BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The omnipresent specter of contract negotiations between the Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Education and the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association emerged once more as a deadline for a new contract draws near.
B-REA president Laura Kress said she had “brought some friends tonight” to the board’s May 14 meeting, with more than 50 members attending the meeting in their red tee-shirts.
“We thought we would have one last presence at a board meeting (this school year),” she said.
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Kress explained that the preliminary thought had been to “rush” the board, with comments from a number of BREA members, but it was ultimately decided to just let her speak.
The previous three-year contract expired in July 2018, and the district and union have been in negotiations since early 2018, with mediation sessions and more. In early 2019, a memorandum of agreement was approved for a one-year contract, retroactive to July 2018, and expiring this July.
The two entities have clashed over salary negotiations and concerns over healthcare costs.
Kress explained that there is a lingering sense of disappointment with the B-REA with the continuing lack of a teachers contract in the district.
“There’s been some ups and down,” she said. “We have to work on clear communication.”
Kress said communication between the two entities has been lacking at times, particularly concerning the times and places where faculty are supposed to be working, or even who the school principals will be. The lack of communication often results in conjecture, which Kress said then develops into rumors.
“You can’t undo rumors,” she said.
She added that the changes in hours for district paraprofessionals has not been done properly, and has also led to rumors and people feeling disrespected.
“It bothers me,” said Kress, to applause from the other members.
Kress added that the teachers want to impart the right lessons to their students, and she again cited the lack of communication and contact in the district.
“(We) feel like the people at the top don’t care,” she said of the potentially volatile situation. “We just want people to be treated equally.”
Kress asked where emails sent to the district and school board members actually go, and said that educators want to get responses to their questions. She said she knows school board members are busy with their own professions, in addition to their extensive board duties, and she gave them credit for doing so.
Kress also said that school board president Jill Gladstone runs “a good board,” but that “people need to feel like (the board) cares.” She added that teachers often receive no information on their new postings or their new hours, and explained that such a lack of response puts people on edge, which only makes matters worse.
A major source of frustration, according to Kress, is the lack of substitutes available in the district.
“We need a plan,” she said. “It’s the most important thing right now.”
Concerning the much-needed new teachers’ contract, Kress said the B-REA needs to get three years in the deal, and that the board also needs three years. She said the respective committees have met over the past months.
“I really believe we’re close,” she said of a potential agreement.
A meeting with a mediator is scheduled for June 26.
Kress pointed out that she is representing over 1,100 individuals through the B-REA. She also she has to take the school board at its word while placing her own trust in the board’s members, and she asked them not to take her words lightly.
Prior to the approval of the one-year agreement, the B-REA had taken action to protest the lack of contract, which included suspending their work with all volunteer clubs and activities.
“It has to be done for the good of the district,” she said, of a new contract for the teachers. “I’m pretty sure you appreciate that.”
Should the mediation not take place late next month, or not produce the desired result, Kress said the association will have to take action starting July 1. She also said there has been a lot of wasted energy, anger and frustration so far on the matter, and she concluded by asking the board for its trust.
“It needs to get done,” Kress said.
School board members did not respond publicly to Kress at the meeting.