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Teachers: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Teachers once again pack the board of education meeting.

With the teachers evening to discuss the state of the negotiations, this week's message was one of the need for fairness and respect toward the staff.

"It appears the board does not perceive us as professionals, and in fact dehumanizes us," said Katrina Macht, a teacher at . "I find this really unfathomable because you have children in the district too. Do you not want the best and brightest to be teaching your children?"

"I am appealing to you, please return to the negotiations table and negotiate fairly," she added. "It will not cost the taxpayers any more."

The focus of the teachers who spoke before the board was split between pointing out that they are just looking for a fair deal, and the fact that the board recently changed the health benefits without going back to the negotiating table first.

On the first point, math teacher David Weth said he is frustrated and angered by the current negotiations. Regardless of when it is done, he said, the board saves $6,000 from his own salary by switching to the state health plan, and he pays an additional $6,000 to the board through the new plan.

Although Weth has one of the more expensive plans because it is a family one, he knows the district is saving thousands for each staff member.

"[A total of] $12,000 is saved on me alone, but I should lose more money three years in a row," he said. "The difference between the current B-REA and BOE offers amounts to less than $25 to the average household for the current year."

"The board will have a great surplus each year," he added. "But instead you expect teachers to gain nothing or even lose money."

But with this and the continued negotiations, the teachers said, morale in the district has fallen to a new low.

"Something that does not make me feel appreciated is the feeling that we are not being listened to," said teacher, and Bridgewater resident, Judy Bast, who pointed out that this is Teacher Appreciation Week. "I don't appreciate when colleagues and people who are supposed to be in the game for the same reason don't listen."

The residents themselves need to be clear on what the teachers are asking for, Bast said. Basically, she said, they are not asking for a salary increase, just to not lose too much money.

"We are asking for the inevitable pay decrease to not be as drastic," she said. "It will only cost the district found money from health benefits, we are not causing a tax increase."

And aside from the money the teachers are not receiving, several teachers said, the board is now paying a lawyer to handle the work.

"I think it's more than unfair, it's a disgrace," said fourth grade teacher Danielle Powell. "Your actions have shown what you feel about us, and obviously it's not much. You have made our jobs more demanding, but we have persevered despite the challenges."

"You have the money, you are choosing not to give it to us," she added. "We are people, yet you have treated us like we don't matter."

vocal teacher Roberta Maher said piece of mind is also important in settling this contract. As someone suffering from multiple sclerosis, she said she knows personally how stress can affect a medical condition.

"Anyone with a chronic illness will tell you that stress is one of the biggest factors in it," she said, adding that she had an episode in the first four months of working for the district 10 years ago, and she lost the ability to see clearly for a month. But, she said, she only missed four days of work. "I wanted my new employer to see that I wasn't going to be a liability."

And, Maher said, she does not regret any choices she has made about working through the illness, but she worries about the stress of the negotiation process.

"I would like peace of mind, and would like you to settle for all teachers working through poor health like I did because they care about the children," she said. "Luckily for this district, I have chosen to still do what I need to do, and that is put Bridgewater-Raritan children first."

With all of these factors, teacher Jamie Blumenberg said she just doesn't understand why this process cannot be resolved.

"I was first saddened, then disappointed and now I'm appalled," she said. "The board of education has decided it doesn't want to compromise, but would rather pay an attorney $160 an hour. They would prefer to give a stranger money rather than the people who teach the children of this community."

And when the district was first dealing with the loss of millions in state aid, Blumenberg said, the B-REA opened negotiations to give back $1.6 million in an effort to help the district.

"It seemed reasonable two years ago for us to give you $1.6 million, but now it's said we are greedy to ask for something in return," she said. "All we're asking for is enough money for everyone to move one step on the guide. They will still make significantly less."

Blumenberg said she is disappointed by the fact that central administration is receiving raises higher than the cap established by the state.

"Is it unreasonable to ask for a little help so the cut we will inevitably take will effect us just a little less?" she asked.

Aside from the issue of fairness, teachers expressed disappointment over the board's decision to change the health care insurance at the previous meeting, despite the fact that benefits are part of the negotiations.

