After 19 months of largely tense negotiation, there is now a tentative contract in place between the Ridgewood Board of Education and the Ridgewood Educators’ Association.
Details of the agreement between the two have not been made public yet, but sources involved in the meetings believe that a satisfying conclusion has been reached.
“I believe it is fair,” says Ridgewood Superintendent of Schools Dr. Fishbein of the outcome, in an interview with the High Times. “You see how emotional it can get. With negotiations, if no side comes out completely happy, then it’s a good thing.”
Dr. Gorman, the principal at Ridgewood High School, agreed, also in an interview with the High Times. “From what I’ve seen and I’ve heard,” he says, “both sides are happy with their resolution.”
The last contract expired in June of 2015, and the conflicts that arose when drafting a new one were mainly concerned with two issues: increases in teacher salaries, and the amount that teachers must contribute to their health care coverage. During the negotiations, the REA came to an impasse several times, predominantly due to the health-care issue. In February, after a fact-finding session, Michael Yannone, the head of the REA, said the discussions were difficult to resolve at the time because the Board was not providing enough money.
The negotiations were sometimes taxing teachers and staff, as they waited to see if their contracts would be settled. “It was difficult for the staff,” Dr. Gorman says. “There was a lot of stress on all involved, considering that [the negotiations] went on for a year and a half. The school wasn’t harder to run, though. Everybody made sure to act very professionally. Obviously, the causes of this were financial.”
Specifically, as Dr. Fishbein explains, the board needed to focus on financial efficiency as a priority. The Board Of Education receives 94% of its funding through Ridgewood property taxes. However, some pressure was put on the board when a law made in 2010 capped tax increases at 2%. Dr. Fishbein says that this made the situation a stressful one for the Board, because some necessary expenses like energy and medical costs can sometimes increase at a higher rate. “For us, it’s a matter of living within a budget,” Dr. Fishbein said. “We cannot overspend like the federal government, and the state can pass bonds to overspend.”
The negotiations also affected students as well. Ben Glazer, a sophomore at Ridgewood High School, felt bothered by stress caused in the school, “The teacher contracts have caused great distress [for] the schooling community and teachers for too long,” he said. “This contract should be negotiated to help the Ridgewood society as a whole.”
Evan McKinnon, son of a district teacher and an RHS 10th grade student, felt that the BOE was unreasonable toward faculty during negotiations. “[They] put the appearances of the school above the actual teachers, and in turn they’re making it harder for the teachers.”
The current agreement is only a temporary solution, and not a finalized one. “In 2018,” Dr. Gorman says, “they will have to negotiate again, and I hope that they’ll learn from this time.”
Image: Jacqueline Weibye