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Teachers: If It’s Not Broke, Why Fix It?

Hundreds show support for the union at Tuesday’s board of education meeting.

Hundreds of teachers packed both the inside and outside of the Wade Administration Building Tuesday to show their support for each other and tell the board of education that they want a fair deal.

“In 2002, I felt appreciated and respected,” said Betsy Becker, a retiree who began teaching Latin at the this year. “This year, I feel trod upon and no longer respected.”

The members of the have been working without a contract since it expired in June 2011. After going though three mediation sessions, both parties have been advised to move into the .

Becker said she retired 10 years ago, and was a substitute for the past eight years. This year, she said, she returned to the high school as a Latin teacher.

“I have watched the demands on the teachers increase each year while morale has decreased proportionally,” she said. “I was overwhelmed by how different the teaching experience is.”

Many of the teachers spoke out at the meeting, emphasizing that they do not just work during the six hours of the school day. In fact, they said, they come in early, leave late and spend evenings and weekends grading papers and completing other work.

“For my first five years as a teacher, I worked nine- to 13-hour days,” said teacher Avani Kotak. “Summers would come and I would spend weeks in the classroom getting ready for the kids.”

“Yet this year I can’t stay until 5 p.m., 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. because I have to work a second job because I’m scared of what’s to come," she added. “We’re asking you for what’s already there and what’s already ours. We’re taking care of students in the district, but who’s taking care of us?”

The teachers present discussed the accomplishments of the students in the district, from acing advanced placement and other standardized tests, to placing in national competitions and being named one of the best districts in the country.

“There are people who were elected to do for you what is best for you and your kids,” said Patrick Friedman, a science teacher at the high school. “What are you trying to fix, or is this a game?”

“For something that’s not broke, it should be real easy to keep it going,” he added. “If it’s not broke, don’t change it.”

Caroline Czysz, a teacher at , said there was a time she was proud to be a part of the , and, as a graduate of the district herself, she took her cues on how to be teacher from those who taught her when she was a student.

“Because of the example set for me, I came to work in the district,” she said. “But now I doubt my faith and question my assumption that the district cares about the students.”

“The staff are stressed, the work loads are increased and we are asked to do more for less,” she added. “As a teacher, a resident and a parent, this scares me. You have surpassed the opportunity for giving the teachers a fair settlement, and we are already suffering economically, professionally and personally.”

Matthew Fleming, a teacher at the high school, said he moved to the township after hearing what the district has to offer, and four years ago he was offered a position to teach. He said the district has become what it is because of the dedication of the administration, teachers and parents—but that dedication is waning.

“We fully understand the economic times, and that you have a bottom line,” he said. “But if you look at the numbers, give-backs and health rates, the top of the guide would not change, and we could give teachers who have worked for eight years at less than $50,000 the chance to move up.”

“But we look at legal fees and missed savings in health benefits,” he added. “We look at how much you are willing to waste, and whatever the settlement ends up being, when you look at the total cost, it will far outweigh the 2.8 percent.”

Paul Kloberg, an engineer and physics teacher at the high school, said these negotiations cannot be about the numbers. He said he understands the numbers themselves, but what matters the most is communication.

“I ask that you simply communicate and try to figure out what this is all about,” he said. “My hope is that you can realize how privileged we all are to get to hang out with all these people right here.”

Diane Setcavage, a science teacher at the high school, said teaching is both the hardest and most rewarding job she has ever had, and she understands that not everyone can be pleased with the outcomes.

But, Setcavage said, she doesn’t understand why an agreement can’t be reached in such a well-respected and high-performing district.

“I am confused as to why the board of education is angry with the educators in the district, and why you want to punish us,” she said, adding that people in private industries receive merit pay increases based on the work they do. “We’re in the top 2.3 percent nationally for how well kids do on college boards and AP exams, our honors biology students are ranked two out of over 100 New Jersey high schools.”

“This doesn’t happen without dedication and hard work from all the teachers in the district,” she added. “I am challenging that the board of education do the right thing and be a good role model for the children.”

Keith Shapiro, an English teacher at the high school, said he felt respected when a board of education member shook his hand several years ago after he was able to report a student’s possible plan to bring a bomb to school because friends of the student felt comfortable talking to him.

