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Letters: Parents Call on School Board and Princeton Teachers Union to End Bitter Contract Dispute

Princeton School Board and PREA Both Need to Compromise and End Their Impasse

To the Editor:

As a parent with children in the Princeton Public Schools I have watched with deepening concern over the past several months as the contract dispute between the School Board and PREA, the teachers union, has festered. Without a new contract, teachers are now refusing, in many cases, to conduct after-school activities they have traditionally supported. Cherished programs at the schools are in jeopardy of being cancelled or delayed for lack of teacher participation – The annual 5th grade trip Gettysburg, this fall’s 8th grade trip to Washington, the middle school’s participation in the high school’s own Jazz Festival to name just a few. And yet I have no understanding of specifically what the two sides are fighting about. Nor do any of the other parents I’ve spoken. To try to learn more I attended last week’s School Board meeting and came away utterly dismayed. My impression was of a School Board hunkering down and convinced of its positions without feeling the need to explain itself to the community. And of teachers who, in their anger, have backed themselves into a corner from which they now cannot or will not back down. With both sides seeming to be more interested in brinksmanship and ‘winning’ it is our children who are losing.

I would have some sympathy for the School Board if it had done a better job articulating what the issues were at the outset. I could understand if, at a time of growing healthcare costs, expanding enrollment and limited budget resources, they need the teachers to make certain sacrifices. But if the Board members think they have communicated what this means in practical terms, I can assure them the message has not gotten through to the people who elected them – at least none that I’ve spoken to.

I would have more sympathy for the teachers too. An affluent School District like Princeton should be able to treat it teachers well and, if sacrifices are needed, it should have the courtesy of making them transparent enough for the whole community to understand and weigh against the tax increases needed to avert them before they are decided. But if the teachers thought that their refusal to support after-school activities would bring attention to their plight and pressure on the Board to end the impasse, they are also alienating many parents in the process – the very group they need support from most. So, in the end, I don’t have much sympathy for either side in this mess. But I do have growing exasperation at the inability of both sides — over the course of nearly a year of talks — to find the compromises that invariably will be needed from both the Board and PREA to reach resolution. I understand that representatives will be meeting this Thursday for direct discussions for the first time in months. I urge both sides, for the sake of the children in our schools, to COMPROMISE and REACH A LASTING AGREEMENT. If it doesn’t happen soon, the damage to our prized school system will grow exponentially. Enough damage has already been done. It needs to stop now.

Cliff Birge

Time for School Board and Teachers Union to End Dispute

To the Editor:

We, the undersigned, are parents and members of the Princeton  community. We are writing to urge members of the Board of Education and  the teacher’s union (PREA) to end the almost year-long contract dispute  that has been going on between the two parties. The PREA and Board of  Education will be meeting again, face to face on Thursday, March 26. They  have not met face to face in months. As the participants sit down to  negotiate, we ask that both sides keep in mind the values of this  community when bargaining. We are ALL stakeholders in the outcome of  these meetings. So many of us moved here because of the stellar  reputation of the school system. Historically, it has been a district where teachers were respected for their experience and knowledge and their commitment to our children and Princeton schools.

We implore both the Board of Education and the PREA to keep our  children in mind during their meetings, and consider how the lack of a resolution has adversely affected them. Princeton is a community which treasures its public school system and its teachers. We want our spring activities back. This includes the Gettysburg trips, spring concerts and AP review sessions, so that every child gets to experience the amazing opportunities that Princeton schools have to offer. A positive outcome to the negotiations can still be achieved in time to salvage the rest of the school year for all our children. We hope that both parties approach the negotiations on Thursday seeking an end and not a win.

