BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Matters are far from concluded between the Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Education and the local teachers union, whose contract expired in June.
At least a dozen members of the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association were in attendance at the Sept. 11 school board meeting, each wearing a red t-shirt with the slogan #BREAUNITY printed on the back in white letters. Taking the podium during the public portion of the meeting was BREA president Laura Kress.
Kress told the board she was not making personal attacks on its members, as she felt that their hearts were in the right place, but added that she was talking about negotiations.
She added there were still a lot of emotions running high, after 10 years of the school board/district and the teachers not settling a contract, despite three separate negotiations.
The most recent three-year contract was approved in May 2016, following a year of negotiations and back-and-forth between the board of education and the teacher's union. It was retroactive to June 2015, when the previous contract expired.
“I love this place,” said Kress of the district, “but I’m not sure you’re aware of what’s going on in your buildings, or how we feel.”
School board member Jeffrey Brookner, who heads the board’s personnel committee, had said earlier in the meeting that he couldn’t discuss the contents of a mediation that had occurred the previous week, which had lasted over five hours. He added that they have another meeting scheduled for Oct. 22, and are working to schedule another meeting earlier than that, with the mediator suggesting meetings on Friday or perhaps even Sunday evenings.
“(We’d) like to get this done as quickly as possible,” Brookner said.
Kress said the district had gone to cap recently, and she thanked Superintendent of Schools Russell Lazovick for that, but she added the district’s school buildings are poorly funded and maintained. She also said there is no ventilation in the restrooms at the middle school, and that she has had to duct tape windows in her own classroom to keep heat from escaping after decades-old weather-stripping had finally deteriorated.
“It’s frustrating,” Kress said. “We feel you don’t respect us.”
She also spoke about styrofoam ornamentation along the lower exterior walls of the high school, which she said could be ripped away by hand.
“We’ve given all there is to give,” she said of herself and her fellow teachers.
Kress said the teachers had given back more than $800,000, ostensibly, in negotiations.
“There’s nothing left to give you,” Kress said. “I’m telling you there’s a problem.”
Kress said she thought things might be different if the board went to the public with a referendum, to save some money, but then added that the problem had escalated.
“Now we have a situation,” she said.
Kress said she loves working with people in the district, including Lazovick, but that she and the BREA aren't about to hop on the “happy train,” as she termed it. She again said the BREA doesn't feel as though it is respected, and pointed out how teachers have gone on strike in other states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
“It’s only going to escalate,” said Kress, who said that in the future, local teachers might not volunteer for events and related matters.
“We have to protect ourselves now,” she added. “I hope you really listened to me, because there’s a problem.”
No one else from the BREA spoke, and school board members did not respond to Kress in public.