Many expected that some resolution of teacher contract talks would be announced Thursday at the Parsippany Board of Education meeting. About 150 members of the Parsippany-Troy Hills Education Association, the union that represents teachers, were on hand to show solidarity regarding the long-awaited pact. But there was no talk of a contract deal. Instead, there was drama of another kind.
The contracts—or the lack thereof—were at the center of the dispute.
The public comment portion of the meeting kicked off with PTHEA President Judy Mayer, who said teachers wanted the board to know that they were listening and paying attention to know what was going on, who said what, what was said and how it was said.
"We are the backbone of this district," Mayer said. "Without us, you would not be such a successful district. We want to be recognized for what we do. We want to be here to hear what you [board members] have to say.
"And we hope you will listen to what we have to say."
The teachers rewarded their leader with a huge round of applause.
Resident Pat Petaccia, during her turn at the microphone, chided the board for "bickering" and insisted that members learn to work together. She also referred to teacher contract negotiations, criticizing the board for not being able to compromise in an effort to resolve contract talks quickly and amicably.
However, Petaccia took her hardest line against the teachers.
"The teachers, in my opinion, have been treated very well," she said. "When is the last time we asked them not to take a raise? When is the last time they didn't get a raise? This town has passed almost every budget...
"We wish the teachers would understand the taxpayers and how they feel about this," Petaccia continued. "We are being overburdened. All we're asking for is some compromise."
She went on to say that Par-Troy teachers should be willing to forego raises on occasion for the good of the town. And she criticized teachers who, during a contract talks stalemate, encouraged other educators to refuse to volunteer to chaperone school events.
(The 2012 holiday events ultimately found volunteers, however did not take place due to Superstorm Sandy.)
"If you're going to tell me that you don't have a contract, and the board is coming to you with what they believe is in the children's and taxpayers' best interests, you should be compromising," Petaccia scolded. "For us to sit here for two years, waiting for a contract and getting blamed for it, and then having to go back and pay all that [retroactive pay] is getting quite ridiculous.
"Isn't there a termination period where we just give up... and let these teachers walk out?"
Some of the teachers in the audience laughed in apparent disbelief. Board President Susy Golderer had to use the gavel to restore order in the room.
With that, all but a handful of the teachers gathered their belongings and walked out of the meeting en masse.
Petaccia took the walkout personally.
"I found it to be very rude and obnoxious for those teachers to get up and leave during an opinion being given by a taxpayer," she said to the board from the microphone. "If they plan on attending Board of Ed meetings, I would suggest somebody talk to them and tell them that was rude."