March 26, 2010
To: MEA Membership
From: Joe DeMarco, President
By now we are all aware of the changes being enacted in regards to our pension and benefits. The Assembly recently passed the Senate bills that changed a variety of benefits, mostly for new hires. The only change affecting all of us is the new requirement that we pay 1.5% of our base pay towards our health insurance. This new law takes effect in 60 days and starts after the completion of your current contract. Since our contract expired on July 1, we will begin paying as soon as we settle. The law calls for the money to be kept in the local district. If true, this would provide the district with approximately $725,000. This money would be used to help offset layoffs. It is important for all of us to know that AS OF NOW the only changes that apply to us is the health insurance contribution. The other terms we have heard; changing the divisor to n over 60, limit of sick day buybacks to $15,000, using a 5 year average of final salary to determine pension, and a 1.5% contribution for health care carried over into retirement- all only apply to new hires. We will monitor any changes in these laws should they be proposed and let you know immediately.
Many people have asked me about a rumor that has been floating around about a deadline date for people to retire before these changes affect them. Some people have heard that it is April 30, and some people have heard August 1. Let me clarify this rumor for you. AS OF NOW this is only that-a rumor. I first heard it at a state-wide meeting for all local presidents held last Thursday night. It was being passed around by local superintendents to some of their districts. It appears to have started with Brett Shundler, the Education Commissioner, as an answer to why the governor's cuts won't cause increased taxes and layoffs. The rumor states that you have until August 1 to retire before the changes listed above will apply to you. So far this is only a rumor. While it is reported to be in the budget, the governor has no authority to make these changes. They would have to be voted on, just like the bills that were just passed. At this time, no bill has been introduced that would call for those changes. This does not mean that there may not be an attempt to do just that, but as of today it has not happened. Again, we will be monitoring Trenton closely for any new developments.
The current budget cuts to Millville have resulted in a loss of approximately $2 million. Coupled with other changes in funding, the administration has cut the budget by over $4 million. The net effect on the MEA is multiple positions being cut. As of 3/23, the number stands at 28 teaching positions and a number of additional support staff cuts (somewhere around 10). The administration has not finalized the list of exactly who is being riffed, so no one has been informed yet. The current plan is to notify only those involved by April 15. It is hoped and anticipated that the number of cuts will drop as more people announce retirements, and as the district seeks additional sources of funding. Also, as stated earlier, if the health care contribution stays in Millville, it should lower the cut number by about 10 teaching positions. Either way, we are going to lose people. This is happening all over the state, not just here. The BOE has managed to save 59 positions by using grant money and stimulus funds, but these will only last for this year. Thus, next year may be even worse if the economy does not significantly improve.
Many of you have probably heard that the Governor is requesting that local Associations open contracts and agree to givebacks in exchange for a promise to not cut positions. This is something that we cannot do. The reason is really very simple: we have no guarantee that it would work. Riffing of staff is a non-negotiable right of the BOE. They may do it at their discretion and we cannot challenge it. Thus, we could enter into a deal, forfeit rights or money in exchange for jobs, and then have the BOE cut the positions anyway. While I do not believe that our administration would openly lie in a deal like this, I realize that a change in funding might force them to cut anyway. If so, we would be powerless to challenge that action, even with a signed agreement. For that reason, we will not enter in to such an agreement. We will consider all avenues available to us through the negotiations process to do what we can to minimize staff cuts, but we will not enter into an unenforceable deal.
