During the May 26 Cherry Hill board of education meeting, members of the community asked the board and the Cherry Hill Education Association to reach a new agreement before the end of the school year. The CHEA has been working without a contract since June 30, 2014.
With the final days ticking away from the school calendar, a new agreement in the coming weeks is looking increasingly unlikely.
More than 100 CHEA members attended last Tuesday’s board of education work session to express their displeasure with the last negotiation session on June 1 and a statement the board of education posted following the session.
Not all members of the crowd could fit in the board room. Some listened from the adjoining hallway, while others stood outside the Malberg Administration Building, watching through the windows. Most of the CHEA members brought signs protesting the board of education’s statements and stances.
On the Cherry Hill Public Schools’ website, the board of education issued a statement on June 3 saying they extended an offer to CHEA on June 1. The offer included an increase in its first-year salary offer, added a fourth-year salary offer and withdrew several proposals. The statement went on to say almost all the CHEA negotiating team abruptly left the June 1 session without any communication about 90 minutes after the board made its offer.
CHA President Martin Sharofsky said during public comment at last Tuesday’s meeting the board’s statement only told part of the story.
“Your posting was against everything that we had agreed upon,” Sharofsky said. “What goes on in the negotiations rooms should stay in the negotiations room.”
Sharofsky said CHEA also made concessions, and the board’s salary increase proposal was minimal, amounting to about $1.85 per paycheck before taxes.
Jay Young, the negotiating chair for CHEA, said the majority of the negotiating committee left the session on June 1 after it was decided they would not be able to come to a settlement they could accept. He said the salary offer from the board was below the county average.
“We could not see any compromise from the side of the board to help a settlement be reached,” Young said. “This is why the meeting ended.”
Board member Steve Robbins, chair of the board of education’s negotiating committee, said the board’s salary increase was very close to the county average, and the board was willing to compromise and increase its salary offer further if it received additional concessions from CHEA.
“Instead of engaging in those discussions when we were willing to increase our offer, the association abruptly walked out,” Robbins said.
Young added the CHEA handed the board a written counter offer one hour after the board’s proposal.
“Your response, none, except for the phrase, ‘we need more,’” Young said.
Robbins went on to express disappointment in CHEA walking out, saying its members repeatedly accused the board of failing to negotiate in good faith at multiple board of education meetings in the past.
After the June 1 meeting, the board of education has opted to look at holding a formal hearing before a state-appointed fact finder. Because of scheduling conflicts and preparation time, a hearing will not likely be scheduled prior to late August or early September, with a report from the fact finder likely not coming until sometime in the fall.
Despite the disagreements, both sides still expressed a willingness to meet and resolve the contract.
“The time is now to negotiate in good faith with respect and consideration for our hard-working school employees,” Sharofksy said. “The time is now to settle this contract.”
“We are willing to negotiate in good faith, but walking out is not negotiating,” Robbins said. “Our offer to discuss still stands, and we merely wait a reply.”