The Cranbury Board of Education and Cranbury Education Association are currently at an impasse in negotiations for a new teacher contract in the district.
As of March 9, an agreement had not been finalized.
The Board of Education and Education Association could not come to an agreement when both parties participated in a March 4 mediation session. When the mediator could not overcome the impasse after being called in to help negotiate terms they had to resort to fact finder in the process.
Since both entities could not come to an agreement the process moves to the fact-finding phase, where both sides will meet with a state-appointed fact finder, who just like the mediator is a neutral party who tries to resolve contract disagreements.
The previous teacher contract agreement expired on June 30, 2020. According to the district, teachers are able to maintain the salaries and benefits under the previous contract while negotiations are ongoing.
There are two issues that remain: salary increases and work obligations.
“We have two major outstanding issues one is salary and the other is time required beyond the work day. We are not that far apart,” said Tom Hayden, field representative for the New Jersey Education Association who works with the Cranbury Education Association. “It is disappointing to us that we were not able to get it done face to face or without a mediator.”
Following the March 4 mediation session, board member Peter Katz, who is also Negotiations chair, and Board of Education President Karen Callahan released a detailed statement about the ongoing process and next step of a fact finder.
“As we entered mediation, the board offered the association a salary increase of 2.8% per year for three years. We also offered significant raises for any teacher who had or obtained a Ph.D. or two master’s degrees,” the statement said. “This offer was rejected by the association without explanation. The 2.8% per year increase was based upon our fiscal limitations, particularly given the COVID-related expenses the district has already encountered this year and last and those we anticipate in the future.”
They added that salaries and benefits for all of the district teachers and staff already represent between 75-80% of the entire school district budget.
“Based upon the school district business administrator’s fiscal budget and projections, any larger increase in base salary for our staff could result in the district having to cut student services, eliminate or delay necessary capital improvements, or cause a reduction in staffing,” the statement continued. “The association has held firm, without explanation, that they are unwilling to accept anything less than a 3.0% raise for each of the next three years.”
Additionally, they stated that the board offered a 2.5% raise which would occur at the beginning of each year (retroactive to the beginning of year 1) and a 0.5% increase would occur on Feb. 1 of each year.
Also, an agreement had not been made between the parties on teachers attending afterschool activities.
“We are certainly shocked and dismayed by the use of the district email system to communicate a very one-sided and very manipulative email to parents, but more importantly it puts blame on only one side of the story and one side of the table and feel it does not truly represent all of the facts and the history of the situation,” Hayden said. “We will be releasing more information in a proper and appropriate fashion.”
A Feb. 24 meeting highlighted the frustration from several parents regarding the ongoing impasse in negotiations.
“I want to thank the teachers publicly, because they have worked 100 days without a contract and I know that it is difficult, especially at this time. I was very surprised to see the amount of the legal fees, because half of that money is being spent on negotiation,” Lorena Edenbaum said. “It is a little more concerning. The more you wait the more money we are going to spend and is money probably being taken away from programs that will benefit the students.”
Jennifer Suttmeier added that she thanks the school board for their hard work over the past year, but that the Cranbury teachers deserve to be well paid.
“I do not think I would have been able to run my business without the help of the teachers. For my younger child in particular, virtual school has been a huge challenge and the teachers have been so patient,” Suttmeier said. “I am putting myself in their shoes and imagine what they need is no different than the rest of us. They need to be compensated appropriately for the work that they do.”
During the course of that meeting, Callahan clarified that the statement of teachers working without a contract is factually not correct.
She sited New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act and courts that when teacher contracts expire, all of the terms and provisions of the contract remain in place until a successor contract is reached by both parties and agreed to.
“I want to assure this community that all of the courts and protection, all of the salary and health benefits that were in place on June 30 are still in place today,” Callahan said.