"These items are under negotiations, and part of a legal contract, which you have decided to breech," said Ann Rock, a guidance counselor at the middle school. "I know there are members of the legal profession on the board, and I find it incredible they do not know the definition of breech of contract."

The board voted for a resolution April 24 to change the dental and prescription plans, moving from Aetna to Delta Dental and from Aetna for prescriptions to Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Business administrator Peter Starrs said the dental plan with Aetna would increase 7 percent, but Delta Dental only increases by 5.5 percent.

Board of education president Evan Lerner said at the previous meeting that this change would allow the district to provide equal or better coverage.

But many staff members at Tuesday's meeting felt differently.

"Changing health care plans is an item of the present negotiations between the board and the B-REA," said Joe Krenetsky, math teacher at the high school and negotiations chair for the union. "The board is, and was, aware that they could not make this change without the B-REA's consent because the plans are not equal."

So, Krenetsky said, the board is legally required to negotiate before the change is made.

In response to this, Krenetsky said, the B-REA already filed a grievance against the board about a month ago, and, after the last board meeting, filed an unfair labor practice against the board.

"The board's own broker has admitted that the plan is not equal to or better than the present plan, contradicting statements made by this board," he said. "This illegal action could cost the residents tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines when all of this is over."

"Residents of Bridgewater and Raritan need to understand that this board has decided to break the law rather than negotiate in good faith with the staff and teachers of this school district," he added.

Still, with teachers struggling to make ends meet, and demands on their time increasing with larger class sizes and more requirements from the state and others, they used Tuesday's meeting just to ask for a fair deal.

"One thing has remained a constant, that I continue to be surrounded by some of the most hard-working dedicated professionals any community could hope to have," Macht said. "If you are going to put the children first, you cannot put the teachers last."

