|Mike Mignone addresses the crowd at the "Rally for a Better Belleville"|
Who says nice guys finish last? Certainly not Belleville Education Association (BEA) President Mike Mignone.
Mignone has been a vocal advocate for his members and community for the past year, attending countless board of education meetings to stand up for a quality education for Belleville’s students and fair labor practices for his members. At the root of the issue was the district’s decision to install a $2 million surveillance system despite being unable to provide the students with basic educational supplies and updated technological tools in classroom. Additionally, a climate survey conducted by BEA found that over 60 percent of members felt intimidated in the workplace.
Instead of working with the BEA to address the issues within the district, the Belleville superintendent filed tenure charges—12 counts in all— against Mignone, which the local board of education certified this past March. Mignone found himself suspended without pay and fighting for his professional career simply for speaking out against injustice.
No one would have blamed Mignone if he chose to walk away. In fact, that’s what the Belleville board of education hoped would happen. But they picked the wrong guy—rather than see this as a deterrent, Mignone saw this as an opportunity to take a stand.
“My wife and I talked about it,” Mignone recalled. “We knew we had to fight back.”
The story of Belleville soon spread throughout the state, and Mignone and his members found they were not alone in their fight. On June 23, hundreds of NJEA members, community residents, fellow labor unions and township officials descended upon the Essex County town to unite with the BEA and express their collective desire for a better Belleville.
Throughout it all, Mignone staunchly believed that justice would prevail. His patience was rewarded—and his unwavering faith validated—last month. The arbitrator assigned to his tenure case dismissed 11 of the 12 charges; the only charge sustained was described as an exercise in poor judgment, not a fireable offense. Mignone will receive two months of back pay that was lost during his suspension.
“This was a much-needed win,” said Mignone. “It’s a great thing for BEA members and for NJEA.”
Additionally, at the August board of education meeting, the district terminated its five-year, $1.2 million contract with Clarity Technologies, the company that originally installed the surveillance system and was currently providing IT to the district. Although three board members voted to extend the contract, a state monitor assigned to address Belleville’s fiscal problems overruled the board members. Meanwhile, Belleville superintendent Helene A. Feldman was noticeably absent from the board meeting.
Mignone and his members see this as the beginning, not the end. Through the relationships it established with the many community residents and elected officials throughout this ordeal, BEA continues to make strides in addressing issues within the district schools and is watching a better Belleville emerge as a result of their hard work and dedication.