Hillsborough school officials provide update on contract negotiations with union

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Officials from Hillsborough Township Public Schools released a statement this week to update the public about ongoing negotiations between the school district and Hillsborough Education Association (HEA).

As of Sept. 24, officials said that the Hillsborough Township Board of Education and HEA have yet to reach a contract settlement following three “lengthy” mediation sessions with a state-appointed mediator. This followed approximately six meetings of direct negotiations over the last five months, according to district officials. The association’s contract expired on June 30.

Officials have in said in previous statements that the negotiations hindered over multiple topics such as salary increases, longevity, employee health insurance contributions, restructuring of the existing work year to allow for additional teacher training and student orientation, the workday scheduled for part-time staff and tuition reimbursement.

“The principle reason that a contract settlement has not been reached is because the [HEA] has refused to present any counterproposals to the school board at the last two mediation sessions,” said Michael Callahan, the Director of Human Resources for Hillsborough Township Public Schools Michael Callahan, in a statement. “The board attended the mediation session on Sept. 12 with the understanding that the HEA would be presenting a counterproposal for settlement. The HEA did not present a counterproposal for the board’s consideration and as a result of the continued impasse, the state-appointed mediator invoked fact-finding.”

Callahan explained that the school board proposed a three-year agreement with cumulative salary increases of 8.4% that are competitive with the Somerset County three-year average settlements.

He also said that board agreed to the HEA’s request to reduce the time teachers are required to participate in professional learning communities, to provide child care leave for adoption, provide foul weather gear for custodians and to comprehensive procedures providing access to the district’s facilities, and its employees to conduct meetings with its members.

In exchange for the board’s concessions, Callahan reported that the board proposed that part-time teachers, like full-time teachers, arrive 15 minutes before their scheduled day and remain 10 minutes after students are dismissed to provide adequate supervision for the safety and security of students.

The board also requested restrictions on the type of graduate courses eligible for reimbursement to preclude courses that are not acceptable by approved colleges and universities for graduate credit, according to Callahan.

“Finally, the board asked the HEA to change the hourly rate of pay for all summer work consistent with the hourly rate paid to teachers who write curriculum,” he said in a statement. “The savings from this rate reduction would allow the board to continue to provide essential summer services that have been eliminated because of the district’s loss of state aid.”

Officials said that the HEA rejected the board’s final settlement proposal and continues to seek salary increases that are above “comparable” settlement rates in Somerset County. The HEA expressed an “unwillingness” to consider the board’s proposals that seek to provide additional student supervision and a minimal reduction in summer pay in order to maintain essential summer services for students and parents, according to Callahan.

“The board has offered a highly competitive salary and benefits package for all teaching staff members, secretaries, custodians and aides in consideration for their valued contributions to the district’s outstanding educational and extracurricular programs,” Callahan said. “The teachers have recently been ranked third highest in median salaries in Somerset County and their healthcare contributions are already lower than any comparable school district.

“The HEA’s proposal would not allow the board to maintain the district’s outstanding programs within the financial constraints imposed by the 2% tax levy cap, continued state aid reductions and anticipated enrollment increases,” Callahan added.

District officials said that the state will now appoint a fact-finder to schedule a formal hearing. The school board and HEA will then submit their final proposals and evidence to support the reasonableness of their last offers.

District officials said it’s anticipated that the selection, appointment and scheduling of a hearing by the fact-finder may take several months and extend “well into” the present school year.

The fact-finder has the authority to recommend the terms of a settlement to the parties. However, the recommended terms of settlement are not binding upon either party. The costs for the services of the fact-finder are the responsibility of both parties.

“The board remains willing to meet with the HEA at any time in an effort to settle this contract dispute before the process moves on to fact-finding,” Callahan said.