Contract negotiations ongoing

By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Cherry Hill Sun

It’s been more than a year now since Cherry Hill teachers have worked in the district with a valid contract. The contracts expired on June 30, 2009, and the district and Cherry Hill Education Association are still embroiled in negotiations.

Both the district and the CHEA agreed that a recent mediation meeting was the most productive meeting during the entire negotiation process.

The CHEA, according to the district’s Web site, represents about 1,100 employees, including teachers, secretarial and support staff positions.

Martin Sharofsky, president of the CHEA, said this past meeting with the Board of Education was the best the two groups have had in the past years.

“This past Monday evening was probably the most productive meeting in the whole process. We’re hoping to have a few more like that in the near future. We issued a statement to our people recently that basically said, better a good contract than a quick one,” he said. “I’d rather take the time to get contracts that both sides can live with, rather than jump at an offer that puts strain and pressure on both factions.”

Negotiations for the new contracts have been in the works since last year when they began on April 30, 2009. Failing to come to an agreement, the district and the CHEA are currently in a state-led negotiation process that began last December.

Under state law, the members of the CHEA are working under all the terms and conditions of their old contracts until new ones are ratified.

A mediator sat down with both district and CHEA representatives in January, but contracts could not be reached. The two groups met again in March and April, but no decision was made. At the moment, a state mediation process is looking at the arguments of both the district and the CHEA.

Board of Education President Seth Klukoff has been the leading the members of the BOE through the majority of the contract process. He said the district met with the CHEA on June 28 for another mediation session before it progresses to a fact-finding process.

“The Board feels that it was a very productive session. We feel we’re making progress toward a potential settlement, and the board has a desire to continue to meet with the teachers union over the course of the summer,” he said. “Both parties and the union feel that it’s very important to reach a settlement. That’s in the best interest of the district and our educational program.”

After both sides give their presentation to the state mediator, the mediator will write a report giving suggestions as to how the unresolved contract facets can be met. The report is available to the public after it is first presented to both sides, district representatives reported.

One thing the district is certain on when it comes to the future contracts is a 1.5 percent contribution from employees to their health benefits. The governor signed a mandate last March that would require employees with undecided contracts to contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries to cover their health benefits.

It was estimated that measure — coupled with further reductions in the estimated 09–10 teacher salary increases — will save the district more than $820,000 for the 2010–11 school year.

The $820,000 has already been reinstated back into the 2010–11 budget.