Hopatcong Education Association – Vow, “We will not be the financial scapegoats!”

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On October 2., 2019, Sue Hill, the Hopatcong Education Association (HEA) President wrote the following public letter that accused the Board of Education of a lack of respect, and a clear lack of concern.

This letter comes at a time where the school board is scrambling to make up for lost State Funding and deal with the teachers that have not had a contract since it expired on June 30, 2018.

The HEA can easily sense the Board’s direction in this financially tight time, as they vow, “We will not be their scapegoats when it comes to financial difficulties”.

The HEA wrote the letter in response to Hopatcong's BOE President, Anthony Fasano, regarding inaccuracies stated in his letter to the community on September 26th.

=== Letter from HEA President Sue Hill ===

As you should be aware, at this point, the Hopatcong Board of Education (BOE), and the Hopatcong Education Association (HEA), are at an impasse in negotiating a new contract which expired June 30, 2018. As a result, the teachers are currently on their second year without a contract.

On September 26, 2019, some HEA members, as well as some community members, received an open letter from the BOE President, Anthony Fasano. While the tone of the letter was positive based on what Mr. Fasano stated, there were errors.

First, while we had been engaged in conversation, it doesn't appear that the board wants to end the impasse, unless the HEA agrees to their offer, which, by the way. will save the board money and cost the HEA members money. Please realize teachers are bringing home less money than they did in 2011 due to Chapter 78 legislation. We have not received any relief either locally or statewide, yet we still do our jobs faithfully.

The BOE claims they respect the HEA members. That could be believed if the board made a more concerted effort to negotiate in a timely fashion with their full team present. The HEA chief negotiator reached out to his team in September 2017, over two years ago. to start negotiations. In fact, they didn't start until the following April. The HEA was ready in September but had to wait for the Board.

We met a total of five times, on most occasions without the full board negotiation team present, before the board let our chief negotiator know that they would not meet with us unless we agreed to their offer. We could not in good conscience accept that offer, so we had to go to mediation. However, the HEA did express that we would like to continue discussions. The Board chose not to do so.

Our staff is important, both the teaching and support staff (who have also been without a contract since June 30. 2019). We were ready to meet in April on behalf of the support staff. After the board cancelled two meetings over the summer, because they stated they were not prepared, they were finally ready to meet in September. The Board’s team was a half hour late, and only one board member was present. Their chief negotiator, who thought the meeting was scheduled for the following day. finally showed up over an hour late. To us, there seems to be a lack of respect and a clear lack of concern on the part of the board's negotiating team.

The HEA is well aware of the state's funding cuts, however, perhaps if the board had been more financially prudent in the past, they wouldn't expect cost savings on the backs of the HEA membership. Audits with little or no results in improving student achievement, giving money back to the town, a flat tax rate, and purchasing supplies for students are just a few examples of the board's wasteful spending. We will not be their scapegoats when it comes to financial difficulties.

To be clear, the HEA members are professionals who care about student achievement as well as the well-being of our charges. However, we cannot and will not work for free. We will continue to follow the expired contract and hope the Board realizes our worth and value to the district and offers a fair and equitable settlement.

Remember - we deserve RESPECT. “A fair raise is better than empty praise."

Thank you,

Sue Hill

HEA President

Post Script. I read this at Monday's BOE meeting after Sarah Schindelar, the Board's Chief Negotiator, spoke. I would like to add that while she blames the HEA for wasting time, we are representing members and were available for all but one meeting. The Board is spending a lot of tax payer dollars for legal fees, arbitration fees, and fact finder fees. While we too. pay for the arbitrator and fact finder, NJEA offsets our costs. This just shows another way that the Board is not financially prudent.

Continue to show solidarity. At this point, all members, including support staff, need to stand up for fair and equitable settlements.

Together - We are the HEA.

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