Both the Cherry Hill Board of Education and the Cherry Hill Education Association have agreed to terms for a new contract as recommended in a fact-finding report from Thomas Hartigan of the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission.
However, there is a separate issue preventing the two sides from putting the finishing touches on a new agreement.
At its Nov. 24 meeting, Cherry Hill Board of Education President Carol Matlack said the board would accept the fact-finder’s recommendation for a new contract with CHEA in principle, pending a response from CHEA on a procedural issue.
On Nov. 27, the procedural issue was revealed to be about a new compound drug management program the district instituted on Sept. 1. CHEA filed a grievance shortly after the program began.
CHEA President Martin Sharofsky said the CHEA is upset with how the district proceeded with instituting the new program. The presidents of the associations representing employees in the school district were informed of it during a meeting on Aug. 28, just days before the district implemented it. The district then informed employees of the change by email on Sept. 2.
Sharofsky said the district violated its contract with CHEA since the program was not collectively bargained and the district didn’t give CHEA enough notice.
“Our contract and every other group’s contract reads that we should receive 90 days notice,” Sharofsky said.
Hartigan’s report details a brief description of the new plan. According to the report, Cherry Hill Public Schools had underestimated the projected cost of prescription insurance last June after the budget for 2015–16 had been approved.
“The district was informed that the original projections for prescription insurance was underestimated by $2.4 million due to an increase in the use of specialty drugs and an explosion in the increased use of compound drugs, which are drugs created when a pharmacist combines, mixes or alters ingredients of a drug to create a medication tailored to individual needs,” Hartigan said in the report. “These drugs are not FDA approved and have been shown at times to be ineffective and even harmful to patients. While the number of employees using these compound drugs is small, the cost is not.”
According to information posted on the Cherry Hill Public Schools website, the district had to choose between implementing the program or reallocating $2 million from elsewhere in the budget to cover the cost of non-FDA approved prescriptions. The district’s release also states CHEA members would pay on average $260 per year more in premium insurance contributions.
The district’s new management plan provides access to an appeals process for those prescribed compound drugs in an effort to see if there is a lower cost solution.
CHEA decided to file a grievance with Superintendent Joe Meloche and the board of education after the program began on Sept. 1. Sharofsky said Meloche and the board denied all of CHEA’s grievances. CHEA then decided to send the grievance to arbitration in late November.
Sharofsky said CHEA understands the need for the district to have a compound drug management program, but added the short notice and lack of input didn’t allow employees in the district to prepare for the sudden change properly.
“We’re not opposed to some type of agreement on the compound drug issue,” Sharofsky said. “It just wasn’t done the right way.”
Though the compound drug management program was discussed in Hartigan’s report, Hartigan did not give a recommendation on the program’s inclusion in the pending contract between the district and CHEA, as it was not part of the fact-finding process.
District officials declined to comment on CHEA’s grievance, but the board of education is still hopeful of reaching a settlement with CHEA in the near future.
“The two sides have an ongoing dialogue in an attempt to reach a final settlement,” district Public Information Officer Barbara Wilson said in an email on Dec. 1.
Sharofsky said the two sides planned to meet in the early part of the week of Dec. 6, but the meeting would strictly deal with the pending grievance and not negotiations.