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Hutton Says Family Received 'Threatening' Letter From Teacher Union Rep

Letter came before Hutton was a board member; in a speech at the Ed. Center, the former board trustee questioned the motives of the union.

Now that he's no longer on the board, Bob Hutton says he doesn't have to be nice. On Monday night, the and teacher contract negotiator laid heavy criticism onto the Ridgewood Education Association (REA), saying the union's quest for better compensation is what matters most, not the students.

Hutton, who last week, also dropped something of a bombshell at the , saying his family has received what he believed to be a "threatening" letter from a "ranking" REA member back in 2002, before he joined the board.

According to Hutton, in summer of 2002 his eldest son Doug (a college freshman) wrote a Letter to the Editor of The Ridgewood News questioning the REA's position on salaries and benefits during a period of contract unrest. In response, Hutton said his family then received a letter written by an individual he identified only as a "current ranking member" of the REA. The letter addressed several of Doug's points in the form of reprimand, Hutton said, but also contained "a veiled threat" he said made his family question teachers' motives.

"I also hope that as Tommy begins high school, the teachers will not associate him with your negative comments," Hutton said, reading from the letter. "It made my family think twice about the good faith of the union, and whether they are acting to serve the students or merely their own membership."

Maria Cannon, the president of the REA, expressed surprise at Hutton's comments.

"Never once has he ever mentioned his concern that an REA member ever sent him a threatening letter," she said in an e-mail to Patch. "He certainly never alluded to the fact that one of his sons was ever mentioned negatively."

In a follow-up conversation, the former board vice president said Tommy wasn't ever targeted during his time at RHS, as far as he's aware.

In his fiery speech, Hutton spoke of his view that it's not the REA that's been disrespected (as they've said), but perhaps the taxpayers of Ridgewood.

Hutton, who like many was unemployed for a period, said families are struggling and the union has been unwilling to help those taxpayers out.

"Maybe I don't have to be nice anymore, but at the very least, let's be honest when we discuss these topics," Hutton remarked, referring to the district's requests for the union to , which he says would have saved jobs and programs. Those attempts , and Hutton in his speech didn't express much surprise.

"The REA is a union. As with any union, it is there to fight for the best economic deal for its membership," he said. "That is its sole purpose, to the exclusion of all others. Their questioning of science kits, Ipad expenditures, roof replacement on this very structure and alike is simple –the union wants every dollar possible for its membership."

He questioned why it's the board being the one asked to settle contracts, and not the teachers.

"Rarely, if ever, is a chorus ever directed at the REA," he said. "Why is that? Are there not two sides to any negotiation?"

Cannon again expressed surprise at Hutton's comments – namely of compensation over a commitment to education.

"It is an invigorating and fulfilling profession," Cannon said of teaching. "Most of the teachers in the district just want to come to work each day and work with their students. They do not get involved in the nature of negotiations. They just want to do their job and feel proud of the work their students are doing. It is unfortunate that these negative comments have been made at this time."

Cannon took umbrage to Hutton's statement that the REA refusing to open up contracts led to a 'dismantling' of programs. The union head said school board members told union reps that were so 'immense' two years ago that even with concessions, progams and positions wouldn't totally be saved.

"For Bob Hutton to lay all of those cuts on the teachers' shoulders and accuse us of dismantling the Ridgewood Public School system is irresponsible and, in my opinion, untrue," Cannon said. "As far as the word 'dismantling', which I find offensive, it's the responsibility of the BOE and the superintendent to make sure no school system is 'dismantled.'"

Cannon said if there truly has been a dismantling, that blame falls on the school board and superintendent, not the REA.

Asked why he chose to discuss the letter ten years after receiving it, Hutton said he was hoping for another year in office.

"If that had happened, the letter would have been simply a souvenir," he said. "But I know these negotiations have been and I hope will continue to be difficult. Too much is at stake for the District and its financial and educational health. I believe someone has to speak out."

He also said, when asked, receiving the letter didn't negatively impact his ability to negotiate with the teachers during his tenure on the board.

, but have made little apparent progress. Teachers accused the school board of , which board members denied.

The contentious negotiation has now reached a state-appointed fact-finder. With Hutton no longer on the board, a new team of negotiators within the five-person school board must be appointed. The new committee could be decided as early as May 7.

[Note: This article was published at 12:05 p.m. Thursday, April 25.]

