The ongoing teachers contract dispute with the Berkeley Heights Board of Education has produced some very unfortunate feelings in our community. Among these are anger, hostility, resentment and a general sense of playing hard ball. But perhaps the most traumatic consequence of the staunch stance by the Board is the general feeling of a lack of respect for teachers by the Board. Regardless of if and when and how this contract gets resolved, that damage will be lasting for many years to come. We are quickly becoming a microcosm of the defiant partisan nature that exists in our national politics. This I don’t want in my backyard!
Having been a private practice Dentist for 30 years in my own business, and an Assistant Dean of a major dental school for 20, I quickly came to understand the value people bring to their jobs. While skills can be taught and learned, the best employees are always the ones who have self respect and whom feel respected. It is fair game at this point for any teacher in the district to interpret the actions of the Board as disrespectful. The teachers union negotiated in good faith for fair and modest salary increases while being thoughtful and respectful of the taxpayers who will bear the bill. The increases proposed at best will just keep up with rising inflation. And to the Boards credit, they agreed to the compensation changes. This is where the negotiations should have ended. The salary guides should be set by the teachers for the benefit of the teachers as they see fit. Should any group of teachers feel slighted, from new hires to our most experienced, the union should and will have to deal with the repercussions of its memberships angst.
Imagine starting a new job and the boss tells you that in 3 years, you can expect to earn “x” dollars. When the three years lapse, you are now told that the increase you were promised is not achievable as extra steps have been added for you to reach that goal. And imagine that this moving of the goal post continues ad infinitum as new contracts are negotiated. Needless to say, this employee would feel dejected, abused, and yes, disrespected. Now imagine as the word of these actions make their way into the new teacher community, will Berkeley Heights be able to hire the best and the brightest? Why would these young teachers risk joining a district where the rules keep changing, essentially keeping anyone from reaching a top tier? The Board wants you to believe that they know best how to attract the best talent, but their actions will have exactly the opposite effect. And Berkeley Heights will lose the crown jewel of why so many families choose to make this place home.
The Board does not see the added value our teachers provide by going above and beyond the contracted employment requirements. From arriving before the bell to staying well after the bell, constantly reaching into private pockets to purchase classroom supplies, answering parent’s emails and other messages well into the night, prepping classrooms during summer recess, and writing grants to secure funding for new and innovative projects. These are but a tiny few of the added values our teachers bring, and these are exactly the actions the Board does not respect. For if the Board respected the extra mile our teachers go, they would end this senseless micromanagement and allow the contract to be approved.
I’m afraid, however, that it’s just too late for the teachers to ever again feel respected by the Board.