A Student’s Guide to the Contract Dispute: Conflict, Controversy and What You Need to Know

In June of 2015, a collective bargaining agreement between the Ridgewood Education Association and the Board of Education ended.  As a Ridgewood High School student, you may be confused by the significance of this statement.  However, chances are you and all Ridgewood students have been subject to the effects of the termination of this agreement.  There is no doubt that you have seen teachers sporting red shirts with the emblem “REA,” and that you have likely noticed many of these teachers waiting outside in the bitter morning chill until 7:35 AM.  You have probably even heard the words “contract dispute” floating through conversations in the hallway.

While there are obvious, visible signs of this dispute, many students are left in the dark as to what the commotion is really about.  To many students the disagreement is nebulous and details concerning the contracts are left unsaid.  Recently, effects of the contract dispute have escalated, and it is time to shine some light on the confusion looming over the student body.

A collective bargaining agreement, by definition, is the negotiation by employees of working conditions, such as wages and benefits.  On July 1, 2012, a three year contract was set between the Ridgewood Education Association and the Ridgewood Board of Education.  With only four months left of the agreement, the teachers in the Association and the Board of Education met in February 2015 to discuss a new agreement.  Immediately, negotiations turned into disagreement.

Since February 2015, the Association and Board of Education have met more than ten times, and they still have not come to an agreement that satisfies both parties.

So what exactly is it that each party wants?  The Board of Education has numerous reports, outlines, and letters about the contract dispute online for public viewing.  These documents detail each side of the argument.  The Association has requested reductions to the percentage of health insurance premiums that teachers are responsible for.  The Association announced an impasse on the issue, similar to a stalemate, meaning they are not willing to accept an agreement until it meet their requests.  Other demands for the new contract include higher annual increases to salaries for teachers.

The Board of Education has stated they cannot fulfill the Association’s demands because state law forbids school boards from raising annual property taxes by more than 2%.  The Board claims that this would be necessary in order to improve salaries and health care premiums and that taxpayers probably would not be willing to spend the increased amount.  In response to salary increase requests, the Board argues that Ridgewood teachers are paid more than teachers in other Bergen County districts.

Each side has proposed multiple contracts using the Board of Education’s projected budget for the new settlement.  The Association has suggested new ways of allocating budget dollars, but the Board of Education does not accept their proposals. The Board has proposed contracts as well, but the two sides still have not yet come to an agreement.

Board of Education meetings are recorded and shared online for the public to watch.  Recent meetings have included budget proposals by representatives from both sides, statements from Ridgewood Education Association members, as well as reports on the issue by Ridgewood High School’s student liaison, Josh Schneider.

In the meeting that took place on March 7, 2016, many teachers took the stand to share their ideas on how the two sides can reach a compromise.  One teacher suggested building in extra professional development days to save money.  Other teachers told the Board how difficult it has been for teachers to have to work without being under a contract, as teachers are subject to falling salaries and compensation without the clarity of an agreement.

Laura Grasso, the negotiations chair of the Ridgewood Education Association, spoke about how the teachers promise to give 100 percent of their effort to the students during the school day and how it is unfair that the dispute affects them.  She explained how without a contract, the teachers are oblige to the documented arrival and departure times in the previous contract (7:35 AM and 3:15 PM for RHS).  To add to the dispute’s effects on the students, Josh Schneider spoke about how more students are becoming aware of the situation and are concerned by the disagreement between their teachers and the Board of Education, such as how field trips are affected because teachers could not attend. (For the full contents of his speech see Page 9)

In an effort to emphasize the desire for closure and a new contract, members of the Ridgewood Education Association have stopped working overtime.  This is why teachers are not available in their classrooms in the morning or for extra time after period 9.  Many teachers will not attend field trips either because they also count as overtime.

As a student, it is important to be aware of the situation between our educators and the BOE, but it is also imperative to remember that teachers are not going to cease working hard to give us the excellent education that has so long been a tradition of Ridgewood.

Cayla Whittaker
media editor

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