The Montclair Education Association has appealed to the school district’s leadership to listen to the concerns of the union amid a rising number of grievances filed on behalf of its members.

The association’s grievance team has been filing grievances for 10% or more of the union membership in recent years, union President Cathy Kondreck said at a Dec. 12 Board of Education meeting. A decade ago, the union filed zero or one grievance each year, she said. 

“Slowly we have added to the number of grievances filed by the association each year,” Kondreck said. “We're on track to surpass last year's number of 94, sadly.”

As of Dec. 12, the union had filed 45 stage-one grievances, 22 stage-two grievances and 10 stage-three grievances during the 2022-2023 school year, Kondreck said. Last school year, all 94 grievances were settled in the union’s favor, she said. 

The stages describe what level the grievance has reached — stage one grievances are filed at the school level, stage two are those appealed to schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds, and stage three go before the school board.

“Why do I say all of this? Because this is our truth,” Kondreck said. “These grievances affect my members.”

Kondreck has not responded to emails sent to her union address since Dec. 13 asking for additional information about the grievances. 

Among other reasons, employees can file a grievance to “seek a remedy for alleged violations related to discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, affectional or sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, gender expression, ancestry, national origin, disability, or socioeconomic status,” the district website says. 

"One of the highest priorities for our school district is supporting our teachers – hearing them, respecting them and being responsive to their concerns,” Ponds told Montclair Local on Dec. 23. He did not address questions about the rise in the number of grievances. 

According to the district website, an individual with a grievance must present the complaint in writing to the building’s designated affirmative action representative or directly to the district’s affirmative action officer. The official then has five working days to investigate and provide a response, though additional time may be needed depending on the nature of the investigation, the website says. 

If the person with the grievance is not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, she or he can appeal within 10 working days to the superintendent of schools. Ponds or a designee must provide a response within five working days. 

If the individual still is not satisfied, he or she can again appeal, this time to the Board of Education, within 10 working days. The board will hear the complaint at its next regular meeting or within 30 calendar days of receiving it. 

The board would conduct a hearing, with all parties involved in the complaint allowed the right to counsel, to present witnesses, to cross-examine and to present a written statement. The board’s decision would be announced at a public meeting within 30 calendar days of the hearing date. 

If the person with the grievance is not satisfied with the board’s decision, she or he can refer it to the Essex County superintendent of schools. The person has the right to totally bypass the district’s procedure and submit the complaint directly to the Commissioner of Education’s Bureau of Controversies and Disputes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Office for Civil Rights or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.

Nothing has changed from this year to last year, Kondreck said at the board meeting. 

“Please know that when you silence me, you silence my membership, and nothing changes and nothing will,” she said. “You must be willing to listen to the concerns and to the truth so we can find a way to move forward.” 

The board approved a contract with the Montclair Education Association on Dec. 21 during a special meeting, set to run through June 30, 2025. The negotiating parties entered into the memorandum of agreement on Sept. 21. The agreement retroactively covers the period since July 1. Details of the contract were not immediately available from the MEA or school district.

“I think this really is a fair contract settlement,” Eric Scherzer, a member of the board’s negotiations committee, said at the Dec. 21 meeting. “It’s totally in line with the county. Given the inflation rate, it is not an exorbitant increase. It’s the least we can do.”