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Ridgewood Teachers Feel 'Lack of Respect'

Hundreds of Ridgewood Education Association members protested at the Ridgewood school board meeting Monday night.

The lack of a new contract for teachers reached a boiling point Monday night, with hundreds of Ridgewood Education Association (REA) members staging a protest on claims the school board has been "disrespectful" and is not negotiating in good faith.

The tension has been building for months, and teachers have employed subtle and not-so-subtle demonstrations of their upset during the course of the school year. They've held off on walking into the buildings until contractually mandated, and also .

Monday's message cloaked in a shield of maroon red "REA" shirts was the clearest message yet – there's certainly a sizable gap between both parties in the age of 'the new normal'.

"There has been a dramatic change in our public school system," said Patti Canzani, a teacher and 2006 winner of The Ashby Award. "If you really knew what was going on, I don't think you'd approve. At times I think I'm seeing the demise of public education, even in Ridgewood."

According to Canzani, younger members will have to work six to eight years to realize the salary and benefits they would received prior to state laws that went into effect last year.

Canzani asked board members to walk a mile in her shoes, stating Monday night at the Education Center that teachers work well beyond the contractual hours, hours fellow Ashby Award winner Sherry Youngkin said are spent responding to e-mails, meeting with students, writing recommendation letters and more.

Demands have increased, but time has decreased, Youngkin said.

"But when the Board of Education in Ridgewood (2011-2012), that act alone, to me, speaks volumes about the lack of respect that now exist in the school system," she said. "Working without a contract is disturbing to say the very least."

Remarking that previous negotations during her 29 years have gotten testy, teacher said the teachers could always count on "mutual respect." 

"Please do not be the first board to diminish what we have built here," Pedersen said. "You know and I know that great schools are the foundation upon which economically viable and successful communities are built. Let's not forget we are all members of the same team."

Members of the board's negotiating team disputed the statement the board has not been negotiating in good faith.

"It is always a process of getting there with give-and-take and discussion," said Trustee Sheila Brogan. "It is upsetting to hear our teachers feel disrespected. That certainly is not what the board wants and certainly not how we have conducted ourselves...as far as I know this board has been supportive of teachers and will continue to do so but we also need to look at the budget – the whole picture – and try to find some compromise as we negotiate this contract."

The union and the board's negotiating committee – Brogan and Trustee Bob Hutton – began the bargaining process 18 months ago to reach a new contract. The previous deal expired in summer of 2011.

School officials characterized the current standoff as "uncharted territory" given the length of negotiations. A state-appointed fact-finder has been brought to facilitate the process, though any recommendations are non-binding.

A 2 percent salary increase for teachers has been budgeted for the , which taxpayers will decide the fate of on April 17. Any more than 2 percent, officials said, would likely mean staff losses.

Negotiations are kept behind closed doors and neither party would disclose what's been laid on the table when asked by Patch, but REA President Maria Cannon pointed to what she felt were squandered opportunities by the board in reaching a settlement.

Cannon, between rousing ovations and a bellowing chant of "settle now!" coming from the teachers protesting in the Education Center parking lot, said the district will be receiving millions more in teacher contributions to health ($2.2 million between this budget year and 2012-2013) that could be put back in the pot; elected to use an $850,000 infusion of state aid on roof work; purchased "tens of thousands" on iPads; and is purchasing a new "unnecessary" $340,000 science program.

"We are looking at a long road ahead if you, the Board of Education, do not appreciate and acknowledge your highly qualified staff by offering a realistic and fair settlement," Cannon said. "We are willing to help the BOE with savings but need the BOE to be willing to share some of those savings with us."

Hutton, who like other school officials said state-driven conversations are largely being pushed to the local level, remarked after the meeting that the board did not believe allocating one-time infusions (i.e. state aid) of income on recurring expenses (salaries and wages) was a wise decision.

Despite the apparent acrimony, said the board is "doing everything possible to move the conversation" forward and reach a settlement, including meeting in formal and informal settings.

Still, all parties acknowledged how disappointing it is the state of negotiations has soured.

"I never, ever thought it could happen here," said Canzani.

