Bob Hutton ,Thank you for the kind words.
It was a privilege to serve this outstanding district for the last nine years. I will apologize to my four former colleagues for leaving you with unfinished business, but as we know all too well an artificial time constraint is not in anyone’s best interest especially in light of the financial crossroads that this district faces. It is that unfinished business I would like to talk about.
I hope you will indulge me.
We all have heard that our teachers have felt disrespected by the action this board took by not including any salary increase in our 2011-12 operating budget. I’d like to take a moment to outline the many steps this Board took to avoid that action.
60% of you were not board members 3 years ago when we requested that the REA make a minor concession to help us balance the budget and save some programs. They were not so inclined to honor that request. The sitting board made the necessary program cuts so that we could meet our contractual obligations of teacher salary increases despite an incredibly difficult recession.
60% of you were not board members 2 years ago when in light of budget issues exacerbated by the elimination of all of our state aid, the board again made a request of the REA for concessions. Again, the REA declined, instead directing that sitting board to make the tough decisions. That full board made those tough decisions which again resulted in program cuts. I believe it is very safe for me to say that all of us felt that those cuts began the dismantling of the Ridgewood Public Schools as our parents and students had come to know them. But again, we met our contractual obligations for annual teacher salary increases and health benefits.
60% of you were not board members in October 2010 when the sitting board commenced its preparation to enter negotiations with the REA, a full nine months before the contract would expire. The board, based on the previous two years I just described, desired to stop the dismantling of our school system and thus, our contractual obligations with the REA needed to be sustainable inside the 2% state-mandated cap. Plus from that same recent history we knew that the REA was not inclined to make concessions during the period of a contract, thusly we had one bite of the apple and it had to be fiscally responsible.
Just to digress for a moment – in light of the economic times during those two years, perhaps the taxpayers of Ridgewood felt somewhat disrespected by the REA. Families were making cuts, balancing tighter budgets, watching spending closely, and yet the REA would not make a single concession. Speaking from personal experience, my family was living that due to my own unemployment situation from June 2010 to April 2011. From my own networking, my situation was not the exception. One could said that there is simply a disconnect between what the majority of Ridgewood taxpayers face in their day-to-day employment and what the REA expects from this Board.
Back to the topic at hand. 60% of you did not have to work through those times, and to the best of our collective ability, the 2011 – 2012 budget presented to the public a stable, fiscally responsible budget which was balanced without any teacher salary increases, significantly helped by a partial restoration of state aid – otherwise program cuts would have been much worse. That budget reflects our current year of operations, 2011-2012. In response to the Union’s directive to make tough decisions, our Board made and implemented those tough decisions.
People have asked me why I refer to the REA as an association or a bargaining unit. My immediate response is, quite frankly, to be nice. Maybe I don’t have to be nice anymore, but at the very least, let’s be honest when we discuss these topics. The REA is a union. As with any union, it is there to fight for the best economic deal for its membership. That is its sole purpose, to the exclusion of all others. Their questioning of science kits, Ipad expenditures, roof replacement on this very structure and alike is simple — the union wants every dollar possible for its membership.
But the Board of Education does not serve the REA, it serves every stakeholder in our schools – from parents to students, administrators to taxpayers. The Board has a higher calling to be trustees of the total system. The two of you with whom I have had lengthy service and all the others over the last nine years have done that, and done it well. I have no reservation in making that statement.
For the three of you falling into the 60% category, I have a request of you. Listen to and learn from those of the 40% variety — nearly 20 years of experience and multiple past negotiations with the REA. I believe they have an invaluable background of knowledge to share. There may be an easier path, but it is not the one of a higher calling that serves all the different groups who have a stake in the success of Ridgewood Public Schools.
I suspect that if anyone has been listening they know I have now covered 100%. I have one more number to share before I close.
Most recently a chorus has been heard directly focused at the Board – settle with the teachers now. Rarely, if ever, is a chorus ever directed at the REA. Why is that? Are there not two sides to any negotiation?
Maybe my last number will shed some light on why that chorus is limited in its numbers. It happened to me prior to my tenure on the board. The number I wish to share is one.
I would hope that my family is the only one which has ever received a letter from a ranking member of the REA directed to and reprimanding my eldest son for his writing of a letter to the editor stating his ideas and opinions regarding teachers’ salaries and benefits which was contrary to the REA position during the turbulent negotiations of 2002. At that time my eldest son, the writer, had just completed his freshman year of college. This same letter included a veiled threat at my youngest son and I quote: “I also hope that as Tommy begins high school, the teachers will not associate him with your negative comments.” It made my family think twice about the good faith of the union, and whether they are acting to serve the students or merely their own membership.
I will leave you with that and simply say thank you for your service to this community and be on my way. It is my hope that all Board trustees, both now and into the future, understand the tradition, the trusteeship and responsibilities that are yours.