I would like to thank all members that wrote a letter to the Assemblymen regarding the recent votes. While we were not able to stop the passage, we were able to get an amendment that changed language that would allow new members to opt out of the pension system. If passed, this would have decimated the current system for anyone retired or retiring in the future. So your efforts were not in vain. We received approximately 500 letters from approximately 350 people. While this is a fairly large number, it still represents a little more than a third of our membership participating. We need to do better than this. By now you have read the daily attacks on teachers, heard the Governor's attack on NJEA during his budget speech, and seen the changes to our pension and health benefits. We are in the worst time for our profession that anyone can remember. And unfortunately it is expected to get worse. This Governor has declared war on NJEA and its members. We are going to have to stand together if we are going to be able to defeat these attacks on our hard-earned rights. When you are asked to step up and help, we need ALL of you to respond. As I said in my last update, the days when a few of your local leaders and NJEA can fight the good fight for everyone is over. We need help from everyone if we are going to survive these attacks from Trenton. If you are called upon to act, please do everything you can to aid your colleagues. Remember-United we stand, divided we beg.
March 2, 2010
To: MEA Membership
From: Joe DeMarco, President
By now you are probably aware of the meeting that was held on Monday, March 1. If you weren't there, I will try to provide you with a brief update. After many months of waiting for a scheduled Fact Finding session (which was only necessary due to the failure of the BOE to negotiate) the board cancelled the meeting. They want to wait and see what the governor will say when he gives his budget address on March 16, and when they receive their aid figures on the 18th. This cancellation was done SOLELY BY THE BOE, over the strenuous objections of the MEA. We want to continue talking in an attempt to achieve a fair settlement. We have only been asking for a settlement that matches what surrounding districts received after their fact-finding. Our requested raise is less than what the BOE has already granted to the custodial unit, the cafeteria managers, and the Culver Center top administrators. While we would enjoy raises equal to their percentages, we realize that a fact-finder will not recommend those numbers due to the fact that our group is so much larger and will thus cost much more money. We continue to refuse the Board demands for health care concessions, especially in light of the state's attack on our benefits. We are waiting for the rescheduled fact-finding session. At this time we do not have a date. In the mean time we have begun to respond to the halt in negotiations. On Tuesday the Senior High and Memorial staffs began a work-to-the-contract schedule. Other schools will follow after this week. An Action Team was formed that will handle this scheduling and any other actions deemed appropriate. So far over 30 members have volunteered to serve on this committee, and we will welcome any other member that wishes to help. If interested, send an e-mail to Carol Ciccio at Lakeside.
As previously stated, we don't know yet what the budget will be, but we are expecting the worst. Reports indicate a funding range from flat (no increase or decrease) to 5%, 10%, and 15% cuts. As soon as the MEA knows the amount and any proposed cuts, we'll let you know. We're hopeful that retirements and transfers will help keep the cuts to a minimum, but unfortunately it's still too soon to tell.
ATTACK ON PENSION / BENEFITS
We have all read with horror the attacks on our benefits coming out of Trenton. The Senate passed a number of bills by a vote of 36-0, and they are now being considered in the assembly. While it is too late to do anything about the Senate bills, we still have time to do something about the bills being introduced in the Assembly. It is vital that we all contact our local legislators and tell them to vote NO on any attacks on the hard-earned benefits that we deserve. The NJEA members in this state have met their responsibilities to the pension system year after year while numerous governors and legislatures have ignored theirs. We have seen our pension contributions increase while the state's contribution has decreased. We are now being made to be scapegoats for an out-of-control legislature. It is important to remind our elected officials that we will be watching how they vote and we will remember in November. Go to the NJEA website for info on how to contact your specific legislator.
With the attacks on our pension and benefits mounting we need to be able to fight back. NJEA has stood up to all of the attempts to limit our rights and will continue to do so through the upcoming battles. To do so, they need money. Our dues cannot be used for lobbying or any action deemed 'political'. To fund these defenses of our rights the state Association uses funds from its Political Action Committee. You can help by making a payroll contribution to the fund. Any monthly amount will help, from $1 to whatever you can afford. Some members may have been reluctant to contribute to PAC in the past, but these are very trying times. We can't afford to sit back and allow these attacks on our rights without fighting back. See a rep in your building for a sign-up form. Please help NJEA fight the good fight for all of us.