Respectfully,

Debbie Bronfeld
Dafna Kendal
Andrew Bush
Sarah Lewis Smith
Jane Manners & John Collins
Grayson Barber
Janice Fine & David Donnelly
Danial Harris
Inkyung K. Yi
Carol Golden
Joy Saville
Andrea Sacchetti
Beverly Kuo-Hamilton
Kathleen Tovar
Nicole Bergman
Jaymie Kosa
Andrew Bush
Linda Chang

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  • @tkq

    Martha Friend: I waited two weeks to see if a member of the media would offer clarity on your question about the accuracy of the board’s statements on teacher salaries, specifically the number of teachers making more than $90,000 per year. So, as a citizen, I submitted an Open Public Records Act request to the board office, asking for the following: base salary, what the PREA contract calls Extra Pay for Extra Service (EPES), and gross salary for the last two most recent years for which complete data was available, FY 2014 and FY 2013. Before sharing what I learned examining these records, I wish to acknowledge that I served for almost seven years on the Princeton Board of Education, with almost three years as president. I would like to state again (for the third time in this string) that I don’t begrudge teachers what they make. As the spouse of a teacher in a high performing district and a former member of the Princeton Board of Education, I’m aware of the qualifications of teachers and the demands they face every day during the academic year. I also know it is a tremendously rewarding job, particularly when students are well prepared and motivated to learn. Too, I recognize that many teachers do much more than what is covered in their contract. My concerns are about the sustainability of the kinds of salary increases to which our teachers have become accustomed and the sustainability of their publicly stated expectations about health care contributions. At a time of rising enrollments, a 2 percent cap with limited waivers and expenses that are outpacing revenues, many are (I think) rightly concerned that we simply cannot afford to pay teachers what they desire without the kinds of cuts to programs that our community would find difficult to tolerate.

    All that said, here is what I learned as a result of my OPRA request. All figures are for FY2014, which ran from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014:

    — Ms. Friend was correct that some of my statements were inaccurate, specifically those related to base pay. However, when gross pay (base pay plus EPES) is considered, the picture is very different. More on that later. So when I wrote, “more than a third earn $90,000 in base salary; more than 50 have salaries of $100,000 or more,” the correct figures are 27.4 percent with base salaries of $90,000 or more and 47 with base salaries of $100,000 or more.

    — I do not know if I inaccurately quoted what was said in meetings. Without going back and looking at the tapes of meetings, I could well have been confusing base pay with gross pay, which is why I specified gross pay and EPES amounts in my OPRA request.

    — As noted, when base pay is combined with EPES, again the numbers are different than what I remember being quoted in meetings. According to the public records I was provided, of the 387 members represented by PREA in FY2014, 75 (or 19.4 percent) had gross pay of more than $100,000. In total, 137 teachers (35.4 percent) had gross pay of more than $90,000.

    — The $77,000 average compensation cited at board meetings represented gross pay (the number is $77,776). Average base pay is $73,151.

    — These figures are likely to be different in FY15 due to the retirement of some members of PREA, but these figures were higher in FY14 than in FY13.

    Since PREA members exercised their right not to participate in activities for which they are not compensated, the EPES numbers were of particular interest to me. Activities for which teachers receive EPES include, but are not limited to, coaching, advising certain clubs, serving on committees, mentoring new teachers, writing curriculum, providing classroom coverage for colleagues who are involved in other activities, teaching homebound students, providing summer instruction and some after-school tutoring or other after-school activities. Here is what I learned about EPES from the data:

    — The district paid just under $1.79 million to PREA members for extra service in FY2014, an increase of $92,189 over FY2013.

    — 321 of 387 PREA members received EPES payments in amounts ranging from $29,901.78 to $20.83, for an average EPES payment of $5,576. Sixty-six PREA members received no EPES.

    — Ten PREA members received EPES amounts over $20,000; another 48 received EPES amounts between $10,000 and $19,456.

    — I was unable to verify the board’s statement that Princeton’s EPES rates are higher than any other district in Mercer County. I’m guessing that the total amount spent on EPES is greater in a larger district such as Hamilton or Trenton.

