SOUTH ORANGE/MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Negotiations by the South Orange–Maplewood School District and the South Orange–Maplewood Education Association over a new contract for the teachers’ union have broken down and, after attending multiple mediation sessions since early January , the two groups will now move forward with an investigator, who will come up with a solution after evaluating all the data. In a February 28 press release, SOMEA management said it was “disheartened” that the district walked away from the negotiating table. At the education board meeting that evening, chairman Thair Joshua said the board did not perceive good faith negotiations from SOMEA.
In 2021, SOMEA offered a three-year contract with salary increases of 6.14% in the first year, 3.3% in the second year and 3.3% in the third year. By December, negotiations were at an impasse. Joshua told the meeting that in January the board had proposed a 12% salary increase over a three-year period. He said the board’s proposal included concessions that would bring the SOMEA contract up to state standards.
“On February 8, in response to the January 6 board offer, SOMEA accepted less than 25% of the board’s proposals for the remainder of the contract and maintained its wage demands at 6.14% , 3.3% and 3.3% over a period of three, which equals 12.74%,” Joshua said. “For comparison, the average increase for public school districts in the county of Essex is 3.17% (pa) from this month.”
According to Joshua, the district offered a counter proposal that offered an average of 4% salary increases over three years.
“The board’s 12% pay increase offer to SOMEA with a 4.5% increase in the first year would be one of the largest pay increases of any New Jersey teachers’ union over the past the last 10 years,” he said. “In response to the board’s offer, SOMEA reiterated its wage demands and subsequently withdrew one of its offers regarding the board’s proposals.”
SOMEA said the district’s proposed salary increases do not correct the district’s inability to keep pace with neighboring districts in paying teachers, according to SOMEA’s Feb. 28 press release.
“Throughout its efforts, SOMEA has always asked the district to simply catch up by paying its teachers 6.14% in the first year, and then only the county average in subsequent years of the contract,” the district said. SOMEA. “As the district warns its teachers, equality is not the same as fair, and it is equity that SOMEA seeks through salary increases, not nearly equal percentages applied to significantly lower wages. Indeed, the association has taken great care to research its position on salary increases and has published the contracts of neighboring districts to highlight the glaring disparity in the significantly lower salaries that SOMSD chooses to pay its teachers despite belong to the same or wealthier district factor groups than districts like Livingston, Montclair and West Orange. Unlike the district, SOMEA has been frank and consistent in its position since the start of the negotiations.
The union used the West Orange School District as a benchmark, saying the lowest paid members of the West Orange Education Association are $60,011 a year. The lowest SOMSD offered to SOMEA is $52,313. In the union’s proposal, the lowest-paid member would receive $53,134.
“Now the district is sneakily seeking through its terms to further widen the disparity by excluding the amounts paid to high school teachers charged with teaching a sixth grade from their retirement income and by requiring middle school teachers to do extra work and reducing monies paid to primary school teachers who are tasked with overseeing student lunches during their own lunch periods,” SOMEA said.
The next step in the process will be to work with the investigator, who will hear evidence on the remaining issues and recommend a resolution based on that evidence.
“As the burden of proof rests on both parties, it will be up to SOMEA to convince an investigator that the council’s offer, the highest in the state, is unreasonable and that their uncompromising wage demands must be met. “, said Joshua. “As the investigation will not conclude for 12 months or more, the Board remains prepared to enter into good faith negotiations with SOMEA should it wish to return to the bargaining table and do the same.”