Marlboro Melee

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Marlboro Township Public Schools, a wealthy K-8 district in Monmouth County, is the site of an impasse between the Marlboro Board of Education and the 800-member local teachers’ union. After climbing the ladder of contract negotiations, the Board has rejected the PERC Fact Finder’s Report (which MTEA accepted) and elected to move to the highest rung, superconciliation. Both sides are conducting public relations wars. The district has just issued a resolution in case of a “state of emergency” if the teachers strike and is advertising for substitute teachers at $300 per day and substitute nurses at $400 per day. MTEA issued a public letter charging “the Marlboro Board of Education and district administrators have taken several provocative and inflammatory actions which can only serve to worsen the current crisis in Marlboro.”

The core of the dispute is whether teachers should contribute to health benefits. Historically the Marlboro Board has picked up the whole tab, estimated at $22,000 per year for each employee, and the teachers want it to stay that way. The Board has proposed a contribution of $950 for a family benefits package. The Fact-Finder sided with the teachers on this issue, though he recommended annual pay increases of 4.4% for 2008-2009, 4.2% for 2009-2010, and 4.1% for 2010-2011, below MTEA’s proposal of 5% per year.

Here’s what the Fact-Finder, Thomas Hartigan, had to say about the salary increases:

While I anticipate smaller increases, there is no indication of a dramatic drop off. In fact, NJSBA numbers showed a slight retrenchment from the 3d quarter to the 4th quarter of 2008, 4.69% to 4.44%

Here’s what the Fact-Finder said about health benefit contributions:

While the Board argued strongly for an employee contribution, its presentation and documentation did not carry its burden to make such a change out of the mainstream of school districts in the State and in the Country.

The status quo, according to State-appointed mediators, reigns supreme and contractual agreements are stuck in a tautology of economic indifference. It works for NJEA; it doesn’t work for local districts or local taxpayers, especially given the 4% cap on school budgets and looming state aid cuts. As the Marlboro Board of Education bravely battles for “a change out of the mainstream,” it may be time to take a hard look at county-wide contract negotiations so that local boards gain a little more traction.

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