    — I know of no way to put a dollar value on the services teachers provide for which they are not compensated. I imagine the amount would eclipse $1.7 million. Again, it is not a question of whether teachers deserve this pay, it is the amount the community can afford without taking money away from some other source.

    I hope in sharing what I’ve learned that I both acknowledge my inaccurate statements, which I regret making, and provide citizens more information about teacher compensation. I know it has been a topic of public speculation, as evidenced by this thread, and conversations in the community.

    — Timothy Quinn

  • @tkq

    @OffToSeeHim:disqus: I expanded my initial comments below and want to address your comment about the district continuing “to attract a high level of teacher.” During the open public forums at board meetings, both when I was a member of the board and tuning in as a member of the public, I’ve heard parents express concern about the district’s ability to attract and retain good teachers. I fully understand this concern, but think that the facts don’t bear it out. With the exception of a few districts in high-tax communities in Bergen and Essex counties, Princeton salaries are significantly higher than comparable high-performing districts throughout New Jersey, making it a very attractive district for applicants for economic reasons alone. (See the comparison to Bernards and Haddonfield below.) Add to that Princeton’s highly motivated students, rich curriculum and the fact that for $2,000, teachers can have their own children educated in our schools and I see our schools remaining a top choice for prospective teachers.

    As for the threat of veteran teachers leaving, there’s no doubt that the national climate (the devaluing of teaching as a profession) and uncertainty at the state level (pension insecurity, increased emphasis on standardized testing, a new evaluation system) have contributed to the retirement of good teachers who might have continued to teach for several more years. I’m sure others have just quit out of frustration. Both scenarios are regrettable. That said, I wonder what would motivate a tenured teacher who wanted to continue to teach in public schools to leave Princeton when they might have to take a pay cut to go to another district and would be subject to the same healthcare contributions they face here. I heard one parent express say “we don’t want to lose our teachers to Montgomery.” While I agree with the sentiment, I’m just not sure if that is a real threat. A few years ago, I did hear from a board member in a lower-paying neighboring district that her district had lost a few teachers to private schools, but I’m not sure if that is a trend.

    Please realize that, like you, I’m not attempting to provide an answer. About these negotiations, I only know what has been said publicly; I do know more about school governance than the average citizen because I served on the BOE for seven years. I’m not sure if my analysis/commentary is 100 percent accurate. All that being said, I do question the conclusion that either a salary increase that is lower than what our teachers have been accustomed to or a healthcare benefits contribution that is the same for all teachers statewide will make Princeton less desirable for new teachers or will cause veteran teachers to leave.

  • @tkq

    @OffToSeeHim:disqus: I appreciate your comments. Again, I’m the guy who wants to see teachers paid well. The issue is not their value; rather, it is the amount that taxpayers can reasonably be expected to pay to support premium compensation. And with rising enrollments, flat state aid, increased costs of mandated services and a 2 percent cap, something has to give in order to ensure quality schools going forward.

    If you want to see people who have been providing valuable services at a premium level of quality whose salaries have remained flat for years, look no farther than the non-unionized municipal personnel in Princeton. They, too, are subject to a health benefits contribution law that is among the highest in the nation for private sector workers. Now, they don’t teach kids, but it seems to me where the healthcare contribution law is concerned, teachers are asking to be treated differently than their colleagues in other communities and the other public workers in their town. I think some people whose overall compensation has been stagnant for years or people who are living on fixed incomes and struggling to stay in Princeton have legitimate questions about what constitutes fair compensation.

  • PrincetonPublic3

    But is it really sucking it up? There have been no layoffs, the teachers are still making more than in any of the surrounding “excellent” districts, and the teachers still receive defined benefit pensions that have been eliminated in almost every other profession. Given how the rest of the working population has done these past 8 years, (health care contributions have gone up for most working people), it would seem that the teachers have done remarkably well.

