Mendham Borough

School District

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Statement from the
Mendham Borough Board of Education

 
January 4, 2017

Report from the Board of Education on the Status of Contract Negotiations with the MBEA

As many of you know, the Mendham Borough Board of Education has been involved since last Winter in negotiations with the Mendham Borough Education Association (“MBEA”) over a new employment contract for our District’s teachers.  When informal negotiations reached a stalemate, the Board and the MBEA proceeded to mediation, which also failed to produce an agreement.  The parties are now involved in “fact-finding,” the next statutorily-mandated step in the process of reaching agreement, but success continues to elude us.  There is a reason that this likely sounds familiar to you; the regional high school board and its teachers underwent a nearly identical process just last year.

The Board remains committed to achieving an agreement that rewards our teachers for the exemplary service that they provide to our children and to our community.  The Board wants to give our teachers a raise in pay—they deserve it--but our ability to do so is severely constrained.  As described in previous communications, increases in general operating costs and state-mandated expenditures constrain the Board’s ability to fund an increase.  More significantly, dramatic increases in health insurance premiums in the state-sponsored plan in which our teacher are presently enrolled have made it impossible for the Board to afford both pay raises and continued enrollment in the same plan while maintaining our current program and remaining within the 2% cap on school tax levy increases.  For that reason, the Board initially offered MBEA members a substantial pay raise (7.5% over a proposed three-year contract, which was subsequently raised by the Board to 8%) in exchange for their agreement to move to the same health insurance plan offered to our District administrators and staff.  The MBEA refused to consider a change in health insurance plans, and instead proposed to make the existing plan more expensive to the Board by capping its members’ contributions.  At mediation in August, the Board again proposed to raise pay (6.3% over a proposed three-year contract), in exchange for a move to a middle-ground, state-sponsored insurance plan that would produce some, but not as much, in premium savings.  Again, the MBEA refused to even consider a change in health plans while demanding a 9.5% increase in compensation.  As we explained at the time, that was well beyond what the Board could responsibly consider.

So now we are in the midst of the “fact-finding” process.  At some point, a neutral fact finder paid by the Board and the MBEA will release a non-binding report suggesting a resolution.  Regrettably, we are now nearly half way through the academic year and much of the savings we had hoped to achieve in health insurance costs has been spent with the MBEA still enrolled in the legacy plan.  Add to that the fact that we now know that premiums in the state plan will increase starting in January (healthcare insurers price on a calendar year) at a rate even beyond that which was expected and budgeted (8.7% for family coverage vs. 7.6% budgeted), and it becomes clear that the Board’s options are diminishing.  Nonetheless, there is some good news.  The Board is exploring the possibility of achieving savings by moving from a state-sponsored to a private health insurance plan as some other local school districts have recently done.  Our preliminary analysis indicates that such plans can provide comparable or even superior benefits to enrollees at significant discounts compared to the state plans.  The Board raised that possible option at our first “fact-finding” session last month, and the MBEA has indicated a willingness to give it consideration.  This is progress—slight but perhaps significant.   While we don’t have as much money to offer as we did last Winter, the potential savings to be achieved could be used to provide the raise we want to give our teachers, reflecting the changed financial circumstances.

The Board is now in the process of obtaining price quotes from private insurers so that a specific proposal can be made to the MBEA in advance of our next scheduled session.  The Board remains confident that in the intervening time, our teachers will continue to perform as required under the expired contract with the same enthusiasm and professionalism that they always have and that Mendham Borough rightfully expects.  The Board wishes to make clear to the community that it does not seek to “win” in these negotiations in the sense that someone else must “lose.”  Rather, it seeks to present the best and most competitive compensation package that it can to the MBEA while maintaining the curricular and extracurricular programs currently in place and within the funding presently available.  A contract that achieves those objectives represents the scenario in which everyone “wins.”

 

Wishing you and your families a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2017,

The Mendham Borough Board of Education

 

 
September 27, 2016
 
On August 17, the Board’s Negotiations Committee engaged in a lengthy session with representatives of the MBEA conducted under the guidance of a PERC-appointed mediator. Regrettably, that mediation session did not resolve the differences between the Board and the MBEA over a new teachers’ contract. Discussions were frank, informative and cordial, but ultimately unsuccessful. The mediator intends to report that further mediation would not be productive, and that the matter should be referred to “fact-finding” as provided by New Jersey law.

It is the position of the Board that, while it is disappointed, there is no blame to be assigned for the current status of contract negotiations. Rather, there is a legitimate difference of opinion regarding the respective parties’ needs and finances. The Board, for its part, continues to pursue the goals outlined in its April 26, 2016 statement, namely:
  1. Maintain and improve the current programs and offerings for our students, as well as the school facilities themselves (which includes maintaining the administration and staff team assembled by the Superintendent to achieve this);

  2. Fairly compensate and reward our teachers for the outstanding service they provide to our students; and

  3. Do all of these things within our budgetary means, including the 2% annual cap on tax levy increases.
The Board continues to believe that the MBEA shares these goals. But school budgeting is difficult and often unpredictable. Energy prices fluctuate, unfunded state mandates threaten, state aid varies, unanticipated repairs arise and the costs of providing health insurance to District employees increase annually at an alarming rate. In fact, over the last six school budgets, spending on employee health and dental premiums have risen 50% from the 2010-2011 school year. For this reason, the Board has proposed in negotiations that the MBEA accept enrollment of its members in a less costly health insurance plan—the same plan in which the administration and staff team has been enrolled. To be sure, the proposed insurance plan includes higher co-pays and higher out-of-pocket limits, but its acceptance would provide meaningful savings to the District (and to MBEA members, who pay a portion of the premium cost) and dramatically improve the predictability of this enormous cost factor going forward. In exchange, the Board has proposed to substantially increase the salary package for MBEA members. The Board was hopeful, indeed continues to hope, that its approach could form the basis of an agreement on a new contract.

Under New Jersey law, the Board and the MBEA must now submit to a process known as “fact finding” in which an assigned third party examines the situation, gathers information from the parties and issues a non-binding opinion regarding how the matter should be resolved. That process is somewhat protracted, and the costs of the “fact finder” are shared equally by the Board and the MBEA. Nothing prohibits the parties from continuing negotiations in the midst of that process, and the Board intends to explore that option. In the intervening time, the teachers will continue to perform their duties under the terms of the expiring contract. Our teachers are professional educators of the highest caliber. The Board is therefore confident that no disruption or degradation of the educational process will occur while we continue to work toward a new contract that best serves the District, the taxpayers of Mendham Borough and, most importantly, our children.
 

 
April 26, 2016

The Mendham Borough Board of Education is currently involved in negotiations with the Mendham Borough Education Association. We are seeking a contract that will allow us to achieve three principal goals:
  1. Maintain and improve the current programs and offerings for our students, as well as the school facilities themselves;

  2. Fairly compensate and reward our teachers for the outstanding service they provide to our students; and

  3. Do all of this within the 2% annual cap on tax levy increases.

We believe that the MBEA shares these goals. In an attempt to reach agreement on a new contract, the Board's Negotiations Committee has been meeting with the MBEA's Negotiations Committee. Discussions have been professional, cordial and informative.

Unfortunately, agreement has not yet been achieved. However, both sides agree that the involvement of a third party, a mediator, as provided by law, may prove useful in finding creative ways in which to achieve the three goals described above. This is not an end to negotiations. Rather, it is the start of a new phase of negotiations.

The Board remains optimistic that, with the assistance of a mediator, an amicable settlement will be achieved that honors our three principal goals.
 

 
 
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