The school board for the Princeton Public Schools unanimously voted Wednesday night to approve three-year contracts with two unions – the union representing support staff and the union representing administrators. Both of the unions’ current contracts expire on June 30. The two unions represent about 236 of the district’s total 606 unionized employees.
“This is a very happy occasion for us and especially for those board members who have served on the negotiating teams for each of these associations. Both sets of negotiations were smooth, professional and respectful,” School Board President Andrea Spalla said. “Both unions’ teams were vigilant advocates for their members but collaborative and respectful at the bargaining table. Even though negotiations are rarely fun, I can sincerely say that in both of these cases, the negotiations were as constructive and collegial as they possibly could be.”
Spalla said both unions focused on shared solutions and common goals, and understood the value to both parties of finding ways to save money on healthcare premiums.
“The board team made it clear that if the union was willing to implement certain cost-saving measures, its employees would see not only reduced premiums from those changes, but a meaningfully higher total compensation package, as the board’s savings would then be shared with the employees,” she said.
Superintendent Steve Cochrane said negotiations with the unions were respectful, collaborative and open at all times, even when the union negotiators were aggressively fighting for members. He said the administrators wanted to get a fair deal as quickly as possible “so that we could all get back to our work for our students.”
“The negotiations were a true dialogue among professionals, with constant give-and-take,” he said. “When they had questions, they asked. When we had questions, they were ready with detailed and specific reasons for their positions. The contract is truly a win-win for the parties.”
The negotiations with the support staff union took place over a five-month period. The negotiations with the union for administrators took place over a three-month period. Both unions have ratified the deals.
The new contract for staff who belong to the Princeton Regional Support Staff Association, the union that represents instructional aides, custodians, grounds crew, bookkeepers and secretaries includes a 2.5 percent base salary increase for employees per year for three years. Employees will receive longevity pay of $100 per step for the first year of the contract. There will be no change for the second and third years of the contract.
The support staff union agreed that employees’ contributions to their healthcare premiums would remain at the highest “Tier 4” levels set forth in the state law known as Chapter 78. The union agreed to several cost-saving measures in their healthcare benefits package, including the elimination of the most expensive health insurance plan, health insurance deductibles of $100 per staff person and $200 per family for in network healthcare providers for the most popular plan, and prescription cost containment measures. Employees can also choose a health savings account plan with a $2,000 deductible. The district would contribute 60 percent of the deductible, or $1,200, for that option.
Because the employees agreed to the cost-saving measures, the district will provide annual stipends to certain support staff members in each of the contract years to offset their premium contribution increases.
The members of the Princeton Administrators Association, the union representing principals, assistant principals and supervisors, but not including central office administrators, will receive salary increases of 2.39 percent for the 2015-16 academic year, 2.38 percent for the 2016-17 academic year, and 2.37 percent for the 2017-18 academic year. Longevity payments will remain flat for all three years of the contract.
Administrators agreed that contributions to their healthcare premiums would remain at the highest “Tier 4” levels set forth in the state law known as Chapter 78. The union agreed to several cost-saving measures in their healthcare benefits package, including health insurance deductibles of $100 per staff person and $200 per family for in network healthcare providers for the most popular plan and the option of a health savings account plan with a $2,000 deductible. The district would contribute 60 percent of the deductible, or $1,200, for that option.
As part of the bargaining and trade offs, the school board agreed to share some of its savings from these changes in the form of “vacation day buy-backs,” whereby administrators may opt to “sell” back to the district two unused vacation days per year at a per diem rate.
About 15 people attended the special meeting at the Valley Road School Building. Most of them were teachers who are members of the Princeton Regional Education Association. Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30 of 2014. The board released details about the latest contract offer, which school officials said was similar to the offer made to the other two unions. Planet Princeton has posted a separate story about the discussion.