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Group seeks reduction in Rutgers tuition and fees

By Patricia Alex, Staff Writer, The Record

A coalition at Rutgers is pushing for a rollback of 2.5 percent when the governing board sets tuition and fees next month for the 2016-17 school year.

From left, Mariah Wood, Mariah Painter and Patrick Gibson preparing a scorecard to track where the members of Rutgers’ governing board stand on tuition.

VIOREL FLORESCU/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER. From left, Mariah Wood, Mariah Painter and Patrick Gibson preparing a scorecard to track where the members of Rutgers’ governing board stand on tuition.


It’s a quixotic quest to be sure, as even calls for a freeze were unsuccessful in recent years, when increases ranged between 2 and 3 percent.

But the group says it needs to keep the issue of affordability in the forefront as Rutgers continues to expand.

David Hughes, president of the faculty union that is part of the coalition, said keeping costs down for students is “the most pressing priority” for the group. He called on Rutgers to use part of the $74 million surplus it amassed at the end of the last fiscal year for the rollback.

“It’s a very reasonable request,” said Hughes, an anthropology professor. “The board has a chance at its July meeting to make a responsible decision.”

Rutgers tuition and fees now top $14,000 and rank among the highest for any public university in the nation.

The rollback would mean a savings of about $350 for the average student. Advocates say the $27 million total cost of the rollback would be minor for an institution with a nearly $4 billion budget while the few hundred dollars in savings would be a big deal for many students cobbling together part-time jobs and loans to attend Rutgers.

“Last year was really hard,” said Mariah Wood, an undergraduate from West Milford. “I had two jobs and I couldn’t afford to go to the dentist. This year even my parents are taking loans, my mom is going to be paying off a Parent PLUS loan when she’s 70.”

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Union County College slammed with sanction by AAUP

By Elana Knopp

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Delegates to the 102nd annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors voted in Washington, D.C. last week to place Union County College on its list of institutions sanctioned for violating AAUP-supported standards of academic government.

Association investigations said it revealed serious departures by the administration and governing board from generally accepted standards of college and university government endorsed by the Association.

In its report, the AAUP reports a change in administration as the advent of the violations. “A new president, shortly after assuming office in 2010, began making changes in the governance of the college that severely diminished the role of the faculty,” the report revealed, referring to UCC president Margaret McMenamin. “In 2012 she initiated, through the college’s attorney, a scope of bargaining petition with the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission. The report found that the administration of Union County College — with the acquiescence of its two governing boards — abolished key structures of faculty representation in governance; arrogated to itself the faculty role in formulating appointment, reappointment, promotion, and tenure policies; and forbade any discussion of governance practices and policies, even outside of collective bargaining negotiations.”

[...]

William Lipkin, founder and secretary/treasurer of United Adjunct Faculty of New Jersey, which represents 3,800 adjuncts at 10 of the county colleges in the state, told LocalSource that things have been getting worse at UCC since the new administration took over. “Things have been bad since the new administration,” said Lipkin, who is also a professor at the college. “We are not included in college decisions. We have no say in governance. We did last year, but not anymore.”

According to Lipkin, the school went through a reorganization last year, culminating in the eradication of departments and department chairs, replacing them with divisions and deans. And, according to Lipkin, the deans are under the control of the administration.

Lipkin, who has been a professor at UCC for 28 years, said that the reorganization is just one example of many grievances that many adjunct faculty members, in particular, have against the school. Lipkin cites pressure by the administration to change grades in order to hike graduation rates as just one of the concerns. Other grievances include low pay and an overall lack of respect for adjunct faculty members on the part of the administration.

According to Lipkin, the administration seems to be targeting faculty members that have been at the school for a long time in order to replace them with newer adjuncts who get paid less. “In my opinion, UCC is targeting people that have been there a long time,” said Lipkin. “By throwing out old adjuncts and bringing in new ones, UCC is saving about a $450 a course.”

Lipkin said that new adjuncts at the school don’t last long, however. “Many of them don’t last too long,” said Lipkin. “There’s no room for growth.”

Lipkin called out the school for its retaliatory measures when faculty members speak up against the administration. “Anyone that speaks out is definitely retaliated against,” he said. “Two faculty members spoke out at a board member and they weren’t brought back.”

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Chiera Honored for Labor Leadership

Chiera Labor Person of the Year

Charles Wowkanech (left) and Laurel Brennen (right) present Donna M. Chiera 'Labor Person of the Year' award

State AFL-CIO Cites ‘Union Solidarity’ and Advocacy

ATLANTIC CITY … Based on her support for other unions in addition to her commitment to building the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey (AFTNJ), the New Jersey State AFL-CIO selected AFTNJ president Donna M. Chiera as ‘Labor Person of the Year.’

“This recognition is made possible by the collective efforts of the leaders and activists in our statewide federation representing 30,000 education workers,” said Chiera. “Union work became part of my professional voice as a teacher in Perth Amboy and has continued from my local classroom to Trenton and Washington, DC. I am proud to be part of the labor movement and help workers recognize that our interests are aligned regardless of where we work.”

Chiera received the award at the New Jersey State AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention in Atlantic City. New Jersey AFL-CIO unions represent more than one million workers in the state.