The next scheduled meeting between both parties is April 16 with the fact-finder.

susan March 25, 2012 at 01:39 PM
I would have not objection to competitive salary and benefits the teachers want IF they worked the same number of work days as average American. That would be approximately 240 working days and two weeks vacation. Plus substantial contributions to healthcare and retirement. Companies don't offer pensions these days, and certainly not healthcare for life. We are paid to do a job, as are the teachers, no matter how many hours it takes to get it done. Working 50-70 hours a week is the norm for individuals. Often more. Welcome to todays reality. Getting paid 81,000 for 185 days work is looking pretty good!
Matt March 25, 2012 at 02:15 PM
No, the spouses don't deserve to be stay at home parents if they want to be. Most households in this country can't and don't afford that. To be honest Anthony, you are poking holes in your own argument. Median household income in Ridgewood is $143,000. If $160,000 isn't enough to live here, isn't it puzzling that the average resident household pulls it off? The median income numbers in Ridgewood clearly show that spouses work and contribute to household income, so the expectation that teachers should be able to afford to live in Ridgewood and raise a family on a single salary isn't realistic. Ridgewood priding itself on the best school, fields, teachers, etc. is a load of crap. The building is incredibly old. The academic performance is marginally, if any, better than surrounding towns with lower teacher pay. Our field is flooded, destroyed, and rebuilt regularly, which is an unbelievable waste. We have to get smarter about how we spend our tax dollars.
Chris421 March 25, 2012 at 02:17 PM
I find that most negative attitudes toward teachers stem from jealousy. If teachers have it so easy then why not become one? Oh wait...I'm grateful for the wonderful education my children receive in Ridgewood from truly dedicated professionals . They are subjected daily to irrational rants by ignorant members of the public. It's funny how other professions don't come under fire like education does, yet we supposedly value our teachers.
ccj March 25, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I think the negative attitudes towards teachers comes from a few other reasonable drivers. 1. Virtually free health insurance, both during employment and throughout retirement. Cost of health insurance has become a hot button issue across the country. For many taxpayers, it was a wake up call to find out that teachers and many other public sector workers were receiving health insurance at little to no cost. It is a benefit that today is worth a tremendous amount, but comes as a major burden to the taxpayers. When the cost, i.e., the burden, was half the current levels, it didn't seem so bad. Now it does. 2. The NJEA commercials about "The NJEA knows it's about the kids, etc." Well that's silly and the avg resident is far too intelligent to think that's the truth. Yes the union is focused on one and only goal, and that's fine, but at least be honest about it and don't bring "our kids" into it. 3. The teachers want to be treated like professionals, but they can act in the most unprofessional ways at times that it's quite annoying. Some neighboring towns had teachers refuse to write college rec letters for their students while their contract was still being negotiated. That was one of the most disgusting acts of selfishness and was another eye opener for many that teaching might no longer be the calling it once was for many, but rather just a good gig with incredible benefits.
Jack Nies March 25, 2012 at 03:14 PM
health insurance adds about $1500-2000/mth (up to $20k per year) to the total cost of comp. since teachers pay hardly anything for their insurance, in most cases where the other spouse works at a private company, the other spouse declines their company health plan since they would have to pay hundreds of dollars a month vs virtually nothing on the ridgewood plan. if ridgewood municipal staff and teachers had to pay the same proportion of their salaries toward health plans as those who work in private companies, then two income households might be indifferent whether decline their non-teacher's company's coverage or the teacher's ridgewood-provided coverage (assuming both plans have same benefits). that would reduce taxes of course. do i expect this to actually happen? no.
Chris421 March 25, 2012 at 03:26 PM
It's important not to paint the entire profession with one broad brush, just as teachers know not to do the same with parents.
John Q. March 25, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Teachers have enjoyed free health benefits for decades. The cost has become unsustainable. The law has been changed and teachers will eventually be paying a portion of their health benefits....just like almost everyone else. BUT, the teachers want their salary to be increased to make up for the increase in their medical premiums. NOT going to happen because of the 2% caps. In the final analysis, the idiotic behavior of Barbara Keshesian and the leadership of the NJEA left them away from the bargaining table when the law was being negotiated. If you want someone to blame....look to them. They had a game plan, they carried it out, and they lost.
Check Facts March 25, 2012 at 07:23 PM
