BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District students wore red Tuesday to stand in support with teachers who have been working without a contract since the most recent one expired in June.
Tuesday was chosen as a day to wear red because of the evening's planned board of education meeting, where members of the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association were expected to attend in droves, wearing their own red shirts in protest of the lack of contract.
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.
The latest contract expired in June, and negotiations have been ongoing since January.
At the last board of education meeting in late September, members of the BREA announced that, as of Sept. 17, all volunteer non-stipend activities at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, had stopped or not started at all while there is no contract.
As of Nov. 1, it was announced, all voluntary clubs and activities at all other schools in the district would not begin or continue unless positive movement is made on the contract.
The biggest source of frustration for the teachers in districts across the state, including Bridgewater-Raritan, is a law signed by former Gov. Chris Christie, effective June 28, 2011, that imposed several changes in the formula used to calculate teachers’ benefits administered by the state.
Chapter 78 also changes the manner in which the State-administered Health Benefits Programs operate and the levels of employee contributions.
Laura Kress, president of the BREA, said at September's meeting that she has been asked why the problems over negotiations have ramped up so quickly this time around.
“It’s because we can’t take it anymore,” she said. “Emotionally, people are done with the roller coaster. We’re at a point where we don’t know what to do.”
“When I got my first paycheck of the year, it was $20 less, but what is it going to be next year,” she added. “We can no longer sustain paying you to come to work.”
The board of education and BREA are expected to meet with a mediator Oct. 22, and the board has expressed interest in meeting sooner than that if possible.
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