Red Bank Regional teachers and staff came out in force at Wednesday’s board of education in the school’s media center meeting to signal that they were frustrated with what they said is the board’s refusal to agree to a “fair contract.”
“The members of the RBREA [Red Bank Regional Education Association] want the Board to know of their dissatisfaction with working without a new contract for 521 days,” said teacher and RBREA representative Cassandra Dorn in a statement.
“This protracted negotiation, unprecedented, has damaged the morale of the staff,” said Dorn, “and the RBREA will continue to fight for a fair contract that allows all our members to sustain their standard of living despite facing continued decreases in pay for the next several years due to the tax on health benefits.”
Superintendent Jim Stefankiewicz said in an e-mail Thursday, "The RBR Board of Education has been working hard for a long time to achieve a fair settlement for our teachers.
"We appreciate the dedication and contributions of our staff," he added. "They are quality people who care about their students."
Despite numerous meetings and a formal hearing in December, an agreement has not been reached between the board and the RBREA, which represents approximately 150 teachers and office personnel. The previous agreement expired in July 2011.
Since that time, the two sides have moved through various forms of negotiations in an attempt to iron out an agreement that have included mediation with a third party and now working with a "fact finder."
Teachers who spoke at the meeting, which had to be moved last minute to a larger venue, mentioned repeatedly the perceived low morale among the staff as contract negotiations dragged on.
John DeBarberie, who was recognized at the meeting for being selected as Teacher of the Year, took the opportunity to tell the board that not agreeing to the RBREA’s terms sent a signal to staff that they were not valued and dampened staff morale (see video).
“Failing to renew that contract … sends a message that you don’t value us,” he said in an often funny and self-deprecating statement to the board.
Teacher Peter Roskowinski, who served as a board member from 2005 to 2008, said, “morale is at an all-time low.”
He said that when he started teaching culinary classes at the high school in 2009, “there was energy, smiles on faces walking through the hall.”
Three years later, the staff morale is "horrible," Roskowinski added.
The terms and conditions of the expired agreement remain in effect, including salary and health benefits, until a new agreement is ratified.
According to Dorn, “The membership feels especially disrespected because in these trying economic times, the Board has neglected those who bring accolades to RBR by the work they do every day with our students but approved bonus pay for the RBR Superintendent.”
Stefankiewicz said that neither side has benefited from the delay in settlement and both sides are frustrated.
"Both sides need to come to the table ready to get a settlement done," he added. "The Board would welcome that dialogue."