November 6, 2019
The Holmdel Board of Education believes it important to issue this statement to ensure that the public has accurate information about the current negotiations with the Holmdel Township Education Association (“HTEA”), due to the misinformation being shared publicly about those negotiations.
The contract between the Board and HTEA expired June 30, 2019. The terms and conditions of that agreement remain in effect until a successor agreement is reached. Representatives of the Board and the Association met on multiple occasions prior to the expiration of the contract to negotiate the terms of a new agreement. Prior to the contract’s expiration, the Association declared the negotiations at an impasse to proceed to mediation under the auspices of the Public Employment Relations Commission. The Board agreed, in the hope that mediation would assist the parties in their negotiation efforts.
The parties are scheduled for a mediation session on November 25. In an effort to make progress prior to mediation, the parties met on October 28. The parties were unsuccessful in reaching an agreement.
In every school district negotiation in this State, the two most critical issues are salary increases and health insurance costs. Since 2011, State law has required all public employees to contribute a percentage of their health insurance premium cost. The HTEA seeks a drastic reduction in the amount of its members’ insurance contribution. This would impose an untenable cost impact on Holmdel taxpayers and the school budget. As it is, the Board currently pays about 83% of the cost of medical insurance and premium increases. In the 2018-19 school year, insurance premiums for the HTEA’s members cost the Board more than $8 million.
While the Board seeks a fair, balanced and competitive settlement that meets the needs of our valued employees, it also must be mindful of its fiduciary responsibility to the District and the constraints imposed by the two percent cap on any increase to the property tax levy. The Board has been clear throughout negotiations that in order to achieve a meaningful salary increase in the face of the two percent tax levy cap and ever-increasing insurance costs, some adjustment to the current insurance coverage would need to be considered. Indeed, according to data from the New Jersey School Boards Association, 46% of districts settling contracts covering the 2019-20 school year reported attaining health insurance cost containment. The HTEA has refused to consider an excellent health insurance alternative which would provide cost savings to both the District and the HTEA’s members. The HTEA has also refused to consider the Board’s revised proposal to implement the coverage change for new employees only, which could leave the current insurance unchanged for all existing employees.
Presumably in an effort to place pressure on the Board going into mediation, the HTEA engaged in a concerted work action by having its members suddenly take off Veterans Day en masse, compelling the District to close schools for students on that day. While the Board recognizes that the teachers have a legal right to take this holiday, it is unfortunate that they provided this belated notice of their intent to do so, as it only serves to inconvenience our parents and students while also disrupting the academic year. As noted by the Superintendent, the HTEA is consulted about the school year calendar well in advance of its adoption. If this is a date that the HTEA wished to take as a holiday, it could have been worked into the planning for the 2019-2020 school year.
Despite this recent event, the Board remains committed to its goal of attaining a negotiated settlement which is fair and equitable to both our staff and our taxpayers, while also ensuring any changes to the contract are in the best interest of students.