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.]