No teacher in Ridgewood is getting a 2% raise. They have a salary guide. That 2% gets spread out across all of the employees. Assuming the increment cost is at or below 2%, everyone on the guide will get some dollar amount except the employees at the top step. They are frozen. Also, teachers will now pay close to 35% of the cost of their insurance premium, according to the pdfs on the website. That is comparable to those in the private sector, so the argument of free health care for life no longer applies.
LivinLocal March 25, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Education costs have gone out of balance with reality. Consider that its’ cost represents about 60% of property tax bills. It cost more than the consolidated costs to manage a municipality, and yet we are asked to pay more each year with no measure to the results of our investment. We’re told it adds to the value of our property, but that's a subjective projection of value. Before teachers are given one more hard earned tax dollar, let’s set up an accountable system to measure a teacher’s output. Let’s start with something simple; what measure would a $120K a year gym teacher consider we use to justify such a salary. There are good teachers but I believe there are fewer of those than there are tenured babysitters. Without a system to quantify a teacher's effectiveness, the union’s claims of a highly qualified staff deserving of more is a personal one sided view.
CPA March 25, 2012 at 10:24 PM
We live in a town and no matter what event you attend you hear parents complaining of how much money they are spending on their college kids education at Hobart, Williams, Princeton, Vassar, ... I guess they expect they should have their kids pre college days for free. Everyone has choices to make and if you stop living your self-entitled lives maybe you won't have anything to complain about. That's right your kids got into those colleges because they went through Ridgewood Schools. I also believe a resolution should be passed that if you don't have children currently in the school system you shouldn't be on the BOE because you don't have the current students best interest in mind.
concerned citizen March 25, 2012 at 10:44 PM
TIRED OF THOSE HIGH PAID TEACHERS! I, for one, am sick and tired of those high paid teachers. Their hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work nine or ten months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do...baby-sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage. That's right......I would give them $3.00 dollars an hour and only the hours they worked, not any of that silly planning time. That would be $15 a day. Each parent should pay $15 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now, how many do they teach in a day....maybe 25. Then that's $15X25=$375 a day. But remember they only work 180 days a year! I'm not going to pay them for any vacations. Let's see...that's $375 x180=$67,500.00 What about those special teachers or the ones with masters degrees? Well,we could pay them minimum wage just to be fair. Let's round it off to $7.25 an hour. That would be $7.25 x 5 hours x 25 children x 180 days = $163,125.00 per year
Jack Nies March 25, 2012 at 10:47 PM
cpa, i actually believe the opposite, and i have several kids in the school system. it should be REQUIRED that the BOE has at least one member without kids in the system as a reality check. there are many people in town without kids in school, and the decisions the BOE makes have the greatest impact on everybody's property tax bill. my former boss actually ran for BOE of his town using the fact he didn't have kids as part of his platform and he won. people saw him as an objective observer that wasn't a former educator but a smart guy that could make the right decisions for the town as a whole. and it was in a nj town with good schools so i think the story is relatable to here. when you send your kids to college, the prices that people pay now are insane. education costs in general seem to be own insulated world due to the unions etc and the fact that, at least for college, demand for the top ones exceeds supply. that does not mean we need to just accept the fact that education related tax increases in this town are acceptable. they are not. nobody is saying that public education should be "free", just "reasonable". best, jack nies
CPA March 25, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Jack great point. The BA has the fiduciary responsibility to the tax payers. No one else is required to be the advocate for the taxpayer.
Vickie March 26, 2012 at 01:43 AM
$120,000???? Full time salary for working part time, who could ask for a better job – teaching in the Ridgewood Public Schools. No wonder the teachers and their union are up in arms! I am a product of the Ridgewood Public Schools and an education in this district is highly over-rated to say the least. Why are these teachers paid these incredible salaries? The board should rethink the payouts!
Ridgewood Mom March 26, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Jack, I think you were meaning to say that supply for the top ones exceeds demand. Just curious, since we are applying market principles here. Is it only public education that is too expensive, since you believe that no public employee should be earn enough to be able to afford living in Ridgewood? Are private schools and their teachers entitled whatever the free market allows them? If so, do we expect our public schools to be competitive with those private schools in terms of quality while maintaining comparatively limited budgets? If not, is it that all educational institutions, from public to private and from primary school to graduate school, should not be allowed to charge so much based simply on your personal regard for the merits of worth of what they are doing? Are you aware that state universities tend to cost much less then private ones? Have you compared your yearly tax bill to the price of tuition at any nearby private primary or high schools for your "several kids in the school system?"