Fan of Ridgewood April 27, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Included within that analysis should be individual performance evaluations of teachers and their compensation to judged by them. I understand that student test scores arent the entire answer, and shouldnt be the entire assessment, but they are a measurable tool. They are what we chiefly use to evaluate the students after all. Personally, i have pretty happy with the teachers who have taught my two daughters and with the Ridgewood school system in general. My biggest objection is the demonizing of the schoolboard for not agreeing with the teacher's union. And teachers, or their spokespeople, claiming their only concern is the kids - when they shorten their available hours to students in defiance of not getting a new contract.
mschulties April 27, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Douglas, So it's a ranking member of the REA? All the more reason to reveal the name! I am sure most reasonable teachers who vote these representatives to their positions or at least elect delegates that outline the goals of the union should know of someone within that same union that is practicing a method of intimidation on the village's elected board as well as its children.
Fan of Ridgewood April 27, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Douglas, i'm no fan of any unions, but your father's accusation is not an indictment of anyone unless you or he show us the letter and the author. Until it's revealed, im afraid this incident says more about you and him than anyone on the REA.
Fan of Ridgewood April 27, 2012 at 07:40 PM
I had one of those too. Sr. Mary Blanche. What a mean piece of business she was. Grabbed boys by their tie or ear and pin us up against a wall. She once smacked me in fhe face when i didnt see her coming. Peed in my pants. Im suprised i dont stutter.
Anne April 27, 2012 at 08:13 PM
"I don't hide behind a screen name to throw stones." Just wanted to know if you were going to respond to that. You running for office or just going to be considered CPA for the rest of your life aka cannot stand up and tell people your name and speak up in a true public setting. Keep up the good work!
Douglas Hutton April 27, 2012 at 08:20 PM
CPA, I wrote the original letter to the editor - I had some great English teachers over the years. I've still got it saved somewhere, and I'm sure the Ridgewood Library has it for posterity on microfiche as well - I forget if it was May or June of 2002. Bill Porterfield and mschulties, I think we're two ships passing in the night on the context of why my father used the note - it was not brought out to disparage a particular individual; we dealt with the matter privately at the time. It was used to make the point that despite the pure intentions the REA professes, they are a union focused first and foremost on the economic interests of its membership - and that some (by no means all) are willing to intimidate to advance those interests. By the way - you can tell the intimidation didn't really work too well - my father sat on the BOE for nine years, and my younger brother had a very successful RHS tenure. Next time I'm back in Ridgewood, CPA, I'd love to meet you personally, perhaps over coffee or lunch - an offer I would extend to any commenter on this thread. That way, we can have a civil discussion about these topics and others - I find it much harder for people to insult the integrity of others face-to-face. I'm sure you have my father's e-mail address from following his time on the Board; he can certainly get in touch with me to arrange such a meet-and-greet. I look forward to putting a face with your comments.
CPA April 27, 2012 at 10:44 PM
I'll see you at the Country Club.
CPA April 27, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Hugs and kisses Anne! Have wonderful weekend dear!!
Frank April 28, 2012 at 06:34 AM
I negotiate for a living and agreements don't happen until both sides think they got the best deal. You hope your counterpart has integrity, knows the facts and can work with you to get to a deal that can be endorsed by both their constituents. in 2002, Charlie Reilly negotiated for the taxpayers on that contract and got little support from the community to hold the line on costs, A rich health benefit was a big concern but we acquiesced. Benefit costs are the biggest year over year increase of any budget item. A young man writes a letter on the issues and gets a responding letter back with a veiled threat of the 'we know where you live' variety. Shows it to his Dad, and surprise, the dad becomes interested in public service. Today, taxpayers live in a very different world, unless you are a teacher. Keeping a job is not a given. Pensions and retiree medical benefits are no longer offered by most companies. Health benefits require higher contributions but with higher deductibles. New offered salaries have dropped, yet technology puts workers on call 7/24/360. Homes are 15% below assessment and the taxes leave you wondering - who will sign up for these taxes when I sell? Bob Hutton knows this. With this reality, the REA, as is their right, declined the plea to share the pain. Their mouthpiece may have been the same mook who wrote the letter, but he could never publically disclose that because it could hurt his constituents. Maybe until now?
Vincent April 28, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I have to agree with the majority of the posts above that Mr. Hutton is using this as an exit strategy and has an axe to grind. I believe it paints a poor picture of a candidate who has been defeated.
Jim April 28, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Why don't you grow a pair and meet Douglas face to face. James, the person who writes these articles should attend as well and really make sure Ridgewood finds out who you are! You are weak and you know it. Keep sitting behind your computer. As I said grow a pair!!!!!
