RIDGEWOOD, N.J. – Hundreds of angry Ridgewood teachers, all wearing red, lashed out at the village Board of Education Monday night after it rejected a state-appointed fact finder’s recommendations for a teachers' contract.
“The negotiating team is recommending that the board reject the fact finder’s report as economically unaffordable and unsustainable," Board President Sheila Brogan said. "It recommends that we proceed to the super conciliation process with a new state-appointed mediator."
The rejection sends contract negotiations, at an impasse since July 2015, back to Square One.
The board, Brogan said, will continue to reach out to the Ridgewood Education Association to settle the contract.
At first the announcement met with silence. But when the public portion of the meeting began, a long line of teachers and retired teachers as well as sympathetic parents and students took the mic.
An impassioned Laura Divina Grasso, negotiations chair for the union, said the decision made her heart ache.
“I am deeply, deeply disappointed that this board is not accepting the compromise,” said Sally Lewis, retired teacher, to a rousing round of applause. “I find the fact finder’s recommendation comprehensive, intelligent, and fair.”
She gave two examples.
First, the teachers initially asked for a 3 percent salary increase for this school year. The board offered a 0 percent increase. The fact finder recommended a 2.2 percent increase.
Second, Lewis said, the teachers asked to renegotiate a state law mandating percentages of health care premiums they pay. The board refused to negotiate. The fact finder recommended the current percentages stay in place but that the highest-paid teachers get lump sum payments to defray the effect of their contributions on their salaries.
But Vincent Loncto, board vice president, called the math on the budget “clear and unforgiving.”
Any increase in spending over the 2 percent state-imposed cap on spending, he said, would have to be offset elsewhere in the budget—in salaries, benefits, facilities, special education, and other areas.
Several students, including Robert Schablik, Ridgewood High School senior, lamented the suspension of clubs, including the outdoors ALPS club, next year.
Parents decried the district’s Chromebook Initiative and other programs, saying they’d rather give that money to the teachers.
But not everyone was upset with the decision. A few speakers, including Terry Anzano, thanked the board.
“I think teachers may not understand the reality of how expensive health care is,” she said.
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