Barrack Board Explains Stance, Teachers Still Opposed

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In an email blast sent on March 13, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy board President George Gordon explained that the board’s decision, announced on Dec. 4, to withdraw recognition from the teachers union was intended to provide the school with more flexibility.

“First, to ensure that the school continues to thrive in this environment, we need to maximize our ability to be nimble, to implement innovative programming, and to evolve,” Gordon said.

“Second, it is critical that we have a truly unified community of educators that shares a singular focus on our mutual goals of achieving excellence in an academic program infused with Jewish values. We envision a school environment that further unifies all of our educators and enhances their ability to work in unison to meet the needs of our evolving, Jewishly-diverse community.”

Gordon emphasized that the purpose of the decision was not to decrease teachers’ salaries or benefits, a point he drove home by announcing that all teachers will receive salary increases for the 2019-2020 academic year. He also said that the board plans to increase salaries for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years, that the tuition remission benefit and retirement contributions will stay the same, and that health care benefits will remain equal to or better than those at similar schools.

The teachers union is still opposed to the decision and doesn’t find the explanation reassuring, union co-President Minna Ziskind said. She said the information in this email blast was not new to the teachers, although it did provide more details.

The teachers had received a letter about the aforementioned raises, Ziskind said, but it came with qualifications.

“We understand about changing school environments and wanting to have nimble responses and a unified faculty and all those other aspirations that were mentioned in the letter,” Ziskind said. “We think that all of those things are possible, in fact, even more possible with a strong, committed, stable faculty and with a collective bargaining agreement. Over 40 years, the school has managed to adapt within having a union structure. We can continue to do that.”

Moving forward, Gordon said in the email that the board wants to ensure that teachers’ maintain the ability to provide students with individualized attention, position the school to continue attracting and retaining quality teachers, maintain transparency and parity with salaries and benefits, and provide teachers with the ability to give input.

Gordon concluded the email by saying there will be a meeting for faculty, senior academic administrators and board members on March 18 to further discuss the matter. More than two-thirds of the board will be present at this meeting, at the request of the faculty.

Ziskind said she hopes this meeting will be an opportunity for honest dialogue.

In a separate email to the Jewish Exponent, Gordon explained why the board sent the email blast.

“We sent the communication to parents and alumni yesterday because we had not updated the Barrack community since the initial Joint Statement, and we thought it made sense to do so and to reiterate our desire and intention to work jointly with the teachers on a transition,” Gordon said.

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