Parents, Teachers: It's Time to Get it Done
A settlement has still not been reached with the BOE and B-REA after 18 months of negotiations.
Teachers and parents returned to Tuesday's board of education meeting armed with only one message—it's time to end this misery over contract negotiations.
"A lot of my fellow educators are feeling discouraged due to a lack of a settlement, and some are even reconsidering why they chose this profession," said Steve Rubin, a guidance counselor at Bridgewater-Raritan High School. "Not settling the contract is not beneficial to the students. The lack of settlement is making it that much more difficult to do our jobs."
Both teachers and residents spoke out during the meeting, encouraging the board to simply settle the contract, mainly for the sake of the students themselves.
"My children have been challenged academically, and they have grown to be wonderful men and women," said Martinsville resident Patricia Cahill, who teaches at the high school, and has four children who have gone through the district. "Without the teachers who spent the time providing extra help, the coaches who encouraged, no child would be successful."
"But are we setting a good example for cooperative and collaborative work?" she added. "The children deserve to see us come to an agreeable and amicable solution to these disagreements."
The board of education and the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association recently held informal sessions to continue discussing negotiations, but those did not yield enough results, and the two parties are moving toward a fact-finding meeting July 26.
Resident Liz Lande said she believes the students are noticing the disillusionment from the teachers.
"I have seen a lot of teachers who have meant a lot to the children over the years, and it's been a very hard year for the kids because they have felt lots of cuts that have been the result of the animosity between the two parties," she said. "Summer is coming, and my hope is that we can do what is in the best interest of our town, of our community, of the people who live here and of the kids because this has been a trying year."
David Weth, a math teacher at the high school, said he does not believe the board is negotiating in good faith, and that that is hindering the creation of a settlement.
"From the start of the process, the most obvious process was delay and deception," he said. "I am confident the negotiations team has figured out more ways to cheat us over the summer. They spend money on everything other than teachers."
And, Weth said, he believes that deception is carrying over to how the taxpayers are being treated.
"It is your duty to inform the taxpayers and not deceive," he said. "But how much are the B-REA members paying back over the length of the new contract?"
"Why do you feel the need to deceive by failing to say how much money we are giving back through the contract?" he added.
Stephanie Wilkins, of Bond Street, said she understands the tough decisions the board has to make and the need to be mindful of the demands of the economy. But, she said, that doesn't explain the raises for administrators.
"While the board of education says it must be similarly mindful of the economy of the community members, you lost all credibility the moment you opened contracts early to give generous raises to administrators," she said.
Wilkins, who has two kids in the district and two who have graduated, said she also feels the pride in the achievements of the district—but if things don't change, those accolades may not be forthcoming again.
"We are proud that the Bridgewater-Raritan High School received recognition," she said. "But you need to understand that it's not for this year, it's for last year and it's based on the class of 2011 during their high school tenure."
"This was well before the turmoil in the district," she added. "But history will not repeat itself with the class of 2015 is this stalemate continues."
And some residents said they find it "insulting and appalling" that a settlement has not yet been reached, after more than a year of negotiations. They said they, as taxpayers, will look out for the teachers, and will communicate their disappointment that a settlement has not been reached.
Now, said B-REA president Steve Beatty, the union has gone 18 months with protracted negotiations and no contract.
"We said from the beginning we need to sit down and talk face to face without the expensive third party negotiators, but that didn't happen," he said. "We traded ridiculous proposals for a while, and got nowhere."
Beatty said they all breathed a sigh of relief when they reopened informal talks recently, but those did not yield a contract either, and now the union and board of education are at a crossroads again.
"It seems the plan we had put in place has not panned out as we had expected, much to our chagrin," he said. "That leads to our current level of frustration and disappointment. It boggles my mind that it's come to this, and it never should have."