Vickie March 26, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Finally teacher's have to pay for their OWN medical insurance like the rest of us in the private sector!
Vickie March 26, 2012 at 01:55 AM
As I have said, teaching is the best part time job for a full time salary.
Vickie March 26, 2012 at 02:07 AM
I was a full-time tenured teacher and now in the private sector. No one will ever convince me that teaching is difficult because it is not by any stretch of the imagination. We in the private sector do NOT have any type of job security as teachers do and I firmly believe it should be abolished. We have to pay high premiums for our health benefits. As a rule, we in the private sector work 12 months a year with 2-3 weeks off for vacation and the standard holidays. One poster is accurate; we should all quit our private sector jobs, go back to school, and apply for a job in the Ridgewood Public Schools. Who wouldn’t love the salary, vacations, summers off and job security?
Jack Nies March 26, 2012 at 02:07 AM
RM, Let's be clear. I don't believe that most public employees would be able to afford to live in Ridgewood ON ONE SALARY. That would generally be unrealistic. I know many teachers live in town. Generally, they are two income households. Comparing public to private schools is irrelevant. It's apples to oranges. The question is: why does Ridgewood's school budget increase much faster than inflation and its own residents salaries? Let's keep it simple. If I have "x" number of kids in 2012 in Ridgewood schools, why should the "price" to educate the same number of kids be so much greater than 10 years ago. Simple: total compensation costs have gone up significantly above inflation. TIme for this to end. Nobody is going to buy your private school comparison because that is not the appropriate comparison point. If I wanted my kids to go to private school I would send them there. Nobody is expecting RIdgewood schools to be equivalent to Delbarton, Hun, etc. These are PUBLIC SCHOOLS. We can't afford to keep raising comp like we have.
Irene March 26, 2012 at 02:15 AM
I think the main point here, whether it be jealousy or whatever, is that average taxpayers/employees without a powerful union backing up their own jobs are pretty much fed up with their strings being pulled by these unions and sick and tired of their taxes forever increasing with no end in sight. It doesn't matter whether it's a teachers' union or not, but that is the matter being discussed here. That is basically why the Ridgewood teachers do not have the full support of the community and feel a lack of respect. There are people who moved here 20 or so years ago, still have children in the school system, and year after year have seen their taxes rise, teachers' salaries rise, and their own jobs being put on the line and some going without health insurance. Many people feel helpless by the power of the unions and by the fact that the union protects all teachers, good and bad. There are some teachers at RHS that just should not be there because they are ineffective, but they are protected by the union and tenure. How about a performance-based system? Has that ever been introduced and/or discussed by the union?
RWD mom March 26, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Simple...because ten years ago our tax money did not leave Ridgewood and pay for in need districts such as Patterson, Jersey City, Newark, etc....... Our taxes are being raised to compensate for the loss in local funding not to give teachers raises.
Vickie March 26, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Great post Matt. You hit the nail on the head in more ways than one. Compare the private sector job with that of teaching and which is more dificult and has more perks? I am in the private sector and put in at least 9 hours a day at work and I make less that the mean Ridgewood teacher salary. And if I disputed and complained about my salary, hrs worked, or showed displeasure about the working conditions etc.., my boss would positively show me the door. That is reality and I am sure the majority of fellow private sector workers can identity with this.
Jack Nies March 26, 2012 at 02:40 AM
partially true, rwd mom. our tax money always (at least for the past 30 years) has gone to paterson etc. thru our state income taxes. the state uses income taxes to redistribute money to the poor performing districts. ridgewood always got funding back as school aid. in 2009, ridgewood lost 100% ($2.9m) of its state funding due to the state budget deficit but this has been largely restored (will receive $1.7m in 2011/12), while the ridgewood school budget has increased from $60-90m over the past several years. the real reason is that salaries have increased every year by 2-4%, through good or bad times. Benefits costs have increased by 10-20% per year (i know this to be true in the private sector as well as i've negotiated purchasing these kinds of insurances for my company) but teachers have paid a de minimis amount historically. as a point of reference, I pay $1k/mth for my share of my health and other insurances. i realize that by state law teachers will finally start paying their fair share phased in thru 2014, which will be a real net pay decrease. this is what has happened in the private sector over the past 10 years so don't feel singled out. it's a tough pill to swallow but the state 2% cap, along with the reduced benefits costs (which are unfortunately excluded from the cap) due to employee cost sharing, should ultimately result in a reduced net rate in tax increases to Ridgewood residents. Best, Jack Nies
