To the Editor at MercerMe:
The HVESPA letter raises some important points. We wholeheartedly agree that the time has come to further explore both the words and actions occurring in the surprisingly prolonged contract negotiation between HVESPA and the HVRSD Board of Education.
We concur with their narrative surrounding District support staff, but disagree with their portrayal of “The Board” as some ominous body that “refuses to acknowledge work” while actively denying a fair settlement to the deserving.
The reality is that the Board’s negotiation team consists of four parent volunteers whose children are currently in HVRSD elementary, middle and high schools, as well as HVRSD graduates now in college. We have experienced first-hand the importance of our support professionals and have voiced our sincere appreciation.
Words ARE important to set the tone and intention of future action. The first statement of the January 2017 reorganization meeting was pledging the entire Board’s commitment to HVESPA contract closure as a top priority. We publicly committed responsibility and accountability toward working through what we hoped would be a mutual negotiation.
Now please reread the last paragraph of the HVESPA letter and note the absence of cooperative intent.
There is a stunning disconnect between the thoughtfulness and consideration shown by our district support professionals in their work each day, and the tactics taken by a team led by an external, state-level NJEA UniServ negotiator who may not be accustomed to Hopewell’s collaborative culture.
Let’s reflect on the actions taken by both sides. The HVESPA letter implies that the Board of Education is to blame for the lengthy extended process and yet a simple review of the actions taken suggests otherwise. While the HVESPA had very good reasons for canceling two meetings, it is disingenuous to blame the Board for that time extension. Further, HVESPA declared impasse, which prolongs the process due to the scheduling needs of outside mediators. Our Board never needed to meet with a mediator to close any of our four other current collective bargaining unit contracts. Additionally, the Board proactively initiated additional communication with HVESPA outside of the mediation process in hopes of expediting agreement.
Since mediation was unsuccessful, we proceed to the next step known as “fact-finding.” During my 8 years on the BOE, we have NEVER had any unit even come close to needing fact-finding. (We understand it can add up to a year to the process.)
So when comparing actions, please keep in mind that the HVRSD Board has a demonstrated history of working cooperatively with our bargaining units. We have not needed to meet with a mediator, and certainly not a fact-finder, for any other current contract.
It saddens us to have strayed so far from the Hopewell Way.
Please note that the other four bargaining unit contracts are all publicly available, as are the terms of our non-represented staff. Our Board prides ourselves on being fair, consistent, and transparent. We extend an inclusive approach and would never deny any group a fair settlement.
We know that everyone at HVRSD, including the Board, administration, and all staff believe our students’ success is a top priority. Through this shared vision, we are certain that we can find common ground.
We remain hopeful that together with the HVESPA, the Board of Education will find a solution that meets the needs of students, staff and taxpayers.
Leigh Ann Peterson
Chair, HVRSD Board of Education Negotiations Committee