In June 2014, the Cherry Hill Board of Education and Cherry Hill Education Association embarked on a roller coaster ride as they tried to hammer out a new contract.
Now, more than 17 months after CHEA’s last contract expired, that roller coaster appears to be finally coasting into the station.
The board and CHEA have agreed to address a procedural issue involving the district’s compound drug management program. This will allow the two sides to proceed with the negotiation process and draw up a new contract based on recommendations of state-appointed fact-finder Thomas Hartigan.
At the Dec. 8 board of education meeting, board President Carol Matlack said the board met with CHEA on Dec. 7 to discuss the outstanding issue and agreed to address it separately, allowing the two sides to proceed with reaching a settlement.
“A formal resolution between the two parties is being drawn up and will be reviewed by both parties,” Matlack said.
Negotiations between the board of education and CHEA went to a fact-finder after reaching an impasse in June. The impasse came nearly a year after CHEA’s contract expired in 2014.
In late November, Hartigan released his recommendations to both parties. Both the board and CHEA agreed to accept Hartigan’s recommendations. CHEA agreed to the fact-finder’s recommendations in full, while the board agreed to them in principle, saying they needed to hear back from CHEA on the compound drug management program.
There was a sense of relief from board members, CHEA President Martin Sharofsky and parents at last Tuesday’s meeting. A round of applause was heard after Matlack’s announcement.
Sharofsky spoke during public comment, thanking the board members for their patience throughout the negotiating process.
“I’m glad that we’re moving forward toward a settlement,” Sharofsky said.
Cherry Hill parent Robert Weaver had been a frequent attendee at board meetings through the fall and had spent lots of time asking the board to settle the contract dispute. He was relieved when he heard the news last Tuesday night.
“Obviously, the negotiations have been hard on all of us,” Weaver said during public comment. “I greatly appreciate you finally coming close to a settlement. Parents across Cherry Hill will be very happy.”
In Hartigan’s recommendations, he identified medical insurance, salaries and duration of contract as the three unresolved issues between the board and CHEA. Hartigan’s recommendations include a 2.56 percent salary increase, retroactive for the 2014–15 school year, a 2.8 percent increase in the current 2015–16 school year and 2.95 percent increases in each of the 2016–17 and 2017–18 schools years. Both sides will need to mutually agree on the specific salary guides.
Hartigan also recommended extending the contract through the 2018–19 school year, with CHEA members receiving another 2.95 percent salary increase. However, this provision is optional and will only be included in the final settlement if both sides agree to it.
CHEA members will switch to a more cost-effective state employee health benefit plan beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. Both sides had previously agreed to switch plans, but Hartigan’s recommendations ask for the switch to not happen until 2017 since both sides were unable to approve a final agreement prior to the end of the insurance plan’s open enrollment period for 2016.
Both parties still need to finalize all of the details regarding the contract before the board and CHEA members can vote on it. There is no specific timeline for when a contract may be finalized and a vote may take place.
“We look forward to signing a contract and bringing negotiations to a close,” Matlack said.