PLEASANTVILLE — During a boisterous meeting, nearly 200 teachers and support staff packed the cafeteria at Pleasantville High School, where the school board met Tuesday night, to protest the lack of a union contract for over a year.

The approximately 600 members of the Pleasantville Education Association have been working without a contract since June 30, 2016. Staff members have been picketing before and after school over the past several days asking for a fair contract they say they aren’t getting through the negotiation process.

PEA President Tim Newkirk said he hoped Tuesday’s showing sent a “very loud message to them how displeased we are.”

“Hopefully, they got the message and are willing to negotiate and give us a fair contract,” Newkirk said.

About 50 people signed up to speak during public comment, many teachers and staff members with brief comments about how long they worked in the district and ending with “and we deserve a fair contract.”

The members of the school board did not comment on the contract. Board attorney Jim Carroll said the board’s negotiations committee has never canceled a meeting with the PEA, and they plan to meet next week.

According to Newkirk, the negotiations are now in “fact-finding” with a representative from the state Public Employee Relations Committee. He said many PEA members are upset about lack of representation from the Board of Education during negotiations, which he said are led by Carroll. Newkirk said James Barclay is the only board member who participates in the negotiations, as other members have conflicts of interest.

Newkirk said the school board is offering no pay increase and lamented that after PEA members reach the 16th and final step in the pay guide, they no longer receive raises although their health insurance contributions keep climbing.

“Every year we work, for the rest of our lives, we’re making less money,” he said.

In other business, the Pleasantville Board of Education swore in its newest member, Hassan Callaway, on Tuesday. The swearing-in was performed by school business administrator Elisha Thompkins prior to the meeting convening due to a lack of a quorum.

While the board has nine seats, only seven have been filled since January. Callaway, who was elected to a two-year unexpired term in November, and James Buford, who was elected to a one-year unexpired term, were not sworn in at the January reorganization meeting or the subsequent meeting. Thompkins said at the time there was a delay in obtaining fingerprints and background check required to serve on the board.

On Tuesday night, board members Ethel Seymore, Lawrence “Tony” Davenport and Elysa Sanchez were not present, leaving only four members — not enough for a quorum. After Callaway was sworn in, the meeting began. The board was scheduled to vote on the removal of Buford, who attended the meeting in the audience, as this would have been the third meeting he missed without being sworn in. Instead, the board voted to pull the agenda item. Thompkins said after the meeting Buford had not had his fingerprints done, but that appointment was now scheduled and he would be sworn in at the next meeting.

The board also approved a settlement agreement with Superintendent Clarence Alston, who was hired over the summer after a legal dispute where the board’s state monitor attempted to block his hiring. Alston prevailed and then sued the district for back pay. The details of the settlement were not immediately available.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

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.