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>The ongoing failure of the BOE to reach an agreement with our teachers

>The ongoing failure of the BOE to reach an agreement with our teachers
by Jim Morgan

I am a candidate for the Ridgewood Board of Education running for the open one-year term in the April 17 schools election.

I would like to address the ongoing failure of the BOE to reach an agreement with our teachers. My opponent has led the BOE negotiating team since the summer of 2010. He asserts that his role in these stalled negotiations is the reason he should be reelected. I believe that his record of no real progress in these critical negotiations is reason enough he should be replaced on the BOE.

The negotiations are conducted under strict rules of secrecy. I know no more about the issues than any other resident of the village.

What I do know is that the old contract expired more than nine months ago on June 30, 2011 and that there is no indication that an agreement will be reached anytime soon. Thus far the teachers have continued to work professionally under the expired contract, but there are signs that they are under increasing strain. This unhealthy situation potentially hurts our children and drives a wedge between the district and teachers, our most valuable classroom asset. My opponent’s reliance on rigidly following the “suggested” state framework for negotiating a new agreement delays resolution.

While the fact-finding process that my opponent has followed might produce a contract, it may also be several months before the mediator actually issues a report. If the parties do not agree with the recommendations, the state suggested timetable calls for a round of intense negotiations.

Why wait before intensifying face-to-face negotiations? The state does not require that the board follow the fact-finder process. As management, it is the BOE’s responsibility to set its own timetable. There is no legal reason hard bargaining cannot be initiated now. The oft mentioned “informal contacts” with the union is no replacement for real negotiations.

Once a new contract has been signed, there will necessarily be a healing process between the teachers and the district before everyone is again fully focused on our mutual goal – providing our children with an excellent education. The longer that the process is drawn out, the longer this healing will take.

To be clear, I do not advocate giving into contract demands that are unfavorable to the district. The BOE must protect the interests of the village’s taxpayers in these negotiations and our financial resources are very tight. The final contract must reflect these realities and be one we can all support. A policy of stalling the start of real negotiations, however, is in no one’s best interest.

As with many BOE challenges, we need fresh, creative thinking, not a continuation of business as usual. I will bring this perspective to the board of education. I ask for your vote on Tuesday, April 17, in the school elections.

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