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Perth Amboy AFT Members Demonstrate for New Contract

4/7/16 Board of Education Meeting

PERTH AMBOY - Teachers, Staff and BOE Employees demonstrate outside PAHS before the 4/7/16 Board of Education Meeting, showing their displeasure with the BOE. It is April 2016 and Employees still do not have a contract. *Photos by Katherine Massopust

PERTH AMBOY – Teachers, Staff and BOE Employees demonstrate outside PAHS before the 4/7/16 Board of Education Meeting, showing their displeasure with the BOE. It is April 2016 and Employees still do not have a contract. *Photos by Katherine Massopust

By: Katherine Massopust

PERTH AMBOY – There was a crowd of 200+ Teachers, Staff and Employees gathered at the front of Perth Amboy High School before the 4/7/16 Board of Education Meeting. These AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Members were demonstrating their displeasure because of a lack of a contract so late in the school year. This is the third contract in a row that this has happened. AFTNJ President and Former Perth Amboy AFT President Donna Chierra spoke at the microphone leading the crowd. She stated that the time for a contract is now.

During the Board of Education Meeting, Perth Amboy AFT President Pat Paradiso came up to speak at the podium for the Agenda Items Only section of the Public Portion. She mentioned that such items such as the School Calendar (which was on the agenda) should be at least discussed with the Perth Amboy AFT. She also stated, “The Federation believes that long executive sessions are conducted on the nights of Board Meetings to prevent people from voicing their opinions, or their displeasure. We have some people here tonight who would like to voice their opinion about your failure to come to the negotiating table. We find this disrespectful and unacceptable.”

Paradiso’s comments met with loud applause from the 200+ Teachers, Staff and Employees who attended the Board Meeting.

The Amboy Guardian sat down with Paradiso who stated the issues:

Paradiso began, “We thought we were moving along on this contract. The cost of health care goes up every year. and the costs for our health care contributions are outpacing the increase in our wages. The Premium for family coverage has gone up $9,000 since 2011 and salaries have not kept pace. The premium for a family is $33,065 a year and the premium for a single person is around $10,000. Chapter 78 of (Governor) Chris Christie’s Administration did that. Christie instituted a 4 Tier benefit contribution formula that did not allow unions to negotiate health care contributions, but now that has expired.” (For more information on Chapter 78 go to http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/pensions/reform-2011.shtml)

Signs on display on seats in the auditorium in PAHS where the Board of Education took place.

Signs on display on seats in the auditorium in PAHS where the Board of Education took place.

Paradiso said, “Now we are able to negotiate for benefits, but the board won’t come to the table. We have staff putting $500+ of their paychecks towards health benefits while not seeing any increase in salary. It shouldn’t be that the longer you work, the less money you take home. That’s unacceptable. Chris Christie’s law has expired and we need a new contract that doesn’t have people taking backward steps. We also have no input on the district health care plans.”

Paradiso continued, “Neighboring districts have top salaries of over $100,000. We have never made as much money as other school districts, yet our professionalism and dedication as a staff are unmatched. We volunteer more than any other district. We volunteer for student and parent functions, literacy conventions, sports and fundraising events. We don’t get paid extra to do any of it. We have always done these things to support our district. Now the district expects us to do these things, but the Board of Education doesn’t support us in return.”
“Perth Amboy has one of the highest paid Superintendents in Middlesex County. We gave a person with no Superintendent experience a sweet deal with a 5 year contract plus perks. The Superintendent only pays 1.5% of his $200,000/year salary. That’s only $3000 year for benefits. Staff members who make $50,000 are paying more than that.”
“Our Board of Education talks about attracting teachers to our district. They should also be interested in retaining the staff we already have. People are having a hard time picturing a future in Perth Amboy. High staff turnover rates can be devastating to a school district. We need to have some glimmer of hope.”

Perth Amboy AFT President Pat Paradiso

Perth Amboy AFT President Pat Paradiso

The Board Members on the Negotiating Committee are: Board President Sam Lebreault, Milady Tejeda, Jose Rodriguez and Manuel Nunez. “We only had one meeting and Lebreault left early,” a frustrated Paradiso said.

When asked what recourse the Perth Amboy AFT has, Paradiso answered, “We are working on some plans, but we won’t do anything to hurt the children. We feel very disrespected.”

“Our Board of Education has the option and the opportunity to change that now,” Paradiso stated.

In response to accusations that the Board has lengthy executive sessions, Board President Sam Lebreault made the following statement at the end of the Board Meeting: “We have the executive session during Board Meetings because we have to discuss things that we are voting on. After we have the executive session, we vote in public on items. This was changed to be this way around six years ago. Whatever we do, we can’t make everyone happy.”

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