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As NJ Education Report readers know, late Wednesday Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollage publicly threatened the local teachers union with retaliation if members don’t agree to a contract settlement, tweeting,
As I said in June the Elizabeth Education Assoc President John Griffin is planning a strike on the first week of school after rejecting a 10% plus raise.Any one who participates will never receive a promotion.
— Chris Bollwage (@MayorBollwage) August 24, 2022
Now Politico has picked up the story, which is behind a paywall. For those of you who don’t have a subscription, here are the highlights from journalist Carly Sitrin:
- “What began as a skirmish over contract negotiations between the union and the entrenched Democratic politicians who run the city has turned into a full-blown war in the public arena about who really runs New Jersey’s second largest school district.During an hours-long school board meeting Thursday evening, [Elizabeth Education Association President John] Griffin confronted the board, demanding that it respond to Bollwage’s tweet, which appeared to imply the mayor has some power over school employee promotion decisions. Under state law, he does not. Griffin said Thursday, “at no point has the EEA threatened to strike,” but asked, “are you surprised that a strike has become a possibility?”
- He added, “Our salaries are frozen. Our workloads are impossible. You’re desperately short on teachers and people are still resigning in record numbers,” he told the board on Thursday. “It certainly sounds like a type of district where a strike could happen.”
- Sitrin notes that mayors–or any other officials–can’t make decisions about school district personnel: that is the sole purview of school boards, upon recommendations of superintendents. A spokesman for the Elizabeth school district told Politico that Bollwage “is famously passionate about the City of Elizabeth,” and his tweet was evidence of that.
- “I think he let his concern that anyone would disrupt the school year after the children suffered through two years of Covid understandably get the better of him. Mayor Bollwage has no say in promotions in the Elizabeth School District.”
- But Griffin hit back: “The mayor said ‘strike,’ not me. He publicly accused me of planning one and then threatened my members, which is reprehensible and should be denounced.” In doing so, Griffin said, Bollwage also acknowledged his political influence over the board. “City Hall and the board are separate entities, but that’s not what his threat implied,” Griffin said.
- Leonardo Caramazana, vice president of the union, called Bollage’s attack “an abuse of power” at last night’s school board meeting. “Nothing has more clearly shown the inappropriate relationship between the mayor and the board,” Caramazana said.
- An anonymous message on the district website regarding the negotiations impasse between the Board and the union says, “Elizabeth teachers are the highest paid in Union County with a median salary of $87,434, nearly $15,000 more than statewide median. We’re proud to have made such a substantial investment in our district’s teachers. The District had proposed a 10% increase for teachers that would have meant nearly a $9,000 increase to the median teacher’s salary.”
Sitrin notes that NJ elected officials typically cow before the power of NJEA, of which EEA is an affiliate, but Bollage is an exception:
“Control of the Elizabeth Board of Education has for years been one of the biggest battles in Union County politics. Bollwage’s political weight is behind most if not all nine of the board members, which some local parents and activists allege make those members “beholden” to him. A shift in alliances on the board from a majority of members who opposed Bollwage and former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak to a majority who are now in line with them came in large part from Democratic political operative Sean Caddle’s super PACs and nonprofits. Caddle, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to hiring hit men to murder an associate and is cooperating with federal investigators, worked as a consultant for Lesniak.”
Other speakers at the school board meeting included parents of special needs. NJER has covered Elizabeth’s neglect of these students in depth, particularly through local activist Maria Lorenz. At yesterday’s meeting Lorenz called Bollwage’s tweet and the school board’s refusal to denounce it “absolutely disgusting.” “I challenge you board members to say something,” Lorenz said at the meeting. “It proves who runs this district it’s not you.”