Franklin Lakes teachers protest expired contract. Tariq Zehawi, NorthJersey
The Franklin Lakes Board of Education is looking to take “emergency court action” to force teachers back into the schools after they shut down four schools with a protest to demand relief from rising healthcare costs and a contract settlement.
The board of education sent out a statement, calling the walkout a strike and saying it was an illegal job action and had breached the school union’s November 2018 agreement with the board of education.
“The board, through its attorney, is seeking emergency court action ordering the teachers back to work,” the statement said.
The last time the teachers walked out for a day was March 2018, said Marie Blistan, NJEA president.
As far as the district calling it a strike, possibly leading to legal action, she said, “I hope not,” and that it’s “up to the Franklin Lakes Board of Education.”
Sharon Milano, president of the Franklin Lakes Education Association, said problems began Friday after board of education negotiators and the union’s New Jersey Education Association negotiators thought they reached a deal.
“We had an agreement, we thought it was done,” said Milano.
However, the board rejected the contract agreement, Milano said. According to the district’s statement, direct contract negotiations began in April and continued until Sunday.
“The teachers will not be in class today, no. We’re hoping to get the court order that would put them back in classrooms tomorrow. But I don’t have the details yet,” said Ann Kraemer, vice president of the Franklin Lakes Board of Education and member of the negotiations committee.
The district statement said the board of education has “sought to engage in constructive dialogue throughout this process; it is the union that has refused to meet unless the board first agreed to certain pre-conditions.”
James Colon, an eighth-grade teacher at the middle school and secretary for the union, said at least 220 people were outside the school representing teachers, support staff, secretaries and paraprofessionals.
Colon said teachers have been in contract negotiations for about two years and are not looking for it to continue into a third. The Franklin Lakes teachers are looking to get relief from the increasing contributions to their healthcare premiums after former Gov. Chris Christie passed Chapter 78, which required teachers and other state employees to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums.
Teachers could be seen picketing at Franklin and Pulice avenues at Franklin Avenue Middle School, carrying signs asking for fair contracts. One sign on cardboard and covered in plastic wrap said “This sign would have looked better if I hadn’t worked 60 hours this week,” while another read “I’d rather be teaching but this is important.”
Franklin Lakes could be a “microcosm of what will happen throughout the state” due to Chapter 78, said teacher Sean Stiller.
Milano was inside the school, working with the board of education to resolve the contract issues and get teachers back into the schools, Colon said.
“I’m not sure there is a right time for this type of thing, but the right time to give teachers the relief they need to be able to get back in there with the kids is now.” Colon said.
Any students who had been at the schools at the start of the day were supervised by district administrators and released to guardians. Elementary school buses were canceled before their routes started. This puts the district below the required 180 days and the school year will have to be extended to make up the day.
As of 11 a.m. the teachers were still outside the school walking with their signs and chanting. A parent brought and passed out bagels to the picketing teachers.
Police officers were at the schools to regulate flow of traffic, Capt. John Bakelaar said. No arrests had been made as of 10:30 a.m.
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