Less than a week before the official start of the school year, members of the Moorestown Board of Education and Moorestown Education Association (MEA) have reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract.
The two sides hammered out the terms of the contract during a nine-hour marathon meeting on Monday. The board and the MEA were scheduled to meet Tuesday night, but reached out to each other in advance to see if a deal could be struck earlier.
“We were encouraged to get it done before the teachers came back (Tuesday) morning,” said Board President Don Mishler, who recused himself from negotiations because his wife—a special education teacher in Mount Laurel—is in the same pension plan as Moorestown teachers. “(The board) encouraged ourselves, and the Association encouraged themselves, and we encouraged each other to say, ‘Let’s get this done.’”
District faculty have been without a contract since June 30, when the previous three-year deal expired.
The terms of the new contract won’t be made public until both the union and the full board approve it. Acting Superintendent Lynn Shugars, who is also the district’s business administrator, said the deal runs from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2016 and is similar to the previous contract in terms of percentages.
Board Member Kevin O’Sullivan, who heads up the negotiation committee, said the contract was fair to both sides: “If both sides were extremely happy, it wouldn’t be a compromise. Both sides gave a little … I’m comfortable with it. I don’t feel great about it, but I feel very good about it.”
MEA president Lisa Trapani echoed O'Sullivan, saying, "The contract is fair, and it represents compromises by both parties."
“An extraordinary effort was put in by all sides,” said Mishler. “The settlement achieves many of the district’s goals, and it’s something we can afford.”
O’Sullivan—who has at times had a contentious relationship with the union—said he was optimistic following Monday’s meeting, believing it could hopefully usher in “a new era of cooperation.”
“There was a lot more open dialogue (Monday) than in the past. We had some open, honest, frank discussions,” he said. “Hopefully this will be the turning point for the district to have very good cooperation going forward … And that’s what the district needs right now.”
Both sides were eager to get a deal done before the start of the school year, though some doubt was cast on that after they failed to reach an agreement following a first meeting with a state-appointed mediator. The mediator wasn’t available again until October.
O'Sullivan said the start of the school year added "a little more urgency" to the negotiations.
"Both sides realized what was realistic to get done," he said.
"The beginning of school is not an artificial deadline. It is the deadline," Trapani said, adding that she believed former superintendent Brian Betze's recent resignation also acted as a catalyst, on the board's part.
"A district without an educational leader and an association without a contract does not reflect positively on Moorestown," said Trapani.
Board Vice President Kathy Goldenberg, who also took part in negotiations, said she was “extremely happy” Tuesday morning.“I’m looking forward to getting the district back to focusing all of our efforts on education and the new (school) year,” she said. "It's a fair contract. I think it's a win-win for both sides."
Trapani said the union planned to meet Wednesday to ratify the contract.
The board of education is aiming to hold a special meeting early next week to approve the deal, Shugars said.