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Princeton School Board Releases Details about Negotiations with Teachers’ Union

Princeton Teachers Union protestLeaders in the Princeton Public Schools expressed disappointment Tuesday night about the fact that a deal has not been reached with the teachers’ union and that contract negotiations have been referred to a state fact finder.

After the board and the union failed to reach an agreement at their last meeting on May 4, a state-appointed mediator referred the matter to the New Jersey Public Employees Relations Commission for fact-finding. The fact-finding process can take anywhere from six to 12 months.

Assistant Superintendent Lewis Goldstein said the fact-finding process costs between $1,600 and $2,500 per day. The cost is split between the school district and the union. The fact-finding phase is similar to non-binding arbitration. The process involves a formal hearing before a neutral “fact finder,” who then eventually issues a written report and non-binding recommendations for settlement. Teachers will continue to work under the terms of the expired contract, without a salary increase, until fact-finding is concluded and an agreement is reached.

School board leaders said Tuesday night that the teachers’ union, the Princeton Regional Education Association, was offered a deal similar to the options offered to administrators and support staff. Both unions have ratified new pacts with the district.

“The board increased its offer during the course of that May 4 meeting, indicated that it was eager to continue to negotiate that night, and offered the union a chance to meet again,” School Board President Andrea Spalla said. “Nevertheless, the union refused to counter the board’s latest offer and ultimately refused another meeting. I know that everyone on the board’s team was very disappointed and surprised that the PREA leadership decided to move the parties into the costly and lengthy fact-finding stage rather than making a counter-offer.”

Under the proposal made by the board negotiating team on May 4, teachers would receive an aggregate increase in compensation of about 2.44 percent in year one of the contract, which would be retroactive to July 1 of 2014. They would receive 2.87 percent in year two of the contract, and 2.79 percent in year three of the new contract. The board’s offer was contingent on union members remaining at their current Chapter 78 premium contribution levels and implementing cost-saving measures similar to those agreed to by the other two unions regarding health insurance deductibles. Support staff and administrators agreed to pay deductibles of $100 per staff member or $200 per family in network for the most popular insurance plan.

Superintendent Steve Cochrane said the board also proposed spending $175,000 a year for year two and year three of the proposed contract to be used to compensate employees in steps three through eight who were hired before the fall of 2011, in order to address inequities in the current salary guide.

John Baxter, the lead negotiator for the union, said he did not see the contracts negotiations with the Princeton Regional Education Association listed on the agenda. He criticized the board for only mentioning the board’s proposals and not discussing the concessions offered by the union. He questioned whether a give back that is part of the support staff contract is legal.

“We too remain open to further conversations,” he said of the possibility of continuing negotiations.

Asked during public comment about negotiations regarding health insurance deductibles, an administrator said he recalled that the union was willing to accept a deductible of $50 per person and $100 per family per year.

More than 107 teachers’ unions in the state have settled with their local school boards since last July, with no reductions in their Chapter 78 health insurance premium contribution levels, school officials said. They said the board’s latest offer to the Princeton Regional Education Association is close to or higher than average settlement rates around the state.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Princeton Rez

    Not in this economy. Maybe in 2003 it would have been an insult. The choir teacher left for all sorts of reasons. Also, he is leaving to run an entire program at a high school, a big promotion any way you look at it, so it is not fair to say he is leaving because of the contract negotiations.

  • Joseph Addison

    Sure. But I know many hard-working people for whom a 2.7% raise isn’t just a joke; it’s an insult. (Plus that’s an “aggregate” not a raise. The raise was 2.44%, which is lower than the support staff and administrators got, according to the Board’s figures.)

    And as a parent of a child at JW, I’m sorry to say the choir teacher there is indeed leaving us to go to another district. This is a terrible disappointment because he was/is exceptional with the kids. (If you’ve seen the school productions, you know what I mean.) I’m guessing there are others.

  • RESIDENT

    I am so incredibly tired of the PREA/NJEA. It seems like they have pulled the same garbage, and used the same rhetoric — and involved the kids — every time their contract has come up over the 20 years I have lived in Princeton. Forcing Princeton taxpayers to absorb the cost of a mediator contract term after contract term is ridiculous, as are the so-called issues that caused the impasse. Using the kids and bullying the parents is just shameful.

    Sorry union members, but grow up and pay your share. You are no longer underpaid. And BOE, the time will come when you need to take a firm stand. I believe that time is now. If you don’t, the PREA will just keep doing this.

  • Local

    I know many hard working people that would be excited with 2.5 to 2.7 percent raises and benefits. Sounds like the teachers are being mislead by their union or have unrealistic expectations. I have read most of the teachers posts and it really appears that they are out of touch. I haven’t heard of any teachers moving to other districts.

  • Jim Jenson

    The teacher’s union seems greedy and unrealistic given the economy over the past few years.