  • OffToSeeHim

    @tkq, you’ve raised some great points and provided some valuable information. I take issue with this point: “I didn’t raise that specific point, but I did note the overall frustration teachers feel over the sense that they are going backward. This is a sentiment many of us share, whether we work in public or private sectors.”

    I think it’s true that a lot of people are making less now for doing the same job than they were ten years ago. But I have to say that, in my experience, this is not true of people who are providing a valuable (to their employer) service at a premium level of quality. Every day in every company, budgets are adjusted to keep the most valuable people.

    Now, this is a complex situation because we have so many extraordinarily valuable teachers, and they can’t all get premium benefits and salary. Plus of course, we want to continue to attract a high level of teacher so we can’t just cast all the dollars toward the most experienced end of the spectrum. I’m not attempting to provide the answer, I’m just pointing out that there are reasons not to get behind an attitude that the teachers should suck it up because times are hard for everyone.

  • @tkq

    @martha_friend:disqus : You are correct in noting that I quoted a member of the board negotiating team with the numbers of those earning more than $90,000 and $100,000. I’m guessing the board member received these figures from the public records available in the business administrator’s office. Given the gag order placed on both PREA and the board by the mediator, perhaps someone from the media could request the information from the district office so we can all learn if what I wrote is inaccurate. (It could be that retirements have lowered both numbers and that they were accurate at the time they were spoken. I don’t know.) I do know this information is of interest to some members of the public. Please note that I mentioned these publicly quoted figures to make two points:

    1. The power of collective bargaining enjoyed by PREA members combined with a community that places a premium value on education has resulted in Princeton teachers having salaries that are higher than in comparable and neighboring high-performing districts.

    2. In response to a question from @OffToSeeHim:disqus, I noted that $100,000 is not an average, nor does it represent the majority of teachers in the district, as OffToSeeHim seemed to understand from @PrincetonPublic2.

    I believe both points are accurate.

    I could be mistaken, but I believe Tuesday was the first time I’d heard of ninth-year teachers earning less than $60,000. (I was watching on TV.) I didn’t raise that specific point, but I did note the overall frustration teachers feel over the sense that they are going backward. This is a sentiment many of us share, whether we work in public or private sectors. I also suggested that people view the recording of the August, 2014, board meeting to learn more about the board’s proposed changes to the teacher salary guide. As I remember the public presentation, the restructured guide seemed to me to be particularly beneficial to teachers in the 10-year range, as opposed to the currently frozen guide, which places a premium on longevity and degree attainment.

    Finally, Ms. Friend, you failed to note the portion of my comments where I said that I don’t begrudge teachers a single dollar of what they earn. In my most recent comment, I wrote, “I think it’s a question of whether the kinds of salary increases to which our teachers have become accustomed are sustainable going forward in a climate of budget caps, rising enrollments and expenses that are outpacing revenues. That is at the center of these negotiations, not whether teachers deserve to make $100,000.”

  • Martha Friend

    tkq writes: “more than a third earn $90,000 or more in base salary; more than 50 have salaries of $100,000 or more, according to the public statements I’ve heard.”

    Two points. First, the public statements to which the previous Board President refers came from other Board members. Second, the statement is wrong – fewer than 50 earn $100,000 and fewer than a third (closer to a quarter) earn more than $90,000. Moreover, 100% of those earning over $100,000 have either a PhD or a Masters degree plus an additional 30 credits in their area of certification and 75% have been teaching in PPS for 20 or more (some more than 40 years).

    And what about the teachers who are in their ninth year in PPS and are earning less than $60,000? Why aren’t they part of the conversation?

  • @tkq

    @OffToSeeHim:disqus: Again, I’ve been out of the loop for three months now and could be wrong, but my understanding is that only uncompensated activities have been suspended. Your points are well-taken. Princeton values a wealth of opportunities for all students in a district where not all students come from affluent households. Many of these activities are not possible without staff participation. Many would also not be possible if teachers had to be compensated. You should be aware that certain trips, such as when the high school’s musical ensembles or language clubs travel abroad, are fully funded by parent organizations. It’s my understanding — again, I could be wrong — that teachers are not compensated for serving as chaperones on these trips. (I believe that in the past four years, PHS students have visited nine European countries, two countries in South America and China.) As I see it, were the district required to compensate all staff members who accompany students on domestic and international trips — it’s worth noting that I haven’t heard teachers suggest this — there would be fewer opportunities for students. I personally hope it doesn’t come to this.

