Cars honked as teachers and staff from the Gloucester Township Education Association held signs at the entrance of Ann Mullen Middle school on Sept. 20 to address the board of education regarding a new and fair contract.
The teachers’ previous contract expired three months ago, on June 30. According to Patti McBride, president of the education association, the union has been negotiating a new pact for eight to 12 months, but has yet to reach an agreement.
“[For the teachers], that means no increase in salary. That means they’re questioning health benefits, questioning time,” she said. “It means that they don’t value us; they don’t respect our organization.”
During the meeting’s public comment, teachers explained what a day in their lives looks like to demonstrate how challenging the pandemic has made their jobs, and why they deserve a fair contract. Daily tasks now include managing Zoom class for students who are quaranting while also giving in person instruction to rooms full of students, and solving technical difficulties.
“On top of teaching our kids, during this pandemic, we’ve also been their therapist, their parents throughout the day,” said teacher Angela LaMorte. “I’ve had multiple kids online and at school at the same time, having complete breakdowns … We’ve worn so many hats with them. We’ve been through the ups and downs, cried with them, tried to talk them off a ledge, made them feel loved, made them feel connected, because that’s what they needed, on top of dealing with this myself with my own anxiety, my own children and my own family.
“Our jobs don’t end at 3:20 every day.”
Another focal point of the meeting was the resignation of the nurse at Glen Landing Middle School. To resolve the issue, the nurse at Gloucester Township Elementary School will be transferred to Loring-Flemming Elementary, and the Loring Flemming nurse will be transferred to Glen Landing.
That leaves a substitute nurse to be shared between Glendora and Gloucester Township elementary schools. While that is a temporary measure, and the job position for a full-time nurse has been posted, many parents were concerned over the idea.
Parent Amanda Dawson brought to the meeting her 6-year-old daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes, and argued the importance of having a full-time nurse to help with her insulin dosing and monitoring throughout the day.
“Because she’s only 6, obviously she cannot do her own diabetes care,” Dawson noted. “… A part-time nurse, or a temporary nurse or a nurse that will not be at the school full time throughout the day is not going to cut it. Any ideas regarding this should probably be dismissed, as it would be impossible for any temporary nurse to be trained in such a specific and always-changing health situation.”
School Superintendent John Bilodeau addressed Dawson specifically during board comments and said he would work with her to make sure there’s a plan in place for her daughter. He acknowledged that there is a nursing shortage across the country, and though the nursing situation is not ideal, it is temporary until a replacement is hired.
“If one didn’t decide to go to another district, we would be just fine tonight, but that’s what happened,” Bilodeau explained. “ … As soon as we have someone, we’re going to restore a nurse to every building, just like we did two years ago.”
The teacher contract negotiations were addressed toward the end of the meeting, when Bilodeau said the district has contracts with four unions that all expire on the same day, and that the negotiating team has had success with two of them.
“The board remains at the table and did not leave it,” he noted. “Irrespective of that, the process went into mediation, and that also isn’t something that has yielded a positive result as of tonight.
“ … There are certain stalling events,” Bilodeau added. “I would suggest that people in this room, if they haven’t been fully informed on what is being stalled, turn and ask the GTEA negotiating group what is being stalled.”
In other news;
The district failed governance in the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) review area by 5 percent, scoring 75 percent out of the needed 80 percent to pass. It scored 81 percent in INstruction and program, 100 percent in fiscal management, 97 percent in operations and 91 percent in personnel. Governance means that the board failed to do certain task items before a certain date.
The district, instead of gaining a five-year pass from QSAC, will now have an evaluation for the next three years,” said board member Ellen Reese. She continued to ask how the board would accomplish certain task items, like district and board goal-setting.
“Items here need to be addressed; failure on governance is not acceptable,” she said.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at Mullen Middle School.