“Unfortunately, I no longer feel the appreciation, but I know what it looks and feels like,” he said. “I am not asking for what I deserve, I am asking for what’s fair. I deserve feeling the appreciation you gave me the day you shook my hand.”

Aside from the teachers requesting the appreciation and respect from the district, several parents and former students came forward to speak on behalf of their teachers.

Evan Rallis, a 2011 graduate from the high school, said he is now a freshman at the University of Richmond and made it there because of the teachers. Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder when he was younger, he spent his first two years of high school not caring about his grades.

That changed his junior year, Rallis said, and he graduated as an AP Scholar student, earning top scores on four out of five exams.

“I wanted to thanks all the teachers for everything they have done for me,” he said.

Resident Garrett Moore said he would think that the board of education and the teachers could work together to come to an agreement.

“It seems that in recent years, there’s been more of an adversarial attitude going on,” he said. “Indeed at the state level, there seems to be an attitude that looks down upon the teaching profession. I don’t understand that at all.”

“Education is the cornerstone of our society,” he added, “and if you slight our teachers, you are really doing us a great disservice.”

At the end of the meeting, the board voted on a resolution 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.

“We’re going to provide equal or better coverage for dental and prescription for less money,” said board of education president Evan Lerner.

But many of the teachers were dismayed that this change was being made away from the bargaining table, as part of the issue in negotiations has been over health insurance.

“That money is what we are talking about in the package,” said Steve Beatty, B-REA president and social studies teacher at the high school. “You are coming back and saying you are making a change, when we said not to change it in the first place two years ago, and now you’re changing it back.”

“You are taking pieces out [of the bargaining], and being disrespectful to these people here and to the community,” he added. “Don’t do this, come to the table and make the deal there.”

But with one abstention from board member Jeffrey Brookner and a no vote from member Daniel Petrozelli, the resolution to change dental and prescription insurance passed.

“I heard what the teachers have been saying and I definitely value what they are saying, and I know everyone works hard,” said board member Cindy Cullen. “I would like to negotiate, but as the clock ticks, the district is losing more and more money.”

Overall, the message from the teachers was that they want to be respected, and that was proven through the hundreds of people wearing red in support of them.

“We are already doing more with less, and now you are asking us to do more with less for less,” Czysz said. “You can’t expect blue ribbon success with a Walmart mentality.”