BRRES May 09, 2012 at 11:16 AM
As a resident of BR, I NEED to know, are these statements that were made by Mr. Kretnetsky true? "Residents of Bridgewater and Raritan need to understand that this board has decided to break the law rather than negotiate in good faith with the staff and teachers of this school district," and "The board's own broker has admitted that the plan is not equal to or better than the present plan, contradicting statements made by this board," he said. "This illegal action could cost the residents tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines when all of this is over." Is what the board of education doing illegal? What impact will this have on the taxpayers down the road (10's of thousands in legal fees)? Will our property values fall because the district is in such turmoil? I challenge the BOE and President Evan Lerner to answer these questions. The board has an obligation to inform the taxpayers and voters of what is going on!
Kelly Schwertfeger May 09, 2012 at 12:02 PM
BRRES: I can assure you that the statements made by Mr. Krenetsky are true. Over one year ago, the BREA offered to switch from a private carrier to the School Employees' Health Benefit program as part of the negotiations process. The Board REFUSED even though this switch would have resulted in more than 1 million dollars of savings for the district. Suddenly, the Board made the switch without bargaining which is a blatent disregard for the negotiations process as well as against the law. More residents need to challenge the Board to step up and answer the very same questions you have....and more!
BRRES May 09, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Kelly, Thank you for your response. I will email the board of education and let them know that I, as a resident and parent disagree with what the BOE is doing. For other parents that would like to join me, please use the following link to email each board member: http://www.brrsd.k12.nj.us/board_members.cfm?master=7 Let them know that what they are doing to the teachers of our district is appalling and that they need to negotiate and settle.
Eric Waldorf May 09, 2012 at 01:22 PM
I can tell you first hand they are very true.
Katherine May 09, 2012 at 01:40 PM
BRRES, I will also back up the statements of Mr. Kremtesky. The board has broken the law.
Kelly Schwertfeger May 09, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Thank you.
Melissa Ferrao May 09, 2012 at 03:19 PM
BRRES, the board has acted in an illegal fashion. The reason is because these are open issues on the negotiations table. Further, these programs are not equal to or better than what we already have. BRRES it is wonderful to know, as a teacher, that we have parents who are willing and able to speak up to the board on our behalf. On behalf of all the teachers, thank you so much for your support. We NEED to get more parents out there to speak to the board or write letters. That is what will get the attention of the board members.
Concerned Citizen May 09, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Mr. Krenetzky has 44 years experience in BR and is an integral member of the negotiations committee. He is well-versed in these matters and his assertion that the BOE has acted illegally is completely accurate. The Board members clearly would rather do anything else with the money than provide teachers with a fair and equitable contract. I hope that more parents will come to understand that teachers are not asking for raises, but for smaller DECREASES in pay. I also hope parents will contact the BOE about this matter, if not on behalf of teachers then on behalf of their own children. Every dollar spent on litigation is a dollar less spent on our children's education.
Mr. Had Enough May 09, 2012 at 04:05 PM
You know, the way these things get spun is rather entertaining. If you go back and read the earlier articles and comments here on the patch, including comments from Evan Lerner, it really seems like the BOE is trying to do the right thing and the B-REA is spinning this to make them look bad. I love our teachers, most are really wonderful and dedicated professionals and I enjoy living in our community but, at the same time, business is business and when you give back $$ to save jobs, perhaps your own, that was survival, not kindness. The BOE is trying to equalize teacher classroom time and salaries to be in line with peers within the county, not unreasonable. I dislike the fact that the administrators raises are large and unjustified expenses but, we have to focus on the teachers. The teachers will continue to work for less than they had because of the giveback, average corporate pay increases are like 1%-3% per year and the more you make the less you get. There are salary reference ranges too where in corporate America, you hit your limit, no more increases. You don't get made whole. I've commented on other threads and would love to see the teachers come to a settlement but, you have to ask yourself, what are the facts..meaning what is the BOE saying, what is the union rep saying, are the union reps being unbiased in the negotiations and what would satisfy you to resolve the negotiations. No one is happy at the end but you really need to work together to settle this.
Concerned Citizen May 09, 2012 at 06:05 PM
If you want the facts, show up at a meeting or read the budget. Know what's in the budget? A $7,000 Smart Board for every elementary school classroom and a $2,000 laptop for every high school room. Know how much each teacher would get as a raise if the board settled - an average of less than $1,000. It's all about priorities, and the BOE continues to put teachers last. Our schools are crumbling because of the BOE's adversarial stance toward the people they employ. Not because the teachers don't care, but because they are beaten down on a daily basis despite all they do for kids. They are drained of mental energy by the stress and politics of the stalled negotiations. There's only so long you can bat your head against a brick wall before you ultimately have to give up, and that's what's happening to teachers. And it can't help but harm student outcomes in the long run. My oldest is out of h.s., my youngest still in intermediate school, and I could cry over what a huge difference I see already in the quality of our school system. If you want the best, treat teachers like they are worthy, not like they are wortheless. And may I ask why you've "had enough"? Are you at the top end of the corporate ladder getting only 3% on a $200K salary?
