A third meeting between the Shamong Board of Education and Shamong Township Education Association with a state- appointed mediator did not lead to any breakthroughs on a new contract, and both parties will now enter into the fact-finding stage.
The sides met with the mediator for a third and final time on Sept. 19. Although both parties expressed optimism before the meeting, neither side presented an agreement the other was comfortable with.
“We are in a holding position right now,” negotiations chair Laura Hoffman said. “We maintain that we are looking for a fair settlement.”
Board president Melissa Ciliberti could not be reached for comment at the time this issue went to print, but in previous conversations said she was hopeful the end of this negotiation was near.
The board and STEA have been negotiating toward a new contract since December of last year. While both sides seek a three-year deal, the salary demands have been the biggest obstacle. The board maintains that the settlement the STEA is looking for “exceeds settlements of other districts in Burlington County,” while the STEA says its teachers have the lowest starting and ending salaries in the district, and the board’s offers would allow that to continue.
Hoffman said that she could not comment on if talks had progressed from the previous two mediation sessions but that she remained “cautiously optimistic” and that the STEA would be open to more conversations before the next scheduled meeting with the board sometime in November.
Fact-finding is a mechanism for helping parties settle contract negotiations by having the parties submit their disputes to a fact-finding panel. The fact-finding panel consists of a neutral chair, an employer representative and an employee representative. The panel evaluates the arguments and evidence and makes a recommendation regarding each issue in dispute. After the close of the hearing, the fact-finding panel will issue a report containing its findings and recommendations on all of the issues presented. The recommendation is non-binding, so neither party is forced to take action after the fact-finding session.
Hoffman expressed that she felt both the board and the STEA had reached the point of wanting the negotiations to cease.
“We don’t like to focus any of our energy on this issue. Of course, the students of Shamong are always our primary focus, but neither party wants or needs this distraction,” Hoffman said.