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Parents: It's Time for District, Teachers to Agree

Many are concerned ongoing negotiations will affect quality of education.

For many parents, both with students in the district and children who will be entering soon, the fact that the between the board of education and the have dragged on so long is very disconcerting.

“I personally believe that it is affecting the quality of our children’s education during this time,” resident Julie Mauro said. “Even if a teacher says they are there for the kids and they will be professional and do their jobs, how can they help but feel slighted?”

Parent Stacey Friedlander, whose 4-year-old son will be entering the district soon, said she is concerned about how the perception of these negotiations will affect families looking to move to a place with a good school system.

“I don’t think people realize that Bridgewater sells not just because of the low taxes and other amenities as a community it offers, but also because of its schools,” she said. “We moved here over several other towns because we were so impressed with the schools.”

And what makes those schools so good, Friedlander said, are the teachers themselves.

“I don’t think what they’re asking for is so immense or breaking of the bank in the grand scheme of things,” she said. “I think it’s very disconcerting to see so much anger and anti-teacher sentiment in Bridgewater right now.”

In fact, Friedlander said, she believes that anger should be aimed at the administrators, who she believes have not taken pay freezes and whose salaries are above what the governor has cited as a reasonable cap.

‘The blame seems to always go to the teachers, and its demoralizing and demeaning,” she said. “Everyone’s experience with a teacher is different. Personal opinions over one or some has to be ruled out.”

“Let the administrators be accountable and responsible for the hiring and firing of quality staff,” she added. “Those opinions have no validity in this issue.”

Mauro said she is unhappy with the politics behind education in the state, including through the New Jersey Education Association.

“It is hard to feel sorry for any of the points that they try to make with regard to our Bridgewater situation when all the money they force our teachers to funnel into the teacher’s union is for political nonsense,” she said.

In addition, Mauro said, she is unhappy with the way the Christie administration has handled the teachers’ money.

“I do wish that they could be settled and that their pensions were not messed up when Gov. [Chris] Christie came into power,” she said. “Unfortunately, their monies have been so mismanaged all these decades that there is not a lot that can be done to get us on course for the future without the school districts being very strict with their negotiations.”

As a teacher herself, though not in Bridgewater and in a district that only has kindergarten through eighth grade, Friedlander said they accepted a pay freeze last year. This year, she said, they are getting a 3 percent increase.

“It will really be a 1.5 percent increase since we are now contributing 1.5 percent to health benefits,” she said. “My district is very different.”

And Mauro said the teachers are not the only ones not receiving the benefits they deserve.

“People who own small businesses cannot even begin to feel sorry for the teachers,” she said. “My husband owns a business, [and] our health insurance costs have gone up over 50 percent in one year. Guess who pays that increase, we do, our family income. We cannot pass that on to the taxpayers or someone else’s budget.”

“Change is difficult especially when it means less money in your paycheck,” she added. “As far as negotiating raises, at this point, a raise is better than squabbling over how big of a raise.”

Although she sees as a teacher what is happening in a different district, Friedlander said she has to remember that she also a parent, with her son preparing to enter kindergarten in Fall 2013.

“I hope by then that the community here in Bridgewater is more behind their teachers and more supportive to those who are responsible for shaping their minds and attitudes,” she said. “Parents forget, we spend more time with your children than you do. We become not just teachers during the day, but parents and friends to them as well.”

One Bridgewater resident, who also teaches in Basking Ridge and declined to give her name, said she went through a similar situation in her district, with the union going all the way to fact finding to get a contract settled. And, she said, she found she had a great deal of trouble helping others understand what was happening behind the scenes.

“It seemed like the students were pretty much incorrectly informed of what we were doing when we stood outside on a few Friday mornings and all walked in together,” she said. “Their parents would tell them that we were striking when we were not. Since the students aren’t involved in the negotiations process, they only hear what their parents say so that affects their opinion of the situation.”

