Small actions make a big difference

By Matthew Stagliano

Last year, NJEA members from local associations in every county worked together to fight for our students and for the future of our profession. As more members become involved in their local, county and statewide associations, our union becomes stronger. As our union grows in strength, it becomes better equipped to support public schools, the educators who work there, and the children who attended them.

It’s no surprise then, after a year where NJEA and its local and county affiliates saw record levels of member engagement, that Education Week named New Jersey’s public schools the best in the nation.

From professional practice to political action, NJEA members showed up, stepped up, and stood arm-in-arm for a common cause: a brighter future for public schools in our state. Whether it was talking to parents in your school’s community at a PRIDE event, holding a sign at a rally for a fair contract, or attending an association meeting, your involvement made a difference.

NJEA members have always stood up for the respect and dignity that all educators deserve; this year was no different. Through the fight for quality, affordable health care and common-sense job protections for educational support professionals, NJEA members fought for the dignity of a profession that has been demonized much too often by state and national leaders. For too long, the state’s past mistakes have been balanced on the backs of educators, and this year NJEA members said “enough!”

As educators and union members, it’s often easy for us to talk about the progress we’ve made, but it’s often hard to articulate what we actually did during an academic year to make that progress. We’re so busy working after hours so our students can learn we often forget all the day-to-day union actions we do. When we add up small, simple actions, they make a big difference.

Freehold Borough Education Association President Heidi Brache.

Fixing the unfairness

Last year NJEA members engaged in an unprecedent campaign to Fix the Unfairness. The goal of the campaign, which was led by a team of NJEA members and staff, was to see three important bills passed into law. One of the bills addresses the problems associated with the ever-rising cost of health care that has caused the take home pay of thousands of educators to go down. The other two bills aim to put common-sense job protections into place for educational support professionals (ESPs). The campaign saw thousands of members get involved with union-action and garnered statewide media attention throughout the year.

A-3395, which will prevent school boards from privatizing ESP jobs during an active collective bargaining agreement, passed the Assembly by a vote of 70-6.

A-3664, which will provide due process rights to ESPs, passed the Assembly by a vote of 75-5-1.

The Senate companions to these bills, S-296 and S-3089 respectively, await a vote in the Senate, and the bills currently have 17 and 18 sponsors respectively.

A-5814/S-4104, which would provide relief from Chapter 78 for NJEA members and end the annual decrease in take-home pay by more fairly calculating heath care contributions, awaits a vote in both houses of the state Legislature. The Assembly version of the bill is sponsored by, among others, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, who noted that he sponsored this bill after hearing from thousands of NJEA members.

Member actions to Fix the Unfairness yielded results:

  • More than 116,000 members signed a single petition.
  • Members sent 50,000 post cards.
  • We sent 182,000 text messages to NJEA members.
  • More than 500 members met with legislators.
  • Members sent more than 55,000 emails to legislators last year.
  • NJEA ran digital and TV advertisements that’s were viewed more than 158 million times.

Political progress

Elections

Educator involvement in the political process is important for the future of profession.

For the 2019 Election Year:

  • Fifty-one out of 59 NJEA PAC-endorsed legislative candidates, or 86%, won their elections.
  • NJEA’s endorsements local elections helped propel pro-education candidates to widespread success on Nov 5. A record 270 members ran for office—for school boards and municipal and county office, and for county offices—the most in a single election year, and 197 won their seats.

Legislation NJEA and its members helped succeed

When it comes to passing laws that matter, our voice matters. When NJEA members call, legislators answer because they understand your passion, value your expertise and respect your power.

Over the past year, NJEA supported many bills that Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law, including:

Student Loans: S-1149 – This bill provides for the licensure and regulation of student loan servicers by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance and creates a Student Loan Ombudsman in the department.

Teacher Certification: S-858 – This bill requires public school health and physical education teachers in grades kindergarten through six to possess a health or physical education endorsement or a school nurse endorsement on their instructional certificate.

Gun Safety: The package of four common-sense gun safety bills outlined below reaffirms New Jersey’s commitment to institute the strongest gun safety laws in the nation.

  • A-4449 – This bill combats “straw purchases” of firearms. Under the bill, any person disqualified from owning a firearm under state or federal law and who acts to obtain a firearm through another individual would be guilty of a crime of the third degree, which is punishable by a three-to-five-year term of incarceration, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
  • S-101 – This bill establishes a commission to approve personalized handguns and requires firearm retailers to sell personalized handguns.
  • S-3897 – This bill criminalizes the purchase, transfer or possession of certain weapons and ammunition by persons convicted of certain crimes and establishes the crime of transferring or possessing firearm without a serial number.
  • A-3896 – This bill requires the state attorney general and commissioner of health to establish a suicide prevention training course and informational materials for firearm retail dealers.

School Safety:

  • A-764 – This bill requires that all public elementary and secondary schools in the state be equipped with at least one panic alarm that is directly linked to local law enforcement (or State Police, if the municipality does not operate its own police department) for use in an emergency.
  • S2293 – After Gov. Murphy signed this bond issue in August 2018, New Jersey voters approved the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act on Nov. 6, 2018. The $500 million bond measure includes funding for school security, among other school infrastructure improvements.

