Mt. Laurel Education Association gathers at BOE meeting to show unity in contract negotiations

The MLEA’s last contract expired on June 30, meaning association members have been working without a new contract for eight months.

Members of the Mt. Laurel Education Association assembled in front of the Mt. Laurel School administrative building this week to show solidarity during new contract negotiations.

This week’s Mt. Laurel Schools Board of Education meeting had nearly 200 more people in attendance than usual when members of the Mt. Laurel Education Association assembled outside of the Hattie Britt Administration Building to send a message.

According to association president Doug Bozarth, that message was clear — association members are unified, and they want to get a new contract signed between the association and the board of education.

MLEA’s last contract expired after the end of last school year on June 30, meaning association members have been working without a new contract for the last eight months.

Per the association’s last contract, the board recognizes the MLEA as the sole representative for collective negotiation for the district’s certified teachers, secretaries, custodians, assistants, library aides, nurse aides, office aides, preschool handicap aides, aides to classrooms, aides to classrooms (autistic), aides to classrooms (hygienic), applied behavior analysis trainers, student information managers, signing interpreters, technology assistants, occupational therapists, technology facilitators and intervenors for deaf and blind.

“We’re hoping that our presence here will send a clear message that we are wanting to get a contract done, and that we are unified, and we’re here to do what we need to get a contract,“ Bozarth said.

Bozarth said negotiations between the MLEA and board are still ongoing, and the MLEA has yet to officially declare an impasse, meaning he was not at liberty to discuss what was preventing the two sides from coming to terms on a new contract.

“We are without a contract for eight months, and we started negotiating last February, so we’ve been negotiating for over a year at this point,” Bozarth said.

Members of the Mt. Laurel Education Association assembled in front of the Mt. Laurel School administrative building this week to show solidarity during new contract negotiations.

Bozarth said he believed the MLEA had somewhere between 175 and 200 members assembled this week to stand together outside the district’s administration building.

Members, many of whom wore red articles of clothing, cheered before the meeting as students and their parents arrived to receive various certificates of recognition from the board.

Once those students and their families received their awards and left the building, a number of MLEA members entered the administration building to fill any empty seats for the remainder of the meeting.

However, no member of the MLEA spoke during either of the two portions of the meeting set aside for comments from members of the public.

MLEA members who couldn’t fit into the administration building also continued to stand outside the building during the meeting, cheering as various drivers honked their horns.

“We were using tonight to come and support the students of Mt. Laurel but also to show that we are unified as a membership and that we want to get back to the table, and we’re hoping that the board will come back to the table and cut a fair deal with us to get a contract signed,” Bozarth said.

Board president Marc Jones said he could not comment on any ongoing contract negotiations, but he expressed the board’s support for teachers and staff.

“We really support our teachers, we support our staff,” Jones said. “Contract negotiations are ongoing, and I can’t comment on that, but we hope to get it resolved as soon as possible, and we’re moving through the process, and we’ll continue to do so.”

The next meeting of the Mt. Laurel Schools Board of Education is scheduled for March 27 at 7 p.m. at the district’s administrative building on Mt. Laurel Road.