20 Aug 2014
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Students Demand End to Teacher Contract Dispute

Job action means letters of recommendation are not written, students claim.

Students Demand End to Teacher Contract Dispute

Students demanded Monday night that the school board and the Hopatcong Education Association must find a way to end the ongoing contract dispute  because it is affecting students’ ability to get signed letters of recommendations from teachers.

The two sides have each filed unfair labor charges against the other in the dispute over contract language about health care contributions that is holding up scheduled raises for support staff and teachers aides.

The teachers, in the job action, have been declining to work extra unpaid hours, and students said they have been unable to get teachers to write letters of recommendation to send to colleges.

Rick Lavery, a student liaison to the school board, said the teachers’ actions are causing students to miss college application  deadlines.

“We need this  solved,” Lavery said.

HEA President Susan Hill said the union was willing to discuss the issue at the end of Monday’s school board meeting.

Board president  Clifford Lundin agreed to talk, and at 10 p.m. Monday, the two sides met to discuss how to move forward on getting letters of recommendation written.

The simmering dispute brought the teachers to another picket line before Monday’s meeting, and at times boiled up during the meeting.

Lundin said a Nov. 1  session with the New Jersey Pubic Employees Relations Commission to discuss the dispute was washed out by Hurricane Sandy.  A new session is set for December.

The dispute relates to changes discovered in June to the three-year contract agreed to by the union and the district in January.

The contract language issue was discovered during the process of reconciling the old contract and the new one.

The  board is withholding a scheduled 1.95 percent pay raise that was due at the start of the school, and in response the union filed  an unfair labor practice complaint with PERC.  The school board files its own unfair labor complaint at that time as well.

The contract language relates to changes in the state law that mandate  the level of payroll contributions required of teachers to pay for their health care benefits. Both sides agree the levels of withholding is set by state law.

The contract in dispute contains a phrase, “This provision has been superseded by statute” that is set off  by an asterisk.

The dispute is over whether that phrase is sufficient to bring the contact into compliance with the  2011 state law.

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