I hope that subject heading got your attention. But, I don't think it is an understatement.
After many long weeks of waiting, the objective third party report regarding the school district and the teachers' union (the HTEA) positions in negotiations, known as the PERC Factfinder's Report, has been issued. Ron Sanasac, school business administrator, confirmed the issuance of the report and is determining when, by law, the report can be made available to the public. Hopefully, that will be today or tomorrow, since the school board meets tomorrow at 7 PM at Middle School North for a "SPECIAL MEETING" to discuss HTEA negotiations.
If ever there was a time to attend a board meeting, tomorrow would be that time. You will have an opportunity to hear an expert, independent third party's view of the board's and union's proposals for a new contract, along with his assessment of the current salary guide structure, including the controversial "salary bubble," which is currently a pay jump of about $35,000 after 13 years or less in the district.
I say "controversial" for a number of reasons, but perhaps most significantly because each side seems to view it as something the other side wanted, while recognizing the problems inherent to the bubble.
For example, former Assistant Superintendent/Board Secretary, Herbert Massa, stated in a November 2008 Finance Committee meeting that the union wanted the bubble as a means of rewarding longevity to staff who had been with the district a number of years.
However, on May 12, 2009, during a defeated budget hearing before the Town Council, HTEA President, Bill O'Brien, stated, "Bubbles are a problem in a (salary) guide." Listen to his statement at:
http://www.twp.howell.nj.us/content/8254/8269/10642/10648/10663/default.aspx about 20 minutes into the videotape. It will be interesting to hear the Factfinder's take on the bubble.
As I understand the process, the Factfinder's report offers recommendations, but neither side is obligated to follow those recommendations. However, one would be hard pressed not to, given the expertise he possesses plus the fair opportunity by both sides to present their case for their respective proposals.
As with any good settlement, the idea is that no one walks away feeling they made a "slam dunk." If both sides walk away a bit unhappy, that means each got some of what they wanted, but not all, and that means it is fair. And, that is all I believe the board, the union, and the community are looking for - a fair settlement.
I consider a settlement fair one that provides a reasonable salary increase to our deserving staff, gives them some predictability for the future (let's face it, working on an expired contract does leave people wondering), is sustainable by the community (because the "give backs" in the agreement fund the increase without increasing taxes), and provides a long-range solution to our concerns.
It is time to put this issue to rest so that everyone can get back to our shared priority interest - providing the best educational services we can to our children.
Come support your community at the Tues, June 5, school board meeting.