At one of the most chaotic meetings in a long time, the West New York teachers took over last night’s board of education meeting, the last one before the November 8 election, to continue an aggressive push for a new contract.
The meeting immediately started off on the wrong foot as Board President Adam Parkinson asked to break for a 20-minute executive session to discuss union negotiations, something the teachers were not to happy about.
Trustee Matthew Cheng, who said his mic was cut off before heading to closed session, decided to walk out of the meeting so that only four board members would remain: which is not a quorum for a public meeting.
Trustee Lorena Portillo showed up late, but decided to leave before entering closed session. As a result, the closed session lasted around 45 minutes as the board scrambled to get another trustee to show up on the fly.
Eventually, Board Vice President Damarys Gonzalez arrived and the meeting continued. Board Counsel Lester Taylor revealed that negotiators from the board and the West New York Education Association will meet on October 12.
However, that news wasn’t good enough for the vast majority of those in attendance.
Andrew Bove, one of many local teachers who spoke during the public portion, said that 24 teachers have left the district since July 1, blaming the ongoing contract dispute.
Ron Grossinger, a Memorial High School teacher, praised his fellow colleagues in the classroom, but added it’s about time the district gets its finances under control.
“I feel like I’m working with some of the best people I’ve ever worked with in my life. The teachers here are really putting in an amazing effort and I feel like we’re really competitive now,” he said.
” … The only thing now is that, financially, we are being punished: that’s how it feels. So I want to repeat what I heard in the crowd tonight from a young child. And the young child said ‘it feels like the judges are up here and the criminals are over here but they didn’t do anything wrong.'”
After over an hour of public comment, Parkinson and Superintendent of Schools Clara Brito Herrera responded to some of the concerns brought up.
“The president of the board of education is not the boss of the board members. The boss of the board members is every single registered voter in West New York. Those are the bosses of our board members, not the board president,” Parkinson said in response to complaints about certain board members consistently being absent.
He also was critical of other board of education candidates taking the microphone to complain about politics in the school board, yet mentioned their ballot position at some point during their speech.
Parkinson and Trustee David Morel are seeking re-election on November 8, running on the latest incarnation of the Children First ticket along with Jose Alcantara – who was recently called out over old social media posts.
Herrera praised teachers like Grossinger for going the extra mile inside and outside the classroom, noting that West New York is becoming competitive with various other school districts close and far as far as curriculum is concerned.
She also noted that the district no longer has Abbott status from the state before concluding by stating that 90 percent of the teachers who left the district left for personal reasons.
“Some might have left because of the contract, but many, many … I guarantee you, 90 percent of those people that you mentioned in this microphone tonight left for other reasons that were not just the contract,” Herrera said.
West New York teachers have been without a contract since July 1, 2015, though it looked like they may be making some headway when the BOE approved a $136 million budget in May.
The budget, which came with an eight percent tax increase, also had $850,000 allocated towards settling the contract dispute, but the matter remains in negotiations.
The board took no formal action on the contract at last night’s meeting and Trustees Steven Rodas and Dennise Mejia were absent.