that time by the full Board.  Contrary to the MBEA’s representation, the Board’s Negotiations Committee offered to meet on April 21, over the weekend of April 22-23, and again on April 24 in an effort to achieve an agreement.  MBEA declined.  Surprisingly, the April 25 Statement is the first thing we have heard from MBEA since April 20.

    So it appears that we are once again at impasse.

    As frustrating as that may be to you and to us, the Board has no choice but to proceed to the June 14 fact-finding hearing required by state law.  Sometime after that hearing, the appointed fact-finder will issue a non-binding report suggesting how an agreement on a new contract might be structured.  While that report may prove helpful in focusing the parties on possible solutions, the Board remains committed to entering into a contract only if it is affordable to the District and serves the goal of preserving and enhancing the instructional and extra-curricular program offered to our children.  As we said at the beginning of this report, the fine teachers of Mendham Borough are our colleagues and our friends.  The Board wants to compensate them fairly and competitively, but we must also live within our means as do all of you.  When the MBEA is prepared to negotiate with that as a guiding principle, it will find a willing partner in the Board.  Negotiations will doubtless continue to be challenging, but we will get through this.


    Best wishes for a happy and healthy Spring.

    The Mendham Borough Board of Education
     

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