  • @tkq

    @OffToSeeHim:disqus: The latest average salary discussed at board meetings was $77,000. Also at those meetings, the community learned that one-third of Princeton teachers make $90,000 a year in base pay. Of that one-third, 53 make more than $100,000 in base pay. That does not include pay for compensated extra work, such as coaching, advising, curriculum writing and other activities described above. Again, I want to emphasize that I am not saying the teachers don’t deserve it; as the spouse of a teacher, obviously I’d like to see all teachers be better compensated. If you’d like a comparison, I’ll choose two high performing districts north and south of Princeton, with open-enrollment high schools (in other words, non-selective-admissions schools) ranked in the top 15 of New Jersey high schools in the oft-cited US News and World Report 2014 ranking of America’s Top High Schools. (I personally find many of these rankings dubious, but that’s another story.) In that report, Princeton High School is ranked No. 10 among open enrollment schools. The district’s average salary in 2012-’13 was $77,143 and the average 2013 property tax bill was $16,891. In Bernards Township, home of the No. 7 high school, Basking Ridge High School, average teacher salary is $61,990 and the average property tax bill was $11,485. Haddonfield Memorial High School is often referred to as “the Princeton High School of South Jersey.” In the Haddonfield Public Schools district, average teacher salary is $63,731 and the average tax bill in 2013 was $13,384. Now, these are very different communities and one could contend that being home to a world class university, expectations and demands on teachers in Princeton are higher, which is why compensation has traditionally been higher. It’s hard to argue with any of that. I think it’s a question of whether the kinds of salary increases to which our teachers have become accustomed are sustainable going forward in a climate of budget caps, rising enrollments and expenses that are outpacing revenues. That is at the center of these negotiations; not whether teachers deserve to make $100,000.

  • OffToSeeHim

    Is ~$100K an average? The majority? I’d be astounded if that were true.

  • OffToSeeHim

    @tkq, I agree that it’s the kids who are making the actual sacrifices, and unfortunately they’re the ones who are the least empowered to act to help resolve the situation. That Gettysburg trip is wonderful, and I would have been very sad for my child if she had missed it. I don’t know (and would appreciate being informed) whether the teachers have stopped all paid and non-paid extra-curricular activities, or just the non-paid ones? If it’s just the non-paid ones, I think that’s fair. I think it’s a lot to ask people – who are working without a contract (after two bruising contract battles in the past ten years that I’m aware of), facing declining take-home pay for the last few years, being asked to contribute more for benefits – to volunteer any time at all to a district that isn’t showing its appreciation in the only way that counts, financially. Whether it’s specifically point-by-point for their volunteer time, or by at least not *cutting* their pay, I think that’s fair.