Fan of Ridgewood April 28, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Douglas, i hate that you put me in the position of defending a union. But you make a point that CPA wouldnt dare question your integrity if he revealed your name. Yet you insult the integrity of an organization with a letter who's author's name you won't reveal. Can't you see the irony and hypocrisy in that? You have my real name here and i must question the honesty of you and your father in the timing and lack of disclosure in your claim. I dont want coffee, lunch or dinner with you. Revealing the facts in question will do.
CPA April 28, 2012 at 01:26 PM
I guess I wasn't clear about that above Jim? You are a tough guy. LOL
SK April 29, 2012 at 01:05 PM
I agree that once the letter was brought up it should have been released. However, the REA's silence and failure to dispute the existence of this letter speaks volumes about its validity and the REA itself. They should either dispute it or apologize for thuggish behavior of one of their own.
Vincent April 29, 2012 at 03:34 PM
I believe it was addressed by the REA 10 years ago and it was an non issue by both sides which Bob Hutton's son confirmed above.
Bob Hutton April 29, 2012 at 05:36 PM
To CPA -- first things first -- I have only ever been to the Country Club as a guest. You and my eldest son Doug will have to use your membership for that meet and greet. I am a Daily Treat kind of guy. If I may, let's go back to the basic premise. The chorus, overwhelmingly heard at the BOE table, is from a well organized union of teachers. Most recently, they have surrounded the Ed Center twice - once was for a scheduled mediation session and more recently for a budget presentation with the Village Council. They are a force to reckon with. And yes, I said hello to several familiar faces when I entered the Ed Center on those two occasions. In my first remarks as a former BOE member, I asked a simple question - where is the other voice? That other voice is the Ridgewood taxpayer. Why is that voice absent? In this Village, certainly voices of both sides of an issue have been heard - from the Valley Hospital Renewal to Graydon Pool to cite two very recent public debates. Why would the largest cost element of the School District's operating budget (and thus, the municipal tax rate) be so different? Why are there not two vocal sides of this conversation? After much deliberation, I used a family example as a single point of reference as to a possible reason why that other side is so quiet or non-existent. It was a personal example -- plain and simple.
Bob Hutton April 29, 2012 at 05:37 PM
I know Mr. Morgan used my quote "we already know the answer" several times during the campaign. That was always in reference to the District's budgeting. The state now permits a school district to raise its tax levy by 2 percent without a public vote. In Ridgewood, our tax levy is about 93% of the School District's revenue stream. Having those elements defined, combined with a mandate for a balanced budget, the answer is fairly straightforward and it boils down to simple math. If your largest cost driver is increasing at rates in excess of 2% (salary and benefits) other elements of the budget either have to remain the same or decrease. It is a zero sum game. You have every right to argue for the highest salaries and benefits you wish for the teachers and secretaries employed in Ridgewood. After nine years on the BOE I will clearly state there will be system-wide consequences to that choice. The teachers' contract that expired as of June 30, 2011, had salary increases in excess of 4% for each year of that three year contract, plus escalating costs for premier health benefits. Just so that you have a frame of reference, a 1% salary increase for the REA is equal to additional costs of $420,000. I am proud of my nine years of public service. I would have hoped to have the contract done, but that was not to be. My reason for bringing out the 2002 letter was to possibly shed some light as to why there is no chorus directed at the REA to settle with the BOE.
Ridgewood Taxpayer April 29, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Thanks for weighing in Bob! You ask where is the voice of the Ridgewood Taxpayer and why is that voice absent? I don't think this should be such a mystery to anyone. Many Ridgewood Taxpayers have kids and those kids are vulnerable in the classroom. Tell me Bob, which parents will go out publicly against giving into the demands of teachers? Not me. I for one would not put my child in such a position in the classroom. Hence the letter you speak about is the best example. Oppose the teachers and your child will pay. Maybe in the form of a grade, maybe how the student is treated or chosen for special assignments. Those parent/taxpayers, who join teachers in their quest for more, more, more, do so too gain an advantage for their kids. As for the vocal Valley issue. It is clear adults are willing to put the proverbial target on their own backs. Speaking of Valley, Bob, I was disgusted when you spoke at the VC hearings on behalf of Valley. Not because as a citizen you voiced your opinion, but because you identified yourself as an elected BOE member/representative and spoke in that capacity. Wrong and offensive.