Mr. Had Enough May 09, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Concerned citizen, Are you a teacher, you seem to know a lot about the morale issue. First, I have read the budget, I read it every year and I have never voted against a budget. I have kids in the district and can clearly see the difference and it is alarming. And no, I personally am not getting pay increases...sign of the times, I have a job and appreciate it. In fact, it is a little obscene that Dr. Schilder commands that salary from tax payers. We are not a blue ribbon district any longer and quite honestly, I don't think much of the effectiveness of BOE members either and would like to see them voted out. At the same time, I am no fan of the union and I see the B-REA spinning this very one sided. I've said on other posts - top paid teachers should agree to a modest percentage increase and the lower paid teachers should get higher increases. The HS teachers should teach the additional period and stop whining about it while administrators making 6 figure salaries should take a pay freeze. As far as resources for the classrooms, I believe they are necessary expenses. All expenses have gone up, for everyone and everything. At the same time, you can't tax everyone to death either. There is no team work, it is labor against management and I agree, that is a problem. The savings on the healthcare...goes towards other expenses. Its a business, times change and everyone has to change with it. We the residents have to suffer as do our children. It's really pathetic.
think08807 May 09, 2012 at 07:38 PM
The BOE gave the Superintendent and other top administrator raises of 2.0-3.75% yearly for a GUARANTEED 4 years! The Superintendent's contract was approved just DAYS ahead of the legislative cap on superintendent's pay($170,000) when few of us were paying attention. Our Superintendent now draws a salary of $203,000! He is now making $33,000 OVER the cap on is position!
Concerned Citizen May 09, 2012 at 09:12 PM
No I am not a teacher but have neighbors, friends and family members who work in the district, some teachers some support staff. Your idea of variable raises is actually how it works. Folks at the top of the salary guide get small or no raises, folks at the middle or bottom get more. When the BOE says teachers are getting a 2% raise, all it really means is that the cost allocated for salaries overall is 2% next year. Not everyone gets an equal raise. Glad to hear you want the BOE voted out. Please spread the word and remember that at election time. Finally, education is not a business, it is a social service. Treating schools according to a business model - as the current movement to "improve" the U.S. education system is doing - will end up causing much more harm than good.
Katherine May 09, 2012 at 09:41 PM
As a teacher, the more you make, the less you get and if you are at the top of the guide you will get nothing. The BREA is only asking for enough money to move teachers up a step on the guide. Those of us at the top will get 0%.
Katherine May 09, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Concerned Citizen is correct. Teachers do not all make the same percentage in raises.
Bridgewater parent May 10, 2012 at 03:22 AM
It is really sad that things get so ugly during a prolonged negotiations period. The teachers are understandably frustrated, but clearly they are overrepresented here and that is no coincidence. They are trying hard to get the public on their side in an effort to pressure the BOE. Healthcare costs are increasing, even with the switch to the state plan. There is not this bucket of "saved" money. The approved budget for 2012-2013 already includes the state plan. I hope a compromise can be reached soon. I sincerely want our teachers to be happy to come to work every day - this benefits everyone. But, it is disturbing to hear people say that the district is "crumbling". It is probably true that our reputation is not great due to the negotiations. But, educationally, I believe our district is excellent. Furthermore, it is a HUGE improvement over 5 yrs ago. So, while some of you may not like the BOE negotiations tactics, they are the same ones that have improved what is being taught. My older child didn't have to learn math facts and was not taught to write, for example. Those are now part of the curricula and our students are benefitting! There have been improvements across the grade levels. These changes are being implemented by the wonderful teachers we are hearing about. So, please, at least stick to the issue at hand and don't exaggerate that this is the end of our district.
Jason Schiff May 10, 2012 at 10:00 AM
I agree...I feel like the education provided to our students has improved over the past few years. But to say that the BoE has had more of a role in making that happen than the teachers is an overstatement of what they actually do. For example, the HS just got honored and recognized as one of the best schools in NJ (and the reward school acknowledgement). That success has more to do with the people that actually teach those children every day. BoE creates policy, yes...but the teachers and administrators (department leaders, etc.) create curriculum.
Wake Up Bridgewater May 10, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Unfortunately, there is a disconcerting level of corruption at the BOE and Administrative level. The BOE presidents have been known to brag about how close they are to the Superintendent and some of the principals that were hand picked by the Super. The lines of professionalism have been crossed and unfortunately, no one is looking out for our children (unless their last names happen to be Lerner or Brookner). It's time for a change at the BOE. I cannot agree that the level of education has improved for my children. There is an increase of pressure put on the children, but that does not mean that better learning is taking place. Bridgewater's BOE and Administration have become more about politics than about the children. I would not be surprised if the Board is receiveing some sort of incentive from higher up for keeping salaries down (well, not all salaries obviously there was money for the Super to get a healthy raise). Time to wake up Bridgewater and make some changes.