Kids First April 26, 2012 at 09:57 PM
How many occupations in "the real world" encourage and inspire the next generation to be the best they can be? In which occupation do you get the chance to help a child in crisis and make a difference in their lives? Who do we untrust our children to for at least 6 hours a day, 5 days a week? You're right, bridgewaterresident2, teachers do not live in the real world. They are in the front lines, fighting to make the real world a better place. Even in Bridgewater NJ.
Hillsboroteacher April 26, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Glenn, Were you actually a teacher? Or a sub? Think hard before you answer. Tell me about that 70k job your wife has. Sound pretty good compared to the 52k I earn teaching. Does she need a degree to do her job?
Kids First April 26, 2012 at 10:07 PM
The bottom line is that this is the process… and yes, it is public. Everything about public education is public. So until legislation dictates otherwise, the BREA and BOE must negotiate a fair contract.
Kids First April 26, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Some things to think about... >When the state reduced school funding to the district two years ago, the members of the BREA voluntarily reopened their contract to giveback $1.6 million dollars in concessions. >Over one year ago, the BREA offered to switch from a private carrier to the School Employees’ Health Benefits program which would have saved approximately $1 million per year; the BOE refused. Now the Board has voted to impose a change in dental and prescription benefits without bargaining. This not only shows a blatant disregard for the process; it is against the law. >The BREA has proposed a 2.85% salary increase; the BOE has refused this offer. This is the minimum percent needed to move teachers and staff up one step on the salary guide without increasing the dollar amount of any step. This does not mean that everyone will be earning 2.85% more. Raise amounts are based on where you are on the salary guide. The current salary guide (which is still 2010-2011) can be found on the district website. >The BOE provided the superintendent and other top administrators guaranteed raises of 2-3.75% per year EACH for the next four years. In fact, the superintendent’s current salary exceeds the governor’s imposed cap by more than $30,000.
Kids First April 26, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Clearly, this BOE does not respect the current system or teachers in general. Refusing to negotiate fairly is wasting the taxpayers’ money and creating a district of low morale. Please urge the BOE to reach an agreement before this battle begins to adversely affect the quality of teaching in Bridgewater.
Kids First April 26, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Well said, Jason!
Kids First April 26, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Well said, Fred H. Something for BR taxpayers to think about... Teachers & staff will be paying millions toward health care, and the BOE has proposed a fraction of that in salary increments. Residents may not have a say in how the savings will be spent. In February 2012, the BOE voted 5-3 to adopt bill A4394 which allows school board elections to be moved to November. With the move, the budget will not be on the ballot as long as it stays under the 2% state-mandated cap.
Concerned Citizen April 26, 2012 at 11:17 PM
For anyone who thinks the BOE is being thrifty and fixing roofs with the money, consider this. The BOE purchased a new math program 3 years ago. At that time they rejected Singapore Math in favor of Harcourt Math. Guess what they are doing for next year - shoving all the Harcourt books and materials into storage and purchasing - you guessed it - the Singapore Math program. Why? Because the Harcourt program does not meet the Common Core State Standards that our students will be tested on. How depressing that these folks had no idea that they were blowing hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars on a useless math program. This is just one example of mismanagement of funds. If you read the BOE minutes carefully you'll find plenty more. Like paying consultants to manage the health benefits plan. Isn't that what the human resources department gets paid to do. It goes on and on. The thinking that they are fiscally responsible because they only raised the tax levy 1% instead of 2% is a joke.
Katherine April 26, 2012 at 11:37 PM
NJ may not have been in such bad shape if CTWhitman had not take money from the pension system. It was supose to be repayed, but hasn't. I am paying into the pension system, but the state has not, It has been many years since the state has kept their legal obligation. I don't understand why the mismanagement of others is up to educators to fix. I think that some people are just angry in general and the teachers seem to be great scapegoats.
Kids First April 26, 2012 at 11:44 PM
I'm sure the BOE members are intelligent people who are good at whatever career they have chosen, however they lack the experience to fully understand what it's like the work in a school on a daily basis. "Teacher for a Day" programs are great, but only give a very small perspective of what it is like. That's true of any occupation. Mismanagement of funds could be avoided if the BOE would just listen to teachers when it comes to big money decisions for the district. Maybe it's time to restructure the system. Someone should be held accountable for wasting the taxpayers' money & the BOE cannot be fired - MAYBE voted out in a few years.
Katherine April 26, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Glenn, if you would really like to make a reasonable comment/point, I think you need to use more educated vocabulary. I have a hard time taking your comment seriously when you just seem to be using teminology meant to embarrass and I think that is more embarrassing for you, You are entitled to your opinion, but if you would like anyone to truly understand your point of view, you need to present things in a more mature manor. I am not embarrassed that we picketed. Not everyone knew that we didn't have a contract. It is a way of communicating what is going on. As far as being replaceable: anyone can be replaced. However, you can't replace the relationships built with people and that is a major part of the job.
