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Ridgewood Board Votes Monday On Compromise Teacher Pact

The impasse in contract negotiations between the Ridgewood Board of Education and Ridgewood Education Association has stirred passions in the village.
The impasse in contract negotiations between the Ridgewood Board of Education and Ridgewood Education Association has stirred passions in the village. Photo Credit: DAILY VOICE

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. – The Ridgewood Board of Education will vote Monday on whether to accept a state-appointed fact finder’s recommended compromise contract between the village and its teachers.

The board’s negotiations with the Ridgewood Education Association have been at an impasse for one year.

Three main issues are at stake: the term of the contract, raises, and teachers’ contributions to their health plan premiums.

Fact finder Joel Weisblatt recommended a three-year contract term from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2018. The board has been calling for a four-year term.

As for raises, Weisblatt’s suggestions fall between the demands of both parties. He calls for a 2.2 percent increase in the 2015-16 school year, 2.8 percent in 2016-2017, and 2.8 percent in 2017-2018.

The board offered 0 percent in the first year and 2.2 percent in each of the next three years. Teachers, however, are demanding a 3.0 percent increase in each of the three years, retroactive to Aug. 31, 2015.

“The Board maintains that the current levels of salary for unit employees are already competitive by comparison to other Bergen districts,” Weisblatt wrote.

Health plan contributions are a major cause of disagreement. The board wants teachers to pay percentages of their health and dental insurance premiums commensurate with those called for by the state.

Weisblatt wrote the board calculated that teachers, on average, pay 25.7 percent of their premiums.

“It states that this is consistent with comparable data for private sector employees,” he wrote.

But teachers want to pay less: 6.5 percent of their salary for family coverage, 4.5 percent for member/spouse coverage; 4.5 percent for parent/child coverage; and 3.0 percent for coverage of an individual.

Their concern is lowering what experienced teachers pay, according to Laura Davina Grasso, negotiations chair for the union. Increases in these contributions, she said, exceed any increase the teachers receive in salary.

Seeing the pitfalls of negotiating percentages, particularly since premiums are always on the rise, Weisblatt suggested the standard structure of contributions stay intact.

Instead, he proposed that the district make lump sum payments to help teachers defray the cost of increases — $500 to the highest-earning teachers in 2015-2016, $1,000 in 2016-2017, and $1,500 in 2017-2018 .

The board is to meet 7:30 p.m. Monday in the auditorium at Benjamin Franklin Middle School.

The Ridgewood Education Association has 547 members. The district has 6,749 students.

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