MG May 11, 2012 at 02:55 AM
As a BR teacher, I can tell you that my take home salary is already back to what I was making in 2010. Next year it will go down (due to state mandated health care payments) to what I was making in 2009. How much more am I expected to give back? My salary should continue to go down? That is a fair and rational way to treat professional employees with decades of experience and education? Teaching is not corporate America. You are talking about professionals who already make far less than their "corporate" equals in education and experience. You are talking about professionals who never get annual bonuses, profit sharing packages and stock options, all of which I got when I was working in "corporate America". We are asking for fairness and respect for our work, nothing more.
Teacher123 May 11, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Dear Mr. Had Enough You are an idiot. Instead of looking at hours taught why not focus on plain old results For example, the HS just got honored and recognized as one of the best schools in NJ (and the reward school acknowledgement). BUT YOU ONLY CARE ABOUT THE TIME CARD YOU ARE A MORON WHO CARES ABOUT THE TIME CLOCK WHEN THE RESULTS ARE LIKE THEY ARE Now the truth The BOE is CORRUPT They have bought the Super with an outlandish pay increase They have bought the Principals by hiring from outside the district ( there are plenty of asst. principals in the district who know our kids but where passed over, so that the new hires from outside would be beholden to the Board) I call for a complete investigation of the board to see if there is any conflicts of interest. How are the Outside Lawfirms selected? Any ties to Lerner? Vendors of those 7,000 dollar smartboards? You get the Picture This board is corrupt
Bridgewater parent May 11, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Teacher 123 - Do you attend regular BOE meetings, or do you just come out when there is some hot topic? If you really believe there is corruption, feel free to report that to the proper people (not sure who that is). I think the reality is that the BOE makes a lot of decisions, and some are unpopular. That does not make them corrupt. They don't get praised when there are achievements in the district or things are improving, only blasted when they do something unpopular, especially if it is unpopular to the BREA. Maybe you would have prefered to have union members or supporters on the BOE? That wouldn't have been biased at all.
Comparing public education to the corporate environment is just plain old ridiculous. When has the teaching profession received bonuses? When has the teaching profession received 10% raises annually when the economy is booming? Since when don't teachers have salary ranges? Since when don't teachers have a salary limit at the top of the guide? When has a teacher been bought dinner for working late? When has a teacher been invited to a holiday party? The list goes on and on. I have been employed in both sectors and it makes absolutely no sense to compare the two. I am NOT complaining about a teacher's compensation structure; I am a teacher by choice. I am just clearly stating the fact that you CANNOT compare a corporation that is run for profit to a public non-profit education system.
Wake UP! May 30, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I agree with you 123. The BOE SHOULD be investigated. Perhaps a good place to start might be the State Board of Ed Agency and/or the State Department of Education. Bridgewater needs to have an Educational Investigation opened up on them. If they're cleared, we can all rest easy Bridgewater Parent. No one on the BOARD is looking out for our children. I know from personal experience that the BOE and the Super. is not interested in coming to the aid of children who have been violated by the adults in the district - especially administrators who are "very friendly" with the Super & Board members. What I can't understand is why you so vehemently defend the BOE on blind faith? Maybe you're on the BOE?? All I know is that something isn't right and we need to clean this up.
Bridgewater parent May 30, 2012 at 10:22 PM
I am not vehemently defending the BOE on blind faith, as you say, and I am not on the BOE either. But, I do believe many posters here are exaggerating the fall of the district b/c they are unhappy about the negotiations. And, I know enough to not be afraid of an investigation. I don't believe anything "corrupt" is taking place, just perhaps unpopular. If I am wrong and real corruption is going on, then I have no problem with BOE members or the administrators being exposed. Everyone involved should act ethically and in the best interest of the district.
Clean House June 02, 2012 at 12:22 AM
That's the thing- not everyone is acting in the best interest of the district or the children. The BOE is way too friendly with Administration and when parents have an issue, they act together to stonewall the parent. BOE doesn't want to get their hands dirty. The BOE is acting illegally from the comments above. The teachers focus too much on what a child cannot do- a "gotcha" mentality instead of finding out what the children CAN do and building on that. The teachers also act as if the parents are the enemy- they respond to parents in a way that makes parents feel like they did something wrong for asking a question- they act almost entitled. If it seems that our scores are better, it's because of the demographic (not American) whose original countries actually honor education and treat educators with respect. The district boasts "Children First" yet not the BOE nor some the teachers act that way at all. I don't think that the BOE is getting heat for making "unpopular" decisions. I think that people in this town have had enough. The BOE should settle the contract, the teachers need to lose their attitude towards parents, and we should elect a whole new BOE when the time comes. Time to clean house.

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