Paterson teachers may strike after years of collecting expensive perks

Jun 27, 2013 by

PATERSON, N.J. – Members of the Paterson, New Jersey teachers union voted “virtually unanimously” to authorize union negotiators to call a teachers strike to pressure school officials into a new labor contract.

Union officials told the roughly 1,300 members who gathered at the Kennedy Educational Complex last week “are frustrated” with current teachers contract negotiations, and “don’t want to go into a fourth year without a contract.”

Paterson Education Association President Peter Terri said despite the membership authorization vote, the union plans to hold off on any potential job actions until the fact-finding phase of the negotiation process is complete, the news site reports.

Terri said a teachers strike is among the possible actions the union is considering, but didn’t reference a strike specifically.

“We avoid making statements like that because it seems like a threat,” he said.

And that’s exactly what it is.

Terri contends the district wants to increase the number of required high school teaching periods to six and wants teachers to work 40 hours per week, instead of their current 35. The district is not offering a cost of living increase, he said, and instead wants to implement a merit pay plan.

Apparently none of that is acceptable to the union.

It’s easy to understand why the school board has been hesitant to grant a new contract to the Paterson union.

EAGnews reviewed the expired contract, and requested dollar figures from the district on the cost of the various provisions in the pact during the 2009-10 school year.

We found the contract was stuffed with expensive perks that cost taxpayers millions of dollars, but had little bearing on student instruction.

For instance, the district covered 100 percent of employee health insurance at a cost of $58.1 million. Excessive leave time allowed employees to take an average of more than 12 paid days off during the school year, costing the district $16 million for paid absences and $5.6 million for substitute teachers.

Employees received nearly $500,000 through an attendance incentive program and $2.4 million through a sick leave buyout program.  The annual “step” salary increase for teachers ratcheted the Paterson payroll by $6.4 million.

Taxpayers even subsidized the union’s operations by paying the union president and two of his colleagues to work for the union full time. The union reimbursed the district for some of the expense, but it still cost taxpayers $80,000.

The contract also required the district to pay $32,000 to teachers who covered for absent colleagues, $1.2 million to teachers for lunchroom monitoring duties, $2.6 million to teachers who led extracurricular activities, and roughly $4.2 million for other special stipends and incentives.

Paterson teachers have been treated very generously over the years, and probably expect  the same type of generous provisions in a new contract. That’s probably why they’re rejecting the district’s current proposals.

But times have changed and schools can no longer afford to shower teachers with expensive goodies. More money needs to be spent on students, a fact that Paterson district officials seem to understand.

If the teachers go on strike because they can’t get a contract like their old one, it will say a lot about their priorities. It will tell everyone that students and their needs rank very low on their list.

Paterson teachers may strike after years of collecting expensive perks – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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