Ridgewood Mom April 29, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Mr. Hutton, If a letter to you had some sort of reprehensible statements that incriminate an individual as malicious, then I would like for that to have been acted upon. My boys are in the system and I don't want such a person as you describe working over them. But reading comments further here, it has been stressed that such action was never the point of your mentioning the letter. Rather, according to Douglas, the point was to somehow suggest that the actions of the REA are maliciously self serving to the detriment of students and good education. In other words, character assassination of the REA broadly. I think that your son's efforts to stand by you, here, show commendable loyalty and I think that you should be proud to have such a son. I also support your right to your own opinion regarding school budgets and taxes. The issue is that you were trying to portray the REA as being dirty in some way, simply for working in the interests of Ridgewood educators as they are supposed to do. This whole "letter" debacle comes across as just one bad attempt to say that the REA is contra Ridgewood taxpayer. You are welcome to favor certain cuts or disagree with pay increases. Those are your interests and can not be said to be "the interests of the Ridgewood taxpayer." Ridgewood taxpayers have a variety of interests. Moreover, to paint the motives of the REA as uncivilly self-interested by mentioning an invisible letter strikes me as ad hominem and below the belt.
CPA April 30, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Doug would be a welcomed guest of mine. I don't get the feeling that the letter mentioned above was truly threatening and I don't believe the word threatening should have been used in the story. I do believe the mention of the letter in that context was in poor taste and ill advised. The timing was even worse and may have tarnished the good work you did during your nine years. I don't believe the REA is unreasonable even though many believe that they want the moon, the stars and the universe. I think a good faith discussion is necessary. The other issues in town cannot be resolved in this equation. There are other variables and I pointed them out. I do take issue with the lack of financial mismanagement that I was seeing at the BOE meetings. No one stepped up and grilled the BA. Why? He holds the purse strings and we haven't been advised that the auditors sold their business, 3 people leaving his team and he can't answer basic financial statement questions. How will there be a smooth transition between auditing firms? Smolin doesn't have the expertise. I understand it is no longer your issue. You will be called upon to answer questions I can assure you about the financial decisions of the past. The blame of financial mismanagement is on the backs of the BA and the BOE. The teachers, school administrators and REA did not approve contracts, the collective group of you did.
SK April 30, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Obviously not a non issue if it was brought up again.
CPA April 30, 2012 at 12:05 AM
The taxpayers should be all over the financial statement lines that fall below Salaries & Benefits. It is easy to present numbers that can drive an audience to lean one way or another. That is where the art of preparing financial statements is misleading to push blame onto the foes the Teachers. This is wrong and if the Salaries line was segregated into the pieces of splitting out Teachers, Administrators, and Cottage Place by department instead of a consolidated presentation, I bet the BA gets a kick right out the door. Have the BA revise his presentation in more detail and then look at the variances. The blame will be lifted off of the intended target the Teachers.
Vincent April 30, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Agreed SK
Julia April 30, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Mr. Hutton was required by law to identify himself as an elected BOE member. I heard him at the Valley meeting and I remember his specifically saying that he was speaking on his own behalf and not as a representative of the BOE. How is that wrong or offensive? Just because someone serves an elected position does not mean they lose their right to a personal opinion. And that has nothing to do with this issue. I wish I knew why the Stop Valley people must twist every single issue in this town into something about Valley?
Julia April 30, 2012 at 01:56 AM
I disagree. As the man (or his son) has said several times now, he was not saying the union was "malicious" (your word) but instead was simply trying to counter the REA's constant public spin that they are only about the students. The teachers are about their students, the Union is about the Union. A good and helpful reminder for some Ridgewood residents, but not a mass "below the belt" attack. IMO.
Ridgewood Mom April 30, 2012 at 12:05 PM
No he didn't. This man (and his son) have thus far suggested that the "union" would send threatening letters and advocate that teachers should mistreat students who work against the union or show favoritism toward students of families who tow the union line. This is an attack on the unions character. Moreover, it is an attack without the provision of any evidence whatsoever. Should we also believe that the REA has people whacked and cemented beside Jimmy Hoffa near the third row bleachers? Give me a break. Oh yeah, all unions are just evil all of the time.
CPA April 30, 2012 at 12:11 PM
@Julia posturing, positioning or countering anything done or said by the REA by Bob Hutton isn’t required anymore. He lost the election. He is no different then the “Average Joe” of Ridgewood regardless of his past volunteerism. IMO he was taking a cheap shot on the way out.
Ridgewood Mom April 30, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Would you say that I'm just the sort of person who would write a "threatening" letter, Bill?
Fan of Ridgewood April 30, 2012 at 03:04 PM
i would hate to assume that of anyone. and nothing ive read of urs would lead me to think you're the threatening type. Just the evasive type because you've never answered the question as to why you think Ridgewood is, "screwing around with the teachers."
Chris Hansen May 07, 2012 at 03:08 AM
This may be an excellent subject for a Dateline two-hour special in the Fall. It has all the drama plus a smidgen of "Village Idiots" contributing to the fray. Typical middle America nonsense with little or no redeeming social value whatsoever. I already have a working title: "Unions for Educators - Pros and Cons."

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