Metoo April 26, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Institutional memory is going bye bye...
Alex Balise April 27, 2012 at 12:05 AM
I agree, lets vote out the members of the BOE
Alex Balise April 27, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Hey Fred, you need to educate yourself before you make comments on-line. The District has $ that they received the the state, almost 9 million this past year. On top of that the District will receive $10.4 Million from the fall of 2011-spring of 2014 (this money comes from switching health care and the employees paying into their health care) Do the math: Almost $20 Million in revenue for the District in 4 years and the taxpayers are not paying anything (no tax $). Not a bad deal if you ask me. EDUCATE YOURSELF!! like the rest of us!!
Katherine April 27, 2012 at 12:17 AM
DelawareDr, You need to remember that every teacher IS the union. Reform may be needed but it isn't antiquated (read my earlier comment). If you are so miserable in your job, why don't you spend your time trying to reform it's practices instead of beating up on mine. Just like you and everyone else, I would like to be treated with respect. This is more about that than anything. Many teachers like myself will receive no raise even if the board decides to treat us fairly and settle. My step will get nothing based on what my union is asking for. You do understand how teacher's salary guides work?
Alex Balise April 27, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Hey Glenn Did you work in all 3 of those districts??? that you mentioned
Katherine April 27, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Glenn, Just as we knew going into education, that we wouldn't make a lot, you knew what you were doing when you left teaching and went into the private sector. When you talk about adminstrators, you are talking about a different set of circumstances. They don't negotiate with the teachers. That is a blog for a different time. Also, you are making assumptions about burnt out teachers based on the "eyes" of a high school student. Teenagers make assumptions about people that are based on limited life experience. If you can give more factual data, rather than personal opinion, I may be more willing to see your side of things. Also, having been a teacher, I would think you would realize how many factors go into the education of a student. It is shortsighted to base pay on performance. Here's the short list of problems associated with using test scores to determine a child's success: 1. Some students receive no support from home. 2. We are asked to differentiate instruction and then the state tests the children all in the same way regardless of how they learn. 3. Will the child's progress be based on improvement from the year before or should it be based on the mean score of all students in the state?
NJ Teacher April 27, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Yes, we did go into this job well informed you're right, and when I chose to go into teaching I had a pension worth more than it is now, and benefits were part of the pay plan. I would NOT have gone into teaching for the low pay without those other benes to compensate for said pay. I have a degree in science and am a science teacher, I could have gone into something that paid much more, so the fact that the state didn't pay their share and my pension and benes are more costly and less supple, is a crime beyond forgiving. Bastard politicians STOLE MY money to buy votes, plain and simple. They should all go to jail. As for paying me based on my students performance, bottom line, schools are not businesses, if my students decide to come to "work" I'll prepared to do their job, I can't fire them like an employee in business. If I could fire the ones that are I'll prepared, then I'll take my chances at being judged by their performance. Those that think otherwise are just ignorant.
Toni April 28, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Fred, you are so concerned about how your tax dollars are spent. How many board meetings do you attend?
Toni April 28, 2012 at 12:56 AM
There is so much more to the school budget than staff salaries and benefits. If you are really concerned about where your tax dollars are going, you should attend more board of education meetings and find out. What happens with the BREA contract neogtiations should be the least of your concerns. It really isn't about what you make vs. what "they" make. If you really feel the need to compare, find a teacher with the same education and years of experience as you. Then make the comparison. You will be surprised. These are the people to whom you entrust your children for over 7 hours every day. They shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for shaping who your children become over the course of 13 years. Do we really want to tell these people "you are not worth it, we'd rather have someone cheaper"? Or maybe "I didn't get a raise last year in my job, so you shouldn't either"? I, for one, would not want to step into their shoes for even a minute. I know what my two sons are like on a rainy weekend. I would definitely not want 24 of them in one room with me for 7 hours every day!!! I implore the Board of Education to stop playing around and lose the attitude. Figure out a way to make it work and get this settled. It's been going on for way too long and I'm ashamed of you. And I will remember, come election time.
Katherine April 28, 2012 at 02:32 AM