  • @tkq

    @OffToSeeHim:disqus: In the public comment periods I witnessed, I don’t recall teachers specifically asking to be paid for currently uncompensated extracurriculars. Rather, these comments were usually framed as a way of pointing out that teachers do a lot more than simply deliver instruction in a classroom; that they mean much more to the culture of a school than what is covered by the pay for their contracted hours. No one can argue with that. What doesn’t get mentioned is the long list of work-related and other activities listed in the contract, and detailed in most board agendas, for which they are compensated, including coaching, advising certain clubs, serving on committees, mentoring new teachers, writing curriculum, providing classroom coverage for colleagues who are involved in other activities, teaching homebound students, providing summer instruction and some after-school tutoring or other after-school activities. Some of this work, such as coaching, is compensated with a straight stipend — some of these stipends are several thousand dollars. Others who provide these extra services are compensated at rates between (roughly) $45 and $65 an hour. Whatever the particulars, I recall a member of the board negotiating team stating that compensation for Princeton teachers who provide extra services is the highest in Mercer County. I agree it is money well spent. Yes, there are many more clubs, activities and overnight trips than taxpayers are able to fund. And Princeton students have benefited from teachers who viewed community involvement as something they wanted to do. The issue is that members of the public did not know what was (and was not) a compensated activity. By taking them away, the union has made its point and educated the community. That’s no consolation to a fifth-grader whose sister went to Gettysburg two years ago and is unable to go this year because of this job action. It’s no consolation to members of the JW jazz band who sit at home while other local middle schools play at PHS’s jazz festival. I guess I disagree that it is as cut and dried as you say. I haven’t heard teachers come out and say they want to be compensated for all of these extracurriculars; I think they realize that’s just not possible. I see it more as a way to let everyone know about all of the contributions they make to the school community for which they are not compensated. Point made.

  • OffToSeeHim

    I think the problem is that over the years, the amount of time that the teachers are donating has grown and grown. It started with after-school plays or an hour or two here or there to help a student, and has grown into this morass of weekend trips to Washington and environmental trips and free tutoring for one and all. Teachers are professional, salaried workers, yes. But some of them are taking home less than they did in 2006! How long would you put up with this at your job? The teachers don’t *owe* your children free tutoring and extra-curricular activities.

  • OffToSeeHim

    “Historically, it has been a district where teachers were respected for their experience and knowledge and their commitment to our children and Princeton schools.” – this sentence should read, “Historically, it has been a district where teachers were respected, but not paid, for their experience and knowledge and their commitment to our children and Princeton schools.” They’ve *donated* the spring activities you all are so upset about! Now they want to be paid. This seems cut and dried to me.

  • @tkq

    Hello Guest: I want to close the loop on this for now. I could not find a media report with figures on the number of districts in mediation. I can only assume I became aware of this in a communication from the New Jersey School Boards Association, which provides boards with daily updates on state education issues. NJSBA also gives individual negotiating teams details of other settlements in New Jersey. I mention this because in public comments, PREA leaders and members of the rank and file claim that a dozen districts in New Jersey have negotiated healthcare settlements with separate provisions for years after Chapter 78 sunsets. These are said to contain contribution levels that are less than required by state law. When I asked — for my own knowledge; not on behalf of the board — NJSBA could not provide information about these districts. Again, this is pure speculation, but if such districts do exist, I would assume they would be small districts with declining enrollments. Princeton is a mid-sized district with a well-compensated, veteran staff and rising enrollment. The health benefits piece is key to both sides in any public employee contract negotiation; understanding it can only enhance your knowledge of what’s happening here. Sorry I could not find the number of districts in mediation, but it struck me as very high when I read it and I can only guess that uncertainty over Chapter 78 is an aggravating circumstance.

  • @tkq

    I’ll answer as best I can. Again, I was not privy to details of negotiations and my term ended in December. I recall reading somewhere that an alarming number of New Jersey school districts are in mediation and there are too few mediators. (I will attempt to find the article and share it here.) This is pure speculation, but I’m guessing that this high number is at least partially attributable to uncertainty over the health care contribution law once it sunsets. Since the sides are at the mercy of the mediator’s schedule, this equals fewer opportunities to meet and longer waits. I do know that, in general, once a mediator becomes involved, it’s unusual for the sides to meet without a mediator. The fact that the board’s negotiating team and PREA have agreed to meet under these circumstances can be viewed as good news.

  • PrincetonPublic3

    It’s really sad that teachers are taking this out on the children. Teachers are professional, salaried workers and not piecemeal laborers. Despite the disagreements, teachers are still getting a very good salary when compared to teachers in neighboring districts. There’s no reason for actions that can permanently deprive students of experiences.

