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.”