Pleasantville teachers fight for contracts

Teachers from Pleasantville High School stood outside as students were picked up after school on a Tuesday in February, with signs calling for contracts for educators. From left are Lindsey Marchesani, Renee Irwin, Cathy Stanley and Morales Cruz.

PLEASANTVILLE — After two years without a contract, Pleasantville educators and support staff have a new union agreement.

After passing a resolution to allow members with a conflict of interest to take part, the Board of Education on Tuesday voted 6-0 to approve the five-year contract.

“It was too long. I’d like to think if I did this again I’d get it done a lot faster,” Pleasantville Education Association President Tim Newkirk said. “I think the staff was happy with the results.”

The contract increases salaries 2.5 percent for next year and 2 percent in the subsequent two years. It is retroactive to 2016 and runs through the end of 2020.

The approximately 600 members of the Pleasantville Education Association had been working without a contract since June 30, 2016. Over the past several months, staff members have picketed before and after school and showed up in force to school board meetings.

The union and the school board entered into state-mandated fact-finding with a representative from the state Public Employee Relations Committee last month.

The agreement includes a clause to protect support staff from privatization over the remainder of the contract. They also agreed to add an additional step in the pay scale to break up large pay increases in the 15th and 16th years of service.

Union members also agreed to increase health insurance plan co-payments to $15, with the option for members to pay the difference to maintain the $10 co-pay plan.

“We got some raises for the extracurricular stuff,” Newkirk said, adding he believes the Pleasantville union member salaries are now much closer to the county average.

“I think the contract is good. It was hard fought,” said Tim Jones, the union vice president for support staff members, adding some members still had complaints. “You can’t satisfy everyone.”

Reduction in force and non-renewals

Despite the union agreement Tuesday, tension remained between the board and employees as several staff reductions were on the board meeting agenda.

The agenda included three secretaries whose positions were being eliminated, but union members said during the meeting that many more employees were also not being “renewed.” According to Jones, 15 custodians stood to lose their positions in the district over lack of a Black Seal license, a requirement in the job description that Jones said was added in 2015. The license is for boiler operators, and state guidelines require one person in each building with a boiler to have that certification, Jones said.

In addition, Jean Hovey, union at-large vice president, said several other employees were not being renewed for the 2018-19 school year.

“Please reconsider this,” Hovey told the board.

During public comment, Barbara Mason, an instructional aide from Leeds Avenue School who said she was losing her job, asked what criteria were used to make that decision.

“I’m not the most recent hire, as well,” she said.

Mason was instructed by board Solicitor James Carroll to submit a request in writing to the administration.

Newkirk questioned the procedures taken to make the decision on who was losing a job. He said past protocol had been to provide the union with a list of employees prior to them receiving notice they were being reduced or not being renewed.

“I do believe we were supposed to be afforded that right,” he said.

Board files tenure charges against absent secretary

After meeting in executive session, the board agreed unanimously Tuesday to file tenure charges against school secretary Damaris Hernandez unless she comes forward and resigns.

According to the board’s labor attorney, Ben Brenner, Hernandez was presented with the charges in April and has not responded. Brenner said the charges were related to her attendance, or lack thereof.

Settlement reached with gym teacher

The board Tuesday unanimously agreed to a settlement with physical education teacher Stanley Hasson after tenure charges were signed by Superintendent Clarence Alston, but never presented to the board.

As part of the settlement, Hasson agreed to withholding his next salary step increase for the 2018-19 school year. Hasson is already on step 16 with longevity and earns $83,994 annually.

Vacancies remain

There remain two vacant seats on the board, which prevented members Tuesday from voting on the union contract without invoking the “doctrine of necessity.”

The lack of a full board Tuesday required the additional step to take a vote that needed five affirmatives to pass. Because two board members, Anny Melo and Hassan Callaway, have family members who work in the district, they had to excuse themselves from the vote otherwise.

In addition, the absence of board member Lawrence “Tony” Davenport, who was suspended from meetings for 60 days by the School Ethics Commission, resulted in only four non-conflicted members being able to vote.

One of the open seats is a result of the death of sitting board member Ethel Seymore, who died in February at age 76. The other seat belongs to member-elect James Buford, who won an open seat in the November election but was never sworn in after failing to obtain a background check.

A notice of vacancy was published in late April advertising one open seat: Seymore’s.

At the April meeting, Carroll said the board would have to declare Buford’s seat vacant and then advertise for it in order to fill it, but the board has yet to do so.

Pleasantville athletes recruited by top schools

Superintendent Clarence Alston announced Tuesday that Pleasantville student athlete Quentin Bundy earned an athletic scholarship to West Point.

Alston also highlighted junior linebacker Elijah Glover, who has offers from West Point, Sacred Heart, Monmouth, Fordham, Elon, Holy Cross and Colgate. Alston said Stanford University was at the school last week inquiring about Glover.

Another junior linebacker, Mohammad Toure, has so far earned 14 scholarship offers from universities including Rutgers, Virginia, Maryland and Syracuse.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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