Contract talks are at a standstill between the and the New Jersey Education Association, the organization representing teachers, according to union representative Douglas Finkel.
Finkel told Patch that teachers, who have gone more than a year without a deal with the district in place, are hoping a mediator can help the two sides come to a compromise on the issues of salary increases and health care coverage.
"We're in the process of having a mediator assigned and waiting to hear back on that," he said. "Currently we're in a holding pattern. Both the union and the board negotiations team have decided that we're at an impasse."
Finkel said he expects mediation will take place "maybe in September."
According to Finkel, the association wants a modest pay increase for teachers and has concerns regarding the Chapter 78 pension benefit law passed in June 2011, which phases in gradual increases for employee health care contributions.
"It phases in from 20-33 percent over four years depending upon the union," he explained. "School boards continue to want more concessions than what came out of Trenton."
Finkel said the board wants no pay increases for teachers at all, and contended that this ultimately means a pay cut for educators, given the rising cost of health care.
"The average contract increase is about 2 percent," he said. "If it were to be 2 percent, given the larger chunk going toward insurance, [teachers would have] a negative return on their income for the next couple of years.
Finkel said that the health care contribution is a significant issue in terms of negotiating any fair agreement for teachers.
"When Trenton legislated [the increased health coverage contribution for public employees, it was outside of the collective bargaining agreement," he said. "Everyone must contribute 1.5 percent of their income to health insurance. If you make $50,000, for example,you'll pay about $750 now. After four years, you'll be paying 25 percent, which makes the contribution closer to $5,000.
"That's pretty significant. When one's advancement in salary is no more than 2 percent, they end up getting a raise and ultimately bringing home less. It's not helpful to one's household budget."
Finkel added that when boards ask for continued concessions, "there's just no way people can afford it."
He said teachers realize that negotiations put the BOE in a difficult position.
"We understand that boards are under budgetary constraints," he said. "The trick is finding common ground.
"Hopefully, the mediator will find that ground."
Meanwhile, NJEA representative Vickie Walsh reported that school secretaries are in a similar position.
"The secretaries' group is filing for mediation," she said. "The parties are very far apart on the issues."
And Walsh said Parsippany paraprofessionals, , want to who worked for up to four years without a contract and left their jobs prior to the deal finally struck last year.
She told Patch in March that they should be paid fully for the time they did work.
"If they were a bargaining-unit member for 2007, then they are entitled to compensation for 2007," she insisted. "If they left after that, then obviously, they aren't entitled to anything else. The district is challenging that."
There has been no comment from Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz or Board President Frank Calabria on the discussions that have taken place or on future prospects for negotiations.