  • Guest

    Thank you for this information. Can you provide any insight into the scheduling issues surrounding this process? I have been rather shocked to see that the negotiating sessions seem to occur only once per month. Everyone says that it is important to get this contract settled, but I don’t see any urgency in the negotiating process. Why aren’t the parties meeting weekly, or even more often?

  • Guest

    After several months of working without a contract, the teachers decided to stop performing work for which they were not being compensated — functions that they essentially performed on a voluntary basis. This includes supervision of a number of extracurricular activities.

    Sure, what goes on in the classroom during the regular school day is the most important part of the school district’s mission, but extracurricular activities often contribute in a meaningful way to students’ educational experiences, and they are definitely a factor in many college admissions decisions. The letter writers are understandably unhappy about the loss of these activities.

    I suppose you could take the position — perhaps you are — that they have been spoiled by the previous arrangement, but it hardly seems unreasonable for them to hope for the reinstatement of programs that have existed for many years.

  • @tkq

    I can understand the confusion of those who are attempting at this stage of the proceedings to understand why neither side in these negotiations appears to be budging. In the interest disclosure, it was my great pleasure to serve on the Princeton Board of Education for almost seven years; I am the board’s immediate past president. I am also the husband of a teacher who works in a high-performing neighboring district. (I’m proud to say she recently received a Highly Effective rating in the state’s convoluted teacher evaluation system.) Because of this relationship to a member of NJEA, I was prohibited by law from any involvement in negotiations with PREA. So everything I write here is based on public statements or media reports. And since PREA exercised its right to waive confidentiality early in the process, many public statements were made by both sides until the mediator ordered both to stop. So if your impression is that the board is non-responsive in public sessions, it is because it is forbidden by both federal law and a mediator’s order from commenting.

    As I understand it from public statements, these negotiations boil down to compensation — most significantly the amount that teachers are required by state law to contribute to their healthcare plans. This is the so-called Chapter 78 you keep hearing about, which requires all public employees to contribute to their health plans at what are some of the highest rates in the nation. This was an act of the state legislature signed into law by the governor.

    I am one of the few members of the board or the public who has been present at, or viewed on TV, all of the open public forums, dating back to the jam-packed May 27, 2014 meeting at Valley Road. Throughout that time, highly critical but inaccurate statements were made by members of the union and the general public. These comments can roughly be categorized into two false narratives. The first is that the board doesn’t respect teachers and doesn’t understand the stress and uncertainty teachers feel because of current economic climate and these protracted negotiations. This just rings false to me. One board member is a teacher and two others have family members who teach. Besides that, in my experience, members of the public are not motivated to work thousands of uncompensated hours on this volunteer board because they disrespect teachers.They choose to stand for election because they believe in public education and want to help. I think all board members understand and sympathize with teachers who feel as if they are going backward economically. The overwhelming majority of us feel the same way. But the Princeton Board of Education had no role in creating the complex circumstances that have led to our society’s economic plight. And it does not have the capacity to reverse this national trend for a select group of public employees, no matter how valued. Living in a household of two public employees, I feel the pain of Chapter 78 every payday. The notion that the board somehow does not understand these realities — that it is a collection of out of touch union-busters whose stubborn pride is standing in the way of a settlement — is absurd.

    The second false narrative is that the board refused to negotiate and that it lacked leadership, foresight and ingenuity in addressing the very real constraints the district faces, including the 2 percent cap, rising enrollments, rising healthcare costs and expenses that are outpacing revenues. Here are just two of several things I heard and read that run counter to this narrative. First, there was a proposal to offer a healthcare savings account option that would save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars, savings that would be shared with teachers. Now, this plan would require teachers to pay deductibles, which they currently do not pay at all, but it does offer advantages for some teachers and it was offered as an option, not as a mandate. The second thing that doesn’t fit with this false narrative is the restructured salary guide, which would address the inequities in the existing guide and provide all members with regular and predictable annual salary increases. Because it was presented at the August 26, 2014, meeting, many missed the board attorney’s presentation on this proposal. I urge all of you who are interested in learning about these negotiations to go back and review this presentation since it will enhance your understanding of these discussions.

