By Susan Loyer, Home News and Tribune
PERTH AMBOY – It was lights out at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting.
Parents, along with Mayor Wilda Diaz, gathered with school educators at the meeting in hopes of calling on the Board of Education to bargain a fair contract with the union representing the district’s staff.
But that all came to an abrupt halt when power to the high school, where the meeting was held, went out.
Educators have been working without a contract for a year, according to Perth Amboy Federation-AFT union President Patricia Paradiso, a third-grade teacher. The Perth Amboy Federation-AFT represents more than 1,400 educators.
Paradiso said the board is responsible for public funds and questioned the propriety of contracts for highly paid district personnel, such as Superintendent David Roman, with lower costs for health insurance than what educators pay.
“New contracts for Dr. Roman and district management were on the board agenda for the night,” she said. “Will they continue to offer management less expensive health insurance than they do for teachers and lower-paid district staff?”
Paradiso said said she would like to know the specifics of the new contracts for the superintendent and other administration.
Lebrault said he could not release specifics about Roman’s or the administration’s proposed contracts.
He did say that every member of central administration must get their contract approved every year and that Roman’s contract involved only “a few changes.”
Roman came to the district in 2015. He has a four-year contact with an annual salary of $200,000, with no increases over the life of the contract, Lebreault said.
Although the superintendent pays 1.5 percent of his salary for benefits, “they have to realize that when we negotiated, he had to give up something,” the board president said.
“What he gave up I think is very big — no increases in his salary over the life of the contract,” Lebreault said. “They think that the rest of the central administration has a similar benefits package, but that is not true. We want to settle this, but we have to be fiscally responsible. We want to do what’s right for the entire district.”
Iram Shah is the vice president of the Shull Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization and the mother of a fifth-grader. Her older son graduated from Perth Amboy High School in 2015 and is in a pre-dentistry program at Rutgers.
“Parents are very supportive of the teachers because they know they are doing their best,” Shah said in a statement.
She pointed to large class sizes and comparatively high numbers of special-education and English language learners in the district as challenging factors for teachers to contend with.
Diaz has been meeting with teachers to plan educational programs and said some are “disheartened” by the board’s refusal to bargain with them, according to a statement from the union.
“The board is showing a lack of respect for the professionals who are teaching and caring for our children,” Diaz said in the statement.