The contentious relationship between Lawrence’s Board of Education (BOE) and the Lawrence Township Education Association (LTEA) was evident during last week’s board meeting, as four LTEA leaders spoke during the public comment period in order to “commit to record the pathway that led our association to the ‘vote (of no confidence),’ how the vote was conducted, and ultimately the residual effects of the vote,” said Braulio Borlaza, LTEA Co-Vice President and Lawrence High School World Languages teacher.
In February, LTEA membership voted in favor of the “vote of no confidence” concerning Superintendent Dr. Crystal Edwards. A letter was then drafted by LTEA leadership, in May, that outlined membership concerns, two of which were a lack of visibility by the Superintendent in district schools or at events and Dr. Edwards’s “anti-union animus behavior” evident by the union’s inability to form a collaborative relationship with her. General improvement suggestions were made that included: (1) honoring employee input as part of the decision-making process; (2) creating an environment for exchanging ideas; and (3) working to solve problems, not refuse to discuss them. The district reviewed the letter and launched an internal investigation. Many LTEA members were interviewed by the BOE, in order to assess the allegations raised in the letter but the board found none to have merit.
As the LTEA leaders spoke, accusations of disrespect for the union were repeatedly made. Lori Boggs, LTEA Co-Vice President and Lawrence Intermediate School Special Education teacher, said that during the board’s investigative process, she was required to meet as a district employee, rather than a union representative. As such, she able to only give her own personal accounts, rather than voice those of fellow LTEA members, “intentionally nullifying the effect and impact of my leadership role in the LTEA,” she said.
Michele Morris, LTEA Recording Secretary and Slackwood Elementary teacher, said that ever since the vote of no confidence letter was sent to the board, she felt her “involvement in the LTEA was threatening (her) career.” She further stated, “We, the LTEA, and our 500+ members, are not being respected as an organization.We have asked for a collaborative relationship. We have asked for respect. You have not given us that respect and it is for that I am most disappointed.”
In response, Kevin Van Hise, Lawrence BOE President, said, “The letter raised very specific allegations that we treated very seriously by instituting an immediate investigation as to the merits.” As to why LTEA members were interviewed as district employees, rather than as union representatives he said, “We were obligated to undertake a personnel investigation, which we did, and which is very separate from conversations with the union.” Concerning allegations of Dr. Edwards’ poor public visibility, Mr. Van Hise said, “It’s our position that she always has been (visible) and continues to do so.”
Concerning the LTEA’s supposition that Dr. Edwards has “anti-union animus” and an unwillingness to form a collaborative relationship, Dr. Laura Waters said that the union negotiated, in the last round of contract negotiations, to have bimonthly meetings with the administration rather than monthly. Additionally, she said that the union keeps cancelling the meetings. “You can talk about anti-union animus, I can talk about anti-administration animus. As an outgoing board member who’s been on the board for 12 ½ years, I have been so privileged to work with Dr. Edwards. As the longest serving board member here, I’d like to express my full confidence in the administration and I know everyone on this board shares that confidence.”
On stepping down after her long tenure, Dr. Waters said that it was a decision she needed to make after going back to work full-time from a part-time schedule. She is an education reform writer for NJSpotlight, New York School Talk, and NJ Left Behind, and is no longer able to be available at all times. She also believes that it is healthy for the board to have turnover.
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