Ridgewood Mom March 26, 2012 at 02:43 AM
I'm all with your idea of keeping it simple Jack. Here is simple. You have stated here that you have "several kids in the school system?" Being conservative, let's say that means three. You have also stated that you pay 18K per year in taxes. Let's say that all goes into the schools. It doesn't, but let's just say it does. That means you are paying $6000 per year for each of your three kids' educations. And you think that is a bad deal. I'm sorry, but that is just insane. I'm sorry that you feel that a comparison of public and private education expenses is like apples to oranges, but the simple fact remains. You are getting one of the best deals in education to be found anywhere on the planet. There is no private school anywhere in the NYC metro area that is that cheap, and the quality of Ridgewood's public school system is on par with most of the best of them. Many, if not most, Ridgewood parents pay more per year for their child's preschool. Your discomfort with the public vs. private comparison is telling. You seem to think that public schools and all to the people in them are different from private schools, businesses, etc. in some sort of profound way- that private schools, businesses, etc. are entitled to charge and earn whatever the free market allows them, but that public institutions owe you something for free or at least a lot cheaper. Sort of like a handout. No?
Ridgewood Mom March 26, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Why do you think that a job in RIdgewood schools is "basically a job for life?" I don't necessarily disagree that it must be a very nice place for a teacher to teach in then some other place. But why? More specifically, does the way that people conduct themselves in reference to teachers within a community effect that desirability?
Ridgewood Mom March 26, 2012 at 03:19 AM
I am also curious as to why you retreat from a private school comparison now, but you were delighted to make the same sort of comparison above to make your own point: "I refute the notion that the main reason why our students do well has to do with the current set of teachers. Yes, I'm sure they're good, but so are a lot of other teachers in catholic schools, charter schools, private schools, etc. There is no free market for teachers in Ridgewood. Period."
Lois Parker-Hennion March 27, 2012 at 02:11 AM
If you really want to know what's happening to public education in this country - and efforts by corporations to privatize education, come to the Education Justice Weekend at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood this weekend. See next post.
Lois Parker-Hennion March 27, 2012 at 02:13 AM
March 30th 7:30 p.m. Film Viewing Teached, Volume 1-$5.00 suggested donation A series of three short films that provide a candid assessment of our nation’s race-based achievement gap taking you into those communities where its effects are most severe to hear what solutions the students, parents, teachers and others living this reality every day have to offer. Discussion during and after the film Saturday, March 31st, 6:30p.m. Dinner and Panel Discussion on Education Justice $20.00 suggested donation RSVP by March 26th to Chandrika Chowdhry at usr.secretary@verizon.net, Our panel discussion will focus on education justice in the state of New Jersey and the country as a whole. Panelists include David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, Mark Rigdon, Executive Director in the Global Philanthropy Group at J.P. Morgan Chase and Mary Bennett, Executive Director of Project GRAD Newark.Time will be provided for questions from the audience. Panel moderated by Susan Usatine, Esq., Partner at Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard, P.A. Y
lucky March 29, 2012 at 04:37 PM
People in Ridgewood need to attend more BOE meetings - teachers do NOT only get salary increases - they also get STEP increases or GUIDE increases. They get a raise every year just for being a teacher a year longer. Even with a 0% salary increase - they still get STEP increases. Combine the two increases and their salaries increase anywhere between 6-18% in some districts across the state of NJ. This is public information, if you don't believe me -as the BOE office for a copy of the teachers salary guide.
Taxpayer April 18, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Respect?? Two years ago when this district was facing $6 million deficit and complete loss of state funding, the REA was asked to take a pay freeze. Not a pay reduction just a freeze. The REA refused and turned its back on this community that has been so generous over the years. You want to talk about disrespected. Lets talk about how disrespected the Ridgewood taxpayer is.

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