I The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do By Dennis Hong, September 13, 2010 6:30 am 57KShare Image by doug88888 via Flickr This piece was inspired by a heated discussion I had with a man who believes that teachers have an easy job. Please feel free to share it with others if you agree with the message. I used to be a molecular biologist. I spent my days culturing viruses. Sometimes, my experiments would fail miserably, and I’d swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances would ask how my work was going. I’d explain how I was having a difficult time cloning this one gene. I couldn’t seem to figure out the exact recipe to use for my cloning cocktail. Acquaintances would sigh sympathetically. And they’d say, “I know you’ll figure it out. I have faith in you.” And then, they’d tilt their heads in a show of respect for my skills…. Today, I’m a high school teacher. I spend my days culturing teenagers. Sometimes, my students get disruptive, and I swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances ask me how my work is going. I explain how I’m having a difficult time with a certain kid. I can’t seem to get him to pay attention in class. Acquaintances smirk knowingly. And they say, “well, have you tried making it fun for the kids? That’s how you get through to them, you know?” And then, they explain to me how I should do my job….
Katherine April 28, 2012 at 02:35 AM
I realize now how little respect teachers get. Teaching is the toughest job everyone who’s never done it thinks they can do. I admit, I was guilty of these delusions myself. When I decided to make the switch from “doing” science to “teaching” science, I found out that I had to go back to school to get a teaching credential. “What the f—?!?,” I screamed to any friends willing to put up with my griping. “I have a Ph.D.! Why do I need to go back to get a lousy teaching credential?!?” I was baffled. How could I, with my advanced degree in biology, not be qualified to teach biology?! Well, those school administrators were a stubborn bunch. I simply couldn’t get a job without a credential. And so, I begrudgingly enrolled in a secondary teaching credential program. Continued from "Hardest Job..." And boy, were my eyes opened. I understand now. Teaching isn’t just “making it fun” for the kids. Teaching isn’t just academic content.
Katherine April 28, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Part 3 of "Hardest Job..." Teaching is understanding how the human brain processes information and preparing lessons with this understanding in mind. Teaching is simultaneously instilling in a child the belief that she can accomplish anything she wants while admonishing her for producing shoddy work. Teaching is understanding both the psychology and the physiology behind the changes the adolescent mind goes through. Teaching is convincing a defiant teenager that the work he sees no value in does serve a greater purpose in preparing him for the rest of his life. Teaching is offering a sympathetic ear while maintaining a stern voice. Teaching is being both a role model and a mentor to someone who may have neither at home, and may not be looking for either. Teaching is not easy. Teaching is not intuitive. Teaching is not something that anyone can figure out on their own. Education researchers spend lifetimes developing effective new teaching methods. Teaching takes hard work and constant training. I understand now. Have you ever watched professional athletes and gawked at how easy they make it look? Kobe Bryant weaves through five opposing players, sinking the ball into the basket without even glancing in its direction. Brett Favre spirals a football 100 feet through the air, landing it in the arms of a teammate running at full speed. Does anyone have any delusions that they can do what Kobe and Brett do?
Katherine April 28, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Part 4 Yet, people have delusions that anyone can do what the typical teacher does on a typical day. Maybe the problem is tangibility. Shooting a basketball isn’t easy, but it’s easy to measure how good someone is at shooting a basketball. Throwing a football isn’t easy, but it’s easy to measure how good someone is at throwing a football. Similarly, diagnosing illnesses isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Winning court cases isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Creating and designing technology isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Inspiring kids? Inspiring kids can be downright damned near close to impossible sometimes. And… it’s downright damned near close to impossible to measure. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams. Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify. So, maybe you just have to take our word for it. The next time you walk into a classroom, and you see the teacher calmly presiding over a room full of kids, all actively engaged in the lesson, realize that it’s not because the job is easy. It’s because we make it look easy. And because we work our asses off to make it look easy.
Katherine April 28, 2012 at 02:46 AM
I think many people think they are capable of doing the job because they still see the job through the eyes of a child. When I was young I thought teaching would be fun and easy. Afterall, I had to do all the work. Boy, was I wrong! I keep going back to school to improve my skills. I have 2 post undergraduate degrees and various credits from different institutions that I took just because I wanted to know and learn more.
Toni April 28, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Glenn, I will always be eternally grateful that my kids did not have you for a teacher. What a lousy attitude.
Mike April 29, 2012 at 04:01 PM
If Lerner did indeed say that to a citizen, we can thank Chris "take a bat to her!" "none of your business!" "numb-nuts!" Christie for setting a fine, conservative example.
Mike April 30, 2012 at 12:22 AM
What do teachers make? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxsOVK4syxU
Mike May 19, 2012 at 04:06 PM
It takes such experience to afford the perspective necessary to see the big picture. Cretins like Christie who have never stepped foot in less than a top-notch school (without a security detail and carefully staged classes to visit) have no clue what really goes on, and neither do many residents.
Mike May 19, 2012 at 04:06 PM
It takes years or even decades to rebuild what can be broken by the stroke of a pen.

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