The Jersey City Board of Education approved the teachers contract yesterday after teachers with the Jersey City Education Association voted for a new, two-year contract with a roughly six percent salary raise.
While the board approved the contract by a vote of 5-1 (three trustees endorsed by the Jersey City Education Association had to abstain), BOE Trustee Matthew Shapiro stood by his no vote, saying that the district can’t afford to give teachers a six percent raise when the district has a $71 million budget gap.
“We are a district in financial crisis, facing a shortfall of tens of millions of dollars. And in this time of financial crisis, we are not maintaining salaries at their current levels, we are giving out raises, raises which we know will directly result in the layoffs of people working diligently for our students day after day,” Shapiro said in a statement.
“The collective bargaining agreements on which we are voting this evening are not grounded in our current financial reality. They send the wrong signal to our state legislators determining where precious education funding will go in the years to come. They send the wrong signal to our educators when we prioritize 3 percent raises over dozens or hundreds of jobs which could be lost, and who will have to look tomorrow at the faces of treasured colleagues who may lose their jobs.”
Jersey City teachers went on strike last month after going seven months without a contract, but the matter was resolved after just one school day.
Meanwhile, BOE President Sudhan Thomas had a different take on the contract approval. Speaking with Hudson County View, he said the board’s vote is a victory for the district and the students.
“It’s a big night for the students of Jersey City, ultimately we’re here to serve their interests. The BOE ratifying the memorandum of agreement that we signed on March 18 [with the teachers’ union] is a big win for the 30,000 students of Jersey City,” Thomas said.
In a statement, JCEA President Ron Greco was expectedly pleased with the final outcome for his 4,000-member union.
“The negotiations team worked long and hard to get the best possible contract for our members that treated them as the highly skilled professionals that they are, and with necessary relief on rapidly escalating health benefit costs and contributions,” he said.
“But we were only able to achieve this contract because of the determination of our members who demanded respect.”
The JCEA voted to ratify the deal shortly before the JC BOE did.
In an unexpected turn of events, State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), a political opponent of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and the New Jersey Education Association, called the board “irresponsible” for approving the deal.
“It is irresponsible for the Jersey City Board to approve an average increase of 8.25 percent over two years, including a stipend to cover part of the employee cost share of healthcare coverage, when teachers are facing layoffs and the quality of education is threatened. This can’t be a model for other districts,” Sweeney said in a statement.
“ … Jersey City continues to get $151 million a year more in state aid than it would be receiving if the school funding formula was run fairly with the 10-year-old growth caps and Adjustment Aid eliminated. Meanwhile, Jersey City continues to contribute hundreds of millions less than its ‘local fair share’ of the school budget year after year to the tune of $256 million this year alone. The state is working to live up to its obligation to students, and Jersey City should be doing the same.”
At the meeting, the dispensing of accolades was quickly followed by a long and hard discussion about how to eliminate a $71 million budget gap without laying off in-classroom teachers.
For example, board members entertained the idea of requesting more money from the both the city and the state. We asked Thomas which of the two entities would prove easier to request more resources.
“It’s important for us to take a long view of this. The first priority is to get the state to change the mandate so that revenues from payment in lieu of taxes [PILOT] on properties can flow in. The state has to change the mandate to fund education from PILOT revenues. Knocking on the doors of the city is important, but it’s only a short term fix,” said Thomas.
“A lot of properties in the city are going to be coming out of the abatement bracket in the next 5 to 10 years, some of them have already. Unless the state changes the law, those monies will not go to enhance the tax base for the levy.”
After the board’s exhaustive discussion regarding closing the budget gap, some chaos erupted with the board.
After a 5-minute recess the board, reconvened and Thomas introduced several resolutions that drew the ire of several of his colleagues. He said the intention is for the board to figure out ways to limit expenditures in order to avoid laying off in-classroom teachers.
“The purpose of the resolutions is two-fold. We need information which we need to have because its our fiduciary responsibility to ask for information [related to expenditures], and we need to apply freezes on certain expenditures,” Thomas said.
“We can’t be committing to board members going on a trip to Arizona when we are faced with the prospect of laying off people. I hope the board backs these resolutions, but if not, at least the victory tonight would be, if we don’t pass them, we are [at least looking at] limiting expenses.”
Thomas seemed confident that he would get the votes for the resolutions, saying that “if you stick around and see what happens at the end of the night I think we’ll have the votes.”
However, that didn’t end up being the case as several members of the board voiced their frustrations that the resolutions were’t shared with them prior to yesterday’s meeting.
After a vote taken by the board to continue the volatile discussion in executive session, several board members abruptly left the session, forcing Thomas to announce that the resolutions couldn’t be voted on because there wasn’t a quorum.