    As both sides negotiate, it is under a cloud of uncertainty. The healthcare contribution law that led to reversals for all public employees, sunsets in July. What happens after that is unknown. However Chapter 78 is resolved, the public should realize that this district faces very real challenges going forward under a hard cap that is unlikely to go away. In Princeton, enrollment is rising on both ends of the K-12 spectrum; the high school is already overcrowded in core classes and faces severe space restrictions. Ensuring that today’s kindergarteners will have the same rich course offerings when they get to PHS is going to require some difficult and unpopular decisions. Taking a hard look at the amount of the budget expended on personnel — it is by far the biggest part of the budget — is a part of that process. Better that it be done now than in a crisis situation where the elimination of jobs and programs are the only options.

    I realize in writing this that there are students who will be very disappointed by the loss of the extracurricular activities mentioned by the letter writers. My heart goes out to them and I think everyone, including teachers and board members, wishes this weren’t the case. The teachers feel as if they need to go to this length to press their case; that is certainly their prerogative and they are truly fortunate to be able to avail themselves of the power of collective bargaining. This power, combined with a community that places a premium value on education, has resulted in their being among the best compensated teachers in the state — more than a third earn $90,000 or more in base salary; more than 50 have salaries of $100,000 or more, according to the public statements I’ve heard. However, the union’s actions do nothing to change the circumstances that inform the board’s position. Canceling the Gettysburg trip won’t lower enrollment. Declining to participate in spring concerts won’t eliminate the 2 percent cap. Deciding not to offer AP prep does not give either side clarity on Chapter 78. It only removes opportunities from students and makes everyone feel a little less good about being a stakeholder in this district.

    Finally, as the husband of an excellent teacher, I don’t begrudge any teacher a single dollar of what he or she makes. It’s important and difficult work. I would love to live in a country where teachers were compensated at the same level as other professionals — doctors and lawyers, for instance. I’d also like to live in a country where there were enough good teachers to realize the instructional needs of all students, including those with significantly varied learning styles who might benefit from new or non-traditional instruction. Unfortunately, that is not the country in which we live. That said, we are very lucky to be in a town that continues to strive for both ideals, and comes as close as possible, given the various constraints and other realities.

    Timothy Quinn

  • PrincetonPublic2

    I think it is very clear what the fight is about. The teachers want a higher salary. (Many people think that ~100k per year is more than reasonable.) The town made an offer of an increase. The teachers want more. The town is trying to manage the increase in taxes that you and I will have to pay. That is part of the reason that they were elected. No one wants to pay even higher taxes. We will be in this same place next time there
    is a contract.

  • PrincetonPublic

    They’re seriously complaining about a lack of -optional after-school activities-?? As if this is some great affront that’s harming the children and precious district reputation? That’s the takeaway from all this? Of all the entitled…

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Ways to Look at the Moon: Screening and Production Launch

October 11 @ 7:30 pm - October 23 @ 9:00 pm
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24 Hour Psycho Art Installation

October 18 @ 10:00 am - 8:30 pm
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24 Hour Psycho by Douglas Gordon

October 18 @ 10:00 am - 8:30 pm
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Small Scale Berry Production at Pitspone Farm

October 18 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Hopewell Valley Vineyards Farm to Table Dinner

October 18 @ 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
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Jazz Vespers

October 18 @ 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm

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Wed 18

Ways to Look at the Moon: Screening and Production Launch

October 11 @ 7:30 pm - October 23 @ 9:00 pm
Wed 18

24 Hour Psycho Art Installation

October 18 @ 10:00 am - 8:30 pm
Wed 18

24 Hour Psycho by Douglas Gordon

October 18 @ 10:00 am - 8:30 pm
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