“Since I am new to Bridgewater, I am watching the situation very closely and am saddened by some of the comments that parents and others are making who don’t have all the facts or just feel that the teachers have it made and shouldn’t complain,” she added, citing that she has a four-year-old son and is preparing to register him next year. “It does make me think twice about sending my kids to the schools in Bridgewater. If it has a board of education that is so unsupportive of teachers, than maybe I will send my kids elsewhere.”

Friedlander said she does not believe the good teachers still in Bridgewater will leave, but is concerned that the district will not attract the young and new teachers who are just entering the work force if they feel they can go somewhere where the pay is better and where they believe they can be respected.

“Bridgewater will not be the first choice on their list, I can assure you of this,” she said.

Mauro said she hopes the issue is taken care of as soon as possible.

“I think I speak for the majority of the parents, this issue has dragged on much too long, and taken valuable time away from everyone involved,” she said. “Both sides need to make a little more compromise and be done with it.”

Lauralee Davis April 10, 2012 at 12:06 PM
You know what's sad? That $8,000+ is considered low taxes. Maybe I'm just too middle class, but $8,000 is still a lot of money to me. When we moved in 10 years ago the rate was under $4000. Taxes have doubled in 10 years, my salary has not. What's wrong with this picture? Are we going to have $16,000 taxes in another 10 years? How long before people are paying more in property tax than they do on their mortgage in a year?
A BR Parent April 10, 2012 at 12:37 PM
I agree that the community should support the teachers and they should be justly compensated. However, when the economy was going through a rough patch and the state had cut the school aid, the teachers union was unwilling to reopen the contract and take a cut. They would rather have the taxes go up substantially just so that they could continue to get paid the salaries and benefits that they had become used to. And even now, there has been a structural change in the economy. Everyone is either contributing to their health care or has to buy his own health care. Automatic yearly raises are no longer assured. Pensions have been eliminated. Why should the teachers union and in fact all public employees unions not fall in line ? Why does the union keep saying that they are giving up their money. It is not their money. It is the tax payer's money and the board has an obligation and a moral duty to ensure that the tax payers' money is used in the most efficient manner and returns maximized.
Metoo April 10, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Look at your home value over the same time period.
Metoo April 10, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Not much of what you say is true. Do some research please.
Fred April 10, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Metoo, Everything A BR Parent is saying is true. Maybee its you who needs to open your eyes to reality. Also Taxes have more than doubled and the major component is school taxes. Don't just look at the property value but the increased rate applied each year. You will see that it has substancially increased.
A BR Parent April 10, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I am sorry, but you are making a very generic statement. Could you please be a little more specific.
Nick Sarola April 10, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Now with a bad economy, everyone is picking on the Civil Servants. Where were you when the economy was good and your husbands small business was earning 4x the salary of a teacher? Teachers and other public employees are now taking the heat because they chose a profession where they are employable through a bad economy. Tell your husband to become a teacher, the doors on the College aren't locked. Its all sour grapes. Leave the teachers alone!
BR Supporter April 10, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I would like to see some of the research you have done that proves that what "A BR Parent" says is not true.
BR Supporter April 10, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Metoo, Home values in town right now are only about 15% higher than they were in 2002 (ten years ago). Lauralee is correct that property taxes are 100% higher, so what is your point?
A BR Parent April 10, 2012 at 07:30 PM
4X the salary of a teacher ? You must be kidding. Look at the total compensation package of the teachers. Salary is just one part of it. What about the health insurance expense with low deductibles and out of pocket expense , the pension, the tenure that ensures life time employment. Although I am not a teacher, I would be willing to give up part of my compensation if I could get these work conditions. Let's stop pretending that teachers are not well paid. I guess like everyone else, they also have the option of moving to a different job, to a different school district or anything else. Like they say in the corporate world 'No one is indispensable'.
BRTEACH April 10, 2012 at 09:19 PM
