Toms River Regional school district teachers arrived en masse to a Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, entering the auditorium at Toms River High School North together and remaining there for the approximately two hour-long meeting.
Following an otherwise quiet board meeting, teachers and their supporters publicly spoke to board members urging them to sign a new contract with the regional school district’s teachers’ union. Many who spoke said their health care contributions are too high, and the cost of child care the district offers should never have had its cost increased.
“Rare would be the teacher that does not have a second or third job to keep their families afloat,” said teacher Andrea Vahey, claiming her fellow teachers have “lost tens of thousands of dollars over our careers” due to a pay freeze the union previously agreed to take to stem potential layoffs.
Vahey, who chairs the union’s Action Committee, said teachers who have their own children now pay an increased price for child care provided by the district at its Hooper Avenue headquarters. The price for two children is $1,465 per month, she said.
“All our other bills have increased, also,” she said, adding: “Even denying each of us a $50 increase is a great savings to district, but it is a huge social injustice to our staff.”
“We are not greedy,” she said. “We just want to continue to do the jobs we love while being able to support our families.”
The median salary for a teacher in the Toms River Regional district was $62,431 during the 2015-16 school year, according to data from the state Department of Education.
The district’s teachers have previously taken aim at their contributions to their health benefits package, saying many staff members take home less pay than four years ago because their contribution responsibility under a state law has risen. The law mandating contributions has now sunset, but most local school districts, including Brick and Lacey over the past year, have maintained the contribution levels previously set.
“Our teachers are the backbone of our district,” said former board member Ginny Rhine, speaking in favor of a new contract. “We’ve been facing such a low morale problem in our district for a while, and we need to show them that we love them too, and give them a fair contract.”
At one point, a speaker asked board members who supported the district’s teachers to stand up. All did so.
Union leader Kathy Eagan said she hoped the message at the meeting got through to board members.
“We will continue to work with you to get a fair contract, and we hope that you have listened to our speeches and realize how important this is to all of us,” she said publicly.
“Both sides can agree that this negotiation process has not been easy at all, but I certainly think we can all agree – and at least I hope – we can find a resolution to the crux of the issue,” said Board President Ben Giovine, who also chairs the negotiating committee. “This board and this administration never has, and never will, demonize our teachers. I’m up here because I was a student here. I know the impact the teachers have in this community.”
A new round of negotiations with a mediator are planned for the coming weeks, said Giovine.