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Central Teachers Still Without Contract

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Despite being nearly two months into the 2010-11 school year, Central School District and its teachers union are still trying to hash out a contract.

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Despite being nearly two months into the 2010-11 school year, Central School District and its teachers union are still trying to hash out a contract.

The two parties left the bargaining table on Sept. 21. As of now, no date has been set for a future meeting.

"We aren't far apart on financial issues," said Cheri Higgins, Central Education Association president at a school board meeting earlier this month. But "the stress and strife of not having a contract is hurting the district, our families, students, our community and the relationship Central and CEA has built over 30 years."

Administrators and the union began negotiations in March and have met nine times since. CEA's existing contract expired on June 30. Its terms will remain in place until a new contract is settled and ratified.

CEA bargaining representatives and Superintendent Joseph Hunter have generally declined comment contract specifics. Originally, the parties agreed to issue joint statements to announce updates.

But union members have vented at recent school board meetings that the district has not scheduled another bargaining session since the last one.

Faculty has offered a two-year freeze on salary increases and to "give up days to help the district in a time of need," said Linda Tonegal, CEA bargaining chairwoman at an Oct. 4 board meeting.

The disagreement has come down to language issues regarding classroom planning days for teachers and "establishing provisions that protect the decisions the teachers and board make at the local level," Tonegal continued.

Hunter said while no additional session has been scheduled, "the parties are having communications to determine how to move forward."

The collective bargaining process requires a 150-day period of table bargaining. At any point after that, the sides can request mediation.

Next, they may request an impasse, then take a 30-day "cooling-off" period and submit final offers. If there's no agreement, a strike can be called.

"Our team doesn't believe mediation is the answer, it's a long, drawn-out process that will cause more harm ... to the already damaged-relationship between the district and staff," Tonegal said. "The best solution is to return to face-to-face bargaining."

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