BR Parent, The teachers DID give back 1.6 million dollars to the community. Voluntarily. With nothing in return. If you want teachers to take pay cuts during rough patches, fine. Just make sure you're screaming at the BOE to give teachers huge raises when the economy picks up. In 1996-2005, what kind of raises did people get in professional jobs? Was anyone saying "times are good, we should throw something extra at the teachers in this town?" Hardly. My raises during those boom times were ridiculously small compared to what the professionals in Bridgewater were earning. Those of you who are old enough to remember, 1991 was a disastrous year for the economy but by 1996 things had really picked up to a healthy level. Why didn't you support teacher raises then? Now that times are tight, you want teachers to share equally in the sacricfice, but you want to deny us the opportunity to share equally when everyone else is fat and happy? You can't have it both ways! Seriously, where were you 15 years ago when I was getting a raise that was a third of what the private sector was seeing?
Metoo April 10, 2012 at 09:25 PM
First off, Your property tax going up has nothing to do with salaries. I've explained this many times to NJ people, but they don't seem to understand it. I'll try again. NJ schools spend plenty per pupil. Where that money comes from and how it is dispersed is the problem. NJ is 48th in state support of schools. While elite wealthy districts in MD might get 30% funding from the state, the same district in NJ might get 0-10%. While NJ's cities get 80%...this is a fairly common practice nationwide for low income citiies. Your property taxes are high because your system requires schools to be funded directly at the local level, mostly from you. If it were funded by the state, the states varied revenue sources would come into play and less burden would be on you. Want lower property taxes? Start demanding that NJ becomes 25th in the nation for state support of public schools rather than 48th. Until then, don't complain about your property taxes while your schools receive 0-15% funding. Look up your district on the state report card and see how much your schools get.
Metoo April 10, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Secondly, by looking at the numbers, I see that the teachers are not only not getting a raise (this year), they're going backwards. This years net pay is less than last years and continues exponentially the next few years as the employee health care and pension contribution increases. Not getting a raise, (going flat) for a year or two is not something most teachers I know object to. Going backwards is objectionable, and I don't blame them. Additionally, let me state that the teachers, voluntarily, out of the kindness of their hearts, opened up their contract to give back in 2010 almost 1.5 million by volunteering to pay a year ahead of the State requirement, into the healthcare package and they gave up their tuition reimbursement, most other districts did not do this. What looks like a raise to you is not a raise to them. They need to move along their salary guide in order to stay even. If these teachers go into next Sept. without a settlement, and a further reduction in their net pay, I'm afraid things will get very ugly. Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. I for one do not want discount teachers.
Metoo April 10, 2012 at 09:26 PM
More thoughts, the vaunted private sector, if you will. I hear so much about the private sector and non-union jobs (bty union jobs make up about 10% of the national workforce,) ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_unions_in_the_United_States ) ( http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm ) that I have to wonder with all the downsizing, what is driving prices up? I doubt that 10% of the workforce has such a big impact. Over the last several years, seems that whatever I buy is greatly increased in price. The private sector is not holding the line on prices. Remember, companies that outsource are our (American) companies. Is there no sense of patriotism in their corporate ethos? Your looking for a simple answer/solution (boogieman hunting) to a very complex problem. Think teachers have it so good, become one.
A BR Parent April 10, 2012 at 09:58 PM
4X the salary ? You must be kidding. The total compensation package for a teacher consists of a very generous health plan with low deductibles and co pays, an equally generous pension plan and over and above all the possibility of tenure which allows for life time employment. I am not a teacher, but I will be willing to take a cut, if I could get these benefits. Let us stop pretending that the teachers are not well paid. And like you mention 'become a teacher', I would ask the teachers who are not happy to leave the district, find a different job or a combination of the two. Like it is said in the corporate world 'No one is indispensable'.
Metoo April 10, 2012 at 11:05 PM
So, that begs the question, why aren't you or whomever, a teacher? Somehow, others, perhaps even you, have chosen another career path. I believe it's because people go where the money is. Deny all you want, you cannot escape the truth, you are envious. Care to address/deny any of the other points I made?
