While the theme seems to be silence, members of the West Morris Regional High School Teacher’s Association made themselves loud and clear to the board of education.
Nearly a full school year without an updated contract to go along with negotiations that have not moved as fast as the association would like led to a full house Monday night at the board’s regular meeting.
Contract talks between the board and association began in 2013, but the negotiation committee – made up of Chester Borough’s Don Storms, then-board president and Chester Township representative James Johnston, and Washington Township’s Joe Galayda – pushed the discussions straight to mediation, bringing in a third-party to oversee the situation.
Now, months later, talks have gone nowhere, according to association lead negotiator Mike Goffredo. When asked how far apart the two sides are, Goffredo said, “We’re nowhere. We’ve made no progress, and now they need to bring in a fact finder.”
A fact-finding meeting has been established as a result of the impasse, and is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2. The current negotiations committee is made of Galayda, Storms, Mendham Township’s Jamie Button, and first-year regional board member and current president Gary Lakritz from Chester Township.
Lakritz said he had met with Goffredo recently to discuss the process, and both negotiations committees sat down in March to have further dialogue about the fact finding process.
Clad with red buttons that read “Settle Now,” teachers from both schools took to the podium during public comment to share their feelings with the board make their opinions known.
Science teacher Rob Maier explained why he decided to leave the Randolph School District to come to West Morris Central, and that it was a “compassionate district that supports teachers,” he said.
Maier said his experience at Randolph, which lasted more than a decade, was a messy one.
“When it gets messy, it takes focus off the kids and the work we do,” he said. “When it gets messy, there’s buzz in the school and people get bummed out. When it gets too messy, you lose talented teachers.
"Please support us," Maier said.
The current contract stalemate comes after the district went two years without an updated accord before settling in June of 2011. That contract spanned four years, two of which were retroactive to 2009-10 and 2010-11. The contract ended at the conclusion of the 2013 school year.
West Morris Mendham science teacher Michael Scoblete took a different approach during his comment, using silence as strength.
Scobleti planned to stand in silence for his allotted five-minute opportunity, but only made it three minutes and 23 seconds before being interrupted.
Button stood up and walked over to Mendham Borough representative Brian Cavanaugh to have a quiet discussion, to which Scobleti quickly pounced, “Are we boring you, Mr. Button?
“That was silence for three minutes and 23 seconds, which is nothing compared to the silence we’ve heard for the past year,” Scobleti said. “We’ve got five hours worth of people here. Did you bring your sleeping bags? Get it done.”
Scobleti, like all the night’s speakers, was met with applause from his colleagues after leaving the podium.
Mendham’s Francis Gavin, who also serves as the West Morris Central girls basketball coach, shared his experience as a teacher and school board member in his own town to paint the picture of what should get done.
Gavin said not only does he serve on his own board, but is also part of the negotiations committee, and noted the differences between highly performing boards and those that are not.
“Highly performing boards of education communicate well, represent the entire district, and have a dialogue with the community,” Gavin said. “This board has come to the table and not done what it’s supposed to do. It hasn’t even come to the table with a goal.
“That is a sign of a highly dysfunctional board. So decide if you want to be dysfunctional board or a highly performing board so real, true negotiations can occur.”
The next board of education meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 28 at West Morris Mendham High School.
Editor's note: The original version of this article did not state recent meetings held by board and teacher's association members.