Charles Wowkanech, New Jersey AFL-CIO president said Chiera has earned the respect of union leaders across the state. “Donna is always on the front lines when it comes to defending other unions and has committed her life to the education of children and building the AFTNJ,” he said. “Donna demonstrates solidarity in everything she does because she understands the importance of labor unity.”

Donna was president of her local, the Perth Amboy Federation, from 1991 to 2013 and became president of AFTNJ in 2011. The union federation represents 30,000 educators working with students from prekindergarten through graduate school in more than 40 locals in New Jersey.

[END]

Photos: Chiera Honored by NJAFLCIO as ‘Labor Person of the Year’

Lights out at Perth Amboy Board of Education meeting

By Susan Loyer

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.

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PSE&G claims no responsibility for outage that cut short Perth Amboy School Board meeting

Power suddenly went out during a meeting between the school board and teachers arguing for better health benefits

Nearly 100 teachers, union members, and even parents gathered at Perth Amboy High School on Thursday night to protest the lack of a new contract with better health benefits for teachers.

The meeting was being held as part of an effort to come to a resolution with the Board of Education after arguments. However, the teachers’ time was cut short due to a sudden power outage.

“Everybody in the audience was told to evacuate,” said Donna Tartza of the American Federation of Teachers. “The Board of Education members were still in the building and the mayor questioned that, but I know she came out and the board members were still in the building.”

Despite an email being sent out by the school board’s secretary saying that PSE&G was to blame, the utility told FiOS1: “There was no interruption of our electric service to the building. The breaker is internal to the high school and not our facilities.”

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Press: Perth Amboy Educators Call on Board For Fair Contract

Parents, Mayor Diaz Join Community Push to Break Impasse

PERTH AMBOY… Parents and the mayor are joining Perth Amboy educators in calling on the Board of Education to bargain a fair contract with the union representing the district’s staff. Educators have been working without a contract for a year, according to Perth Amboy Federation-AFT union president Patricia Paradiso, a third-grade teacher.

Mayor Wilda Diaz has been meeting with teachers to plan educational programs and said some are “disheartened” by the board’s refusal to bargain with them. “The board is showing a lack of respect for the professionals who are teaching and caring for our children,” Diaz said.

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 currently in a pre-dentistry program at Rutgers. “Parents are very supportive of the teachers because they know they are doing their best,” Shah said. She pointed to large class sizes and comparatively high numbers of special education and English language learners in district as challenging factors for teachers to contend with.

Paradiso noted that the board is responsible for public funds and questioned the propriety of contracts for highly paid district personnel such as superintendent Roman with lower costs for health insurance than what educators pay. “New contracts for Dr. Roman and district management are on the board agenda for tonight,” she said. “Will they continue to offer management less expensive health insurance than they do for teachers and lower-paid district staff?”

Mayor Diaz also called it “telling” that board members are seeking to move the board election back to next April. “More parents are going to show up and vote in the general election in November, when the Presidency is on the ballot,” she said. “Keeping the election in November will allow more Perth Amboy residents to have a voice in who sits on the board and elect members who will be responsive to the needs of the students.”

[END]

The Perth Amboy Federation-AFT represents more than 1,400 educators who work with students every day. 

What’s next for N.J. public worker pensions?

By Samantha Marcus | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON — With two major government worker pension court battles concluded, the next front in public workers’ fight for retirement benefits is a ballot question considering a constitutional amendment forcing the state to make annual contributions in the pension system.

[...]

The Legislature approved the ballot question last year and must pass it again this year with a simple majority in order to qualify for the fall election. Democrats have enough votes, and Gov. Chris Christie has no say in whether referendums make it to the ballot.

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Who’s got N.J. pension amnesia? Christie or candidate Phil Murphy?

By The Auditor, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The Auditor always loves a good fact-check, so when Gov. Chris Christie took aim at 2017 candidate for governor Phil Murphy over pensions, it was clear that merriment would soon abound.

Addressing the Morris County Chamber of Commerce on Monday, the governor disparaged Murphy as “another multimillionaire Goldman-Sachs executive,” and, in a clear reference to defeated Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, Christie added, “because that worked so well the first time.”

The source of Christie’s ire was Murphy’s recent interview with NJ Advance Media, in which the Democratic candidate argued the state must first meet its funding commitments before pension reforms can be undertaken.

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N.J. residents support forcing state to make pension payments, but there’s a catch

By Samantha Marcus, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON — More than 70 percent of New Jerseyans say they would vote in favor of a constitutional amendment this fall forcing the state to contribute to the public pension fund, but far fewer support that amendment if it jeopardizes funding for schools, roads or safety net programs, according to a new poll.

A state Assembly committee on Monday approved the ballot question, which if approved by voters, would require the state to make increasing pension payments each year until reaching the full contribution, topping out at about $5 billion, recommended by actuaries.

Proponents say that what is a hefty bill now will grow unmanageable later if payments are put off, while opponents warn the amendment would create a “super priority” likely to force severe spending cuts or tax hikes if the state economy doesn’t drum up enough cash to cover the payments.

According to the Monmouth University Poll released Thursday, 71 percent of registered New Jersey voters would vote for the constitutional amendment, while 18 percent would vote against it. Support was strongest among Democrats, 82 percent, compared with Republicans, 56 percent.

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