Johnnie Cullen April 10, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Really? I will retire at age 70 with a pension of roughly 35K per year. I contribute 8% of my crappy salary to pensions with no matching. Yeah, my health care is good. That barely makes up for the fact that I make 40% less than my similarly-educated peers (even taking into account my long summer break). Seriously, I have been in private industry and public education, and you have NO IDEA how much more lucrative the private sector is. If you want good teachers, step it up and open your wallet.
A BR Parent April 11, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Are you saying the state does not contribute to the pension fund that pays the teachers' pensions ?
Lauralee Davis April 11, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Metoo, my home value has not doubled. Not even close. As to your other points... what other points? I don't think expecting Civil Servants/Teachers to understand that automatic, unearned raises and tenure are a thing of the past is asking too much. Many people are lucky to just have a job. It doesn't even have so much to do with wanting to give these people raises. The money just isn't there to trickle down anymore. Bridgewater is full of middle class families trying to make it on salaries that not only haven't grown, but in some cases have dwindled. What pocket are we supposed to pull more money out of? Reality, sometimes it stings.
Mike April 11, 2012 at 03:28 AM
@BR Parent: Over the past two decades the State has skipped many payments into the pension fund. The goal is to let it get so sick that taxpayers will balk at fixing it and it will die (look up "starve the beast"), denying benefits to the poor suckers still working and contributing (in some states, the employees do not contribute; NJ is NOT one of those states). BRRSD is still one of the most desirable districts in central NJ. If that reputation starts to slip, kiss your home values goodbye. There are several ways this can happen, some of which are in the BoE's control and some are not. The BoE needs to concentrate on factors within its control. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/njs_failure_to_make_full_pensi.html
Mike April 11, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Bridgewater does not have the lowest taxes around, but I believe it has one of the lowest tax RATES in the county. Economies of scale and rateables explain that to some degree.
BR-tech April 11, 2012 at 09:26 AM
Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. Since I've been a teacher, the state has not been making contributions to my pension. I have, though, every single paycheck. Would you advise your children to become teachers? After all you are spending on their college educations? With all of their options open to them, would you honestly tell them "become a teacher...you can't beat the compensation package!"
Nick Sarola April 11, 2012 at 12:56 PM
The private sector is indeed much more lucrative than the public one and I will give u an example of myself. I am a licensed Physical Therapist who works in the private sector and I make 3-1/2 times what I would earn if I took a job as a PT in a school or with a public hospital. It's all sour grapes to me because now is the ripe time to pick on teachers. Don't worry, the economy will turn and all the rhetoric will die down.
A BR Parent April 11, 2012 at 05:25 PM
People keep talking about this being a case of sour grapes. It really is not. It is a question of principle. There has been a structural change in the economy and the public employees should not be immune from the change. I would have absolutely no issue with them getting a reasonable raise (anywhere from 2% to 4%) for good performance. What I have an issue with is the expectation that the tax payers should continue to fund their health benefits and pensions. Remember these are the same tax payers who have lost these benefits themselves. In fact I am of the opinion that the board should be putting the union contract to a vote by the tax payers because it is ultimately the tax payers who will be left holding the bill.
Lauralee Davis April 12, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Metoo, my house value hasn't doubled. Has yours? Because that would be wonderful for you. If lowering the value of my house will lower my taxes, by all means, lower it. I'll work with that.
Metoo April 12, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Perhaps, but it has increased significantly during the go go 90s and well into the 2000s BTY, so were most incomes.
Metoo April 21, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Correct Mike, and one of the reasons it is desirable is because of the hard work of its teachers. I know Bridgewater-Raritan High School just got recognized by the New Jersey Department of Education as a High Performing Reward School. I believe, that's pretty darn good. I do not want discount teachers in my community!
Bradley Gardens April 21, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Mrs. Davis. Your house hasn't double in value, but you paid $305k in 2000 and it's currently assessed at $416,800. That's a 36% increase in 12 years. Not too bad.

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