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No Deal: Brick School Officials Refused Offer to Hold Contract Talks With Teachers’ Union

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Signs supporting the settlement of a new contract for Brick teachers and staff. (Photo: Daniel Nee) Signs supporting the settlement of a new contract for Brick teachers and staff. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

As teachers in Brick Township continue to work without a contract, school district officials refused an offer to negotiate a deal before a state-appointed mediator holds mandatory sessions at the end of the month.

The revelation comes as the district’s teaching staff, who have made just one mass public appearance at a school board meeting this year, are seeing a drop in morale, sources said. The Brick Township Education Association last week began distributing lawn signs to supporters, demanding the district reach a pact with its employees. The Board of Education declared a formal impasse with teachers and paraprofessionals last year.

“The board doesn’t care to meet,” said Tim Puglisi, president of the BTEA. “They want to wait until the mediator comes in on the 28th. They don’t realize the longer they wait, the more damage they’re doing to the district. We’ve never been through anything like this before.”

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Under mediation, representatives from the district administration meet in one room with a mediator before he or she goes to another room and speaks with the union negotiating committee. The goal is to hammer out an agreement, even if the sessions last late into the night. Ultimately, the mediator makes a recommendation, though the Board of Education has the final say on whether to accept it. Generally speaking, mediators look at other local school districts, those with similar salaries and socioeconomics, and base their findings on contract agreements there.

Most recently in Ocean County, Lacey Township’s school district settled its teachers’ contract in December (with a ratification in January), which awarded teachers a 3.5 percent increase in salary for three years. In 2017, Toms River settled a contract with its teacher following a protracted battle, eventually agreeing to a 3.4 percent raise retroactive to 2016 and, for following three years, additional 3 percent salary increases.

Puglisi said he reached out to management in the district to propose an attempt to meet and work out differences before the mediator arrives – largely an attempt to amicably come to an agreement without state intervention. His proposal was rebuked.

“We basically are doing everything we can to get a settlement, but everything I’m hearing from their station says the want to wait for the state mediator,” Puglisi said, adding that while he could not divulge specifics as to the numbers tossed around in previous sessions, offers were made that were less than some of the other districts mentioned (Lacey, for instance, has a lower salary guide than Brick, lending itself to a larger increase for employees).

Brick teachers rally for a contract at an event at Lake Riviera Middle School. (Supplied Photo) Brick teachers rally for a contract at an event at Lake Riviera Middle School. (Supplied Photo)

About 70 teachers gathered at the annual World’s Fair event at Lake Riviera Middle School. They held signs, but greeted parents in a friendly manner as they walked in, Puglisi said.

At a meeting of the Brick Township school board last week, no school officials mentioned the ongoing contract dispute. One member of the public, former board member Karyn Cusanelli, brought it up herself during the public comment period.

“The fact that it’s gone to mediation, I cannot even fathom it,” said Cusanelli. “I see the priority being administrative salaries, administrative raises. That’s not say they don’t have a role in education also. I’ve been up here on this board. It’s such a small percentage of that large budget to get our teachers to where they need to be.”

“I would really implore this board to recognize the value of these teachers before we lose them,” Cusanelli added. “I think you should rethink the priorities of the district.”

Cusanelli’s comments elicited applause from a few members of the public, though district officials remained silent and did not comment.

“By them not reacting to anything, it points out to us that they have no respect for us, or very little respect for education in Brick,” said Puglisi. “They didn’t even mention the teachers and the [paraprofessionals] not having a contract.”

Public records show Brick teachers have never had a contract negotiation that required state mediation in at least 35 years. The first mediation session is scheduled for Feb. 28.