    Many/most taxpayers don’t earn more than they/we did 7 years ago. Hardly any of us receive the kind of pensions and healthcare that teachers get. Imo, the contract offered by the Board, and approved by two other union groups, seems very fair. Everyone pays a lot more for their healthcare these days . . . Why shouldn’t teachers (even excellent ones)?

  • Joe

    I was in favor of single payer or Medicare for all. I’m no big fan of the ACA but it’s better than nothing. Germany is a big country and it has universal health care, Japan is a large country and it also has a national health care system. Japan and Germany are democracies and big capitalist countries. We tried leaving it to the private companies to supply health care to all Americans and they failed. Before the ACA, there were about 50 million US citizens without any regular health care. Many millions more had crap health insurance with high deductibles and the premiums were skyrocketing every year. And these companies often refused to pay claims. If your job did not supply health insurance, then tough luck for you. If you were self-employed and you could not afford health insurance then tough luck and don’t ever get sick. Community Conscience’s health plan is don’t get sick or drop dead already if you can’t afford health insurance. Medicare works fine, there is a role for government in supplying health insurance when the private sector has failed to supply health care over many decades. The US is the richest most powerful country on earth and it should have universal health care.

  • Community Conscience

    Are you familiar with the term “unfunded liabilities”??? You WILL be.

  • Community Conscience

    Since you love the ACA so much, let’s give teachers the same deductibles as the ACA.

    Healthcare is the wrong place for government. They do some things well, but not in this area. The ACA is a dramatic example of such failures, as is the VA. You libbies want a socialized medicine approach like they have in nordic countries where there is a much smaller, MUCH less diverse and generally responsible population. The US is completely different.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    Agreed.

  • Joe

    Your jealousy is showing. People who work in top jobs in great companies damn well do get Cadillac health care plans. If most Americans have Toyota health care coverage, it’s the fault of the US and our government over many decades. We should have true universal health care in which everyone is covered and no one goes bankrupt from medical expenses. In such a case, teachers would not have to negotiate for health benefits from the school district. But then, that would make to much sense for the US of A. Every other industrialized democracy has some form or version of universal health care, except the US. The ACA is a step in the right direction but it did not go far enough, we should have had Medicare for all for life.

  • Community Conscience

    In the real world (non-academia) people who work in top jobs for great companies are paying much higher deductibles. Our communities can no longer afford to have teachers who have Rolls Royce health care while the rest of us have Toyota health care. The benefits offered teachers used to be an added incentive since teacher salaries were often much lower than comparable jobs in business. All of that has changed and teacher salaries are way up. Benefits need to be adjusted closer to those offered in the business world now.

  • krystalknapp

    The board broke things down in terms of percentage in this document, listing salary vs. effective salary offer for teachers. I see your point that they did not list the “effective” rate for admin and support staff: http://www.princetonk12.org/Newsroom2/Negotiations2015.pdf

  • Joseph Addison

    No, the aggregate didn’t have to do with step system. The aggregate is the combination of the base salary raise (the 2.44% etc.) and the dollar value of health benefits stipends.

    So if the support staff contract was for 2.5% raises on salary PLUS the health benefit stipend, what’s the aggregate?

    And why didn’t the Board state it, since they stated it for the proposed contract with teachers?

    Thank you for pointing out the link. It was helpful.

  • krystalknapp

    The details of the other contracts are in a separate story. The link to that story was in this story. The step system is different for teachers. The word aggregate was used because the way the step system for teachers is set up (approved by union), some teachers with less experience will get raises of 1-2 percent while some at the other end of the spectrum will get raises of between 5 and 10 percent.

  • PrettySmart1

    Hello, did you read the last paragraph? And in the real world, good teachers are both well-respected and well-paid…

  • Joseph Addison

    Did the Board give the aggregate increases for the two settled contracts? If so, what are they? If not, why didn’t the Board give those?

    Why talk about the increases of a contract that’s NOT being ratified but not release the increases in the two contracts that ARE being ratified? That makes no sense.

  • Joseph Addison

    Is any contract “for life”?

  • Abaja

    I love our teachers at PPS. I think most of them do an excellent job. But they have taken this district (and by that I mean, our children) hostage this year with petty tactics that has all but lost them the support from parents. We all want them to get as much money as they can through negotiations but know that the board has to keep in mind long term goals. We can’t appease the teachers today and bankrupt ourselves for the future. From what I can see, they were on their way to a fair contract and I hope that negotiations continue in good faith and a resolution is complete before the Fall.

  • Abaja

    I love our teachers at PPS. I think most of them do an outstanding job. But they have taken this district (and by that I mean, our children) hostage this year with petty tactics that has all but lost them the support from parents. I want them to get as much money as they can from our Board of Education and I trust that our board will

  • Community Conscience

    $50 deductibles? Are you kidding? Is this “for life” etc.? When are teachers going to accept living in the real world? Absolutely ridiculous.

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