Minimum Wage: A-15 – The bill establishes several multiyear schedules for gradually raising the state minimum wage to not less than $15 per hour.

Social Justice: S-1569 – This bill requires boards of education to provide instruction on the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in an appropriate place in the curriculum of middle school and high school students as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.

Legislation NJEA and its members helped stop

County College Health Benefits: S-2455 – This bill would have transferred New Jersey county college employees and retirees from membership in the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program to membership in the State Health Benefits Program and would have diminished the voice of higher education members in protecting their health benefits.

PARCC/Assessments: S-3381 – This bill would have amended the provisions of current law concerning the graduation proficiency test to provide for the development or designation of a statewide assessment or assessments in reading, writing and computational skills.

Regulatory achievement

NJEA and its members advocated to ensure that the median Student Growth Percentile (mSGP), which was at 30% in 2017-18, was reduced to 5% for teacher evaluations during this 2019-20 school year.

Funding for education

Gov. Murphy added $15.4 billion to funding for public education, including:

  • $55 million for special education.
  • $206 million in additional formula aid as defined under the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA).
  • $2 billion to higher education.
  • $5 million to support tuition-free county colleges.
  • $3.8 billion to our state’s pension systems—this payment comes after an extended period of neglect and will go a long way toward fully funding the state’s pension

Professional practice

Trenton science teacher and Science Committee Chairperson Vondalyn Fannin at the Franklin Elementary School Science Fair in 2017.

Convention

Thousands of NJEA members attended the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City. Hundreds of workshops and other professional learning experiences were offered. Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi, authors of Tell Me Who You Are, delivered Thursday’s keynote address. Dr. Cornel West professor from Harvard University keynoted the NJEA Convention on Friday. 

Amistad Commission and Amistad Journey

The 17 year-old New Jersey Amistad Commission, charged with ensuring that the history and contributions of African Americans and the descendants of the African Diaspora are integrated into school curricula was strengthened by NJEA through the creation of the Amistad Stakeholder Group and the development of the Amistad Journey—a program to allow educators to travel to the historic sites of the trans-Atlantic slave trade both in the U.S. and Africa.

Teacher Leader Academy

The NJEA Teacher Leader Academy launches this year after the association helped write the bill that created the teacher leader endorsement and lobbied its passage into law. Now the association is leading the way by being one of the providers through which teachers can earn the endorsement.

Trauma-informed care

Several full-time NJEA staff, 23 professional development consultants, and two NJEA apprentices are trained in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), changing the way educators work with children. Thirteen counties and seven locals have trauma-informed workshops planned for the 2019-20 school year.

Educational support professionals

More than 500 educational support professionals attended the NJEA ESP Conference and hundreds more attended ESP programs at the NJEA Convention. NJEA also offered dozens of workshops for ESPs through county and local associations.

Priority Schools Initiative

Last year, seven schools graduated from the NJEA Priority School Initiative. This year, eight new schools from Camden, Irvington, Plainfield, Hillside and Trenton, joined the initiative. Since its inception in 2012, 54 schools have participated in the three-year program.

Design Practice and Collaborative Problem Solving

More than 6,600 members engaged in design process protocols to give more NJEA members voice and ownership of their local associations.

Advocating for our members

ESP Committee member Donna O’Malley speaks with a member at the 2019 NJEA Convention.

Protecting jobs

  • 13: the number of times NJEA members had to fight off privatization during the 2019-2020 academic school year.
  • 3: the number of locals that negotiated with their school boards to fend off privatization.
  • 0: the number of privatization fights led to loss of work for NJEA members.
  • 23: the number of privatization fights the South Jersey Anti-Privatization Coalition (SJPAC) has won since its founding in 2017.
  • 0: the number of fights the SJPAC has lost

Progress at the bargaining table

85% of all New Jersey school have starting salaries above $50,000.

  • 18 school districts have starting salaries above $60,000.
  • No school district starting salary is below $40,000.

Sample average salaries for Educational Support Professionals

  • Custodians average salary up to $49,706
  • Secretaries average salary up to $50,021

By August 2019, staff at 19 public charter schools had organized into local associations represented by NJEA.

The New Jersey Public Schools Labor Management Collaborative hosted the first Labor Management East Coast Institute in June, with two dozen districts and local associations represented. Six new districts are joining in the program this year.

The East Windsor Education Association has a strong relationship with the community enhanced by EWEA’s use of Pride and FAST grants.

Public relations, media campaigns, and grants

NJEA invested its resources into sharing with the public the amazing things and important work that educators do:

  • 158,594,792 = the total number of times NJEA videos were viewed.
  • 24,452,827 = the number of times NJEA’s content was viewed on social media.

NJEA Pride in Public Education and NJEA FAST

  • 413 local associations and 17 county associations used NJEA Pride grants for community outreach in the 2019-20 school year.
  • 55 local associations used NJEA Family and Schools Work Together for Children (FAST) for family involvement programs in the 2019-20 school year.
  • $4,798,045 in NJEA Pride and NJEA FAST grants were dispersed to those local and county associations in the 2019-20 school year for community outreach and family involvement programs.

NJEA Fredrick L. Hipp Grant Awards continue to Support NJEA members supporting children:

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