Dozens of teachers, adorned in red, filled the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education meeting in protest of the contract dispute as the Board fielded complaints from teachers and students and discussed the most recent violence and vandalism report in their mid-October meeting.
Paul Tkacs, a 13-year District employee and social studies teacher at Hopewell Valley Central High School, represented the teachers in a statement during public comment.
“The profession has dramatically changed in the last few years,” Tkacs said. “I’ve heard teachers talk about steering their children away from their profession.”
Tkacs highlighted his “unique perspective” as a member of another board of education, while emphasizing the importance of reaching a compromise.
“You cannot make us whole from the financial losses we’ve incurred in the last few years,” Tkacs said. “We now are asking you to empathize with us.”
John Zalot, a mathematics teacher, discussed how his paycheck has begun to decrease over not only the last decade, but even from last year to this year.
“How many people have worked in the last nine years and lost money?” Zalot said. “My paycheck went down from last June to this year.”
Zalot noted that, in addition to teaching, he coaches sports, does construction work, and even waits tables on the side.
“Something needs to be done,\ — it’s affecting everyone’s lives here,” Zalot said.
Members of the public additionally expressed support for the teachers, such as area resident Chris Carpenter.
“Great teachers are your greatest asset,” Carpenter said. “When our teachers are good, we should reward them. When are teachers speak up, we should listen to them.”
Board President Alyce Murray responded the teachers, assuring that negotiations were ongoing and that a fair contract would be decided upon.
“The process will complete when the best decisions can be agreed upon,” Murray said. “We are Hopewell and we’re in it together.”
The Board additionally discussed the most recent violence and vandalism report of the school, showing some increases and decreases in different areas.
The report, which covers violence, bullying, and drug use, found a substantial decrease in substance abuse across schools, with the number of reported instances decreasing from 24 to four. According to Assistant Superintendent Anthony Suozzo, a number of programs, including the recent random drug testing, helped reduce these numbers.
However, harassment, intimidation, and bullying, or HIB reports, were up at the middle school with 30 HIB reports filed, 17 of which were from Timberlane Middle School. Eleven of these total reports were confirmed, with common themes of race and religion, according to Suozzo.
Suozzo noted additionally that the number of weapons reports remained at zero.
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for November 12.