Letters: Reduce Princeton Teachers’ Health Insurance Premiums

To the Editor:

This Tuesday, June 2nd, negotiators for the Princeton Board of Education and PREA, the teachers’ union, will meet one last time to try to agree on a contract before bringing in a costly fact-finder. A key outstanding issue is the manner in which the Board will compensate teachers for the rising cost of health insurance. We urge the Board to reduce teachers’ upfront premium contributions, as we believe this is the best protection against a repeat of this year’s corrosive negotiations.

Under Chapter 78, a 2011 state law, a Princeton teacher earning $78,000 a year (the 2014 average district salary) pays between 23% and 33% of his or her insurance premiums, reducing take-home pay by $4000 to $7500. These rates, combined with previously-agreed-to austerity measures, mean that some district teachers’ take-home pay is less now than it was eight or nine years ago.

To their credit, the Board has responded to this financial strain by offering to offset teachers’ premium contributions. But rather than reducing teachers’ paycheck deductions, the Board proposes salary stipends or reimbursements.

Why does this matter? Money is money. What difference does it make if the Board wants to give a stipend instead of reducing premium payments?

As it turns out, it makes a big difference. Since 2010, New Jersey has capped localities’ annual tax increases at 2%, roughly equivalent to inflation; voters must approve any amount over that limit. But the law also grants discretionary waivers for costs local officials can’t control, including health care. Each year since 2010, over 40% of New Jersey municipalities have used such exceptions to exceed the 2% limit. Even the current Princeton municipal budget is ~4% higher than last year’s, thanks partly to the health care waiver.

Money spent to reduce teachers’ premium contributions could help the district qualify for a health care waiver in the future, which the Board could choose to use or not. Stipends, in contrast, would not count towards a waiver, and would come from general funds. It’s not hard to imagine how this would play out in the next round of teacher contract negotiations. Health care relief would be pitted against the district’s other needs, producing more of the rancor and frustration we have witnessed over the past year.

As Princeton residents, we know that our property values – not to mention our quality of life – depend on the excellence of our public schools. Moreover, the cost of a health care waiver for the individual taxpayer need not be high. This spring, for instance, the Board used a $400,000 health care waiver that increased the property taxes on an $800,560 home (Princeton’s average assessed home value) by less than $39 a year. We consider this a small price to pay to safeguard the quality of our public education.

Joanne Rodriguez
Gennaro Porcaro
Megan Mitchell
Dafna Kendal
Adele Goldberg
Sandra Moskovitz
Mary Saudargas
Eleanor Hubbard
Nicole Soffin
Rob Dodge
Krissi Farrimond
Eric Anderson
Rebecca Rix
Janice Fine
Becca Moss
Deborah Yashar
Keith Wailoo
Nancy Swierczek
Robert Swierczek
Hendrik Hartog
Elizabeth Harman
John Collins
Ron Connor
Jane Manners
Abigail Rose


  1. You had me until, you made an argument about housing prices increasing because our education in princeton schools. One we already have great schools made up of smart kids, teachers and such. So that value is already in our house. Plus our town and the university we owe a lot to when it comes to prices of our houses. So because that value is already inflated in our houses, its not going to inflate anymore because of this deal.

    2nd argument I find fault with is the “only going to raise taxes on 800,000 house $39” That is used in every tax argument I’ve ever heard. The 40 bucks is additional to the astronomical figure we already pay in taxes. Not the teachers fault that our taxes are high, but the system definitely could improve…so much goes to mercer county, for what again?

    But thank you for posting the article above. It does provide some valuable information, and we hope both sides can come to an agreement soon.

    My belief is we need to change the schools completely from how things are taught today to better prepare our kids for the creative world of tomorrow. So all the nickel and diming takes valuable time and attention away from the what really matters which is creating a better educational platform in the future.

    Lastly, pay teachers more today, and less on the backend. Create 401k’s that match up to 4% every year, and do away with the pension system. This will help make things affordable in the future, and we can avoid conversations like those we have today for a long long time.

  2. This letter provides an excellent rationale for why the BOE should remain firm in its position. Giving in as the writers request would only encourage further corrosive negotiations in the future, as it has in the past. If the BOE caves now, we’ll only be here again in 3 years. As @tkq said in another thread, it’s time for the PREA to take the deal. With the premium stipend, it’s a good one.

  3. This is a most interesting letter. I recognize several of the names attached to it from public comment at board meetings, including one very reasonable person who said during the board’s budget hearing that a vote in favor of the 2015-’16 budget, one where the board exercised all available waivers to raise the tax levy to just about the maximum amount, was “a vote against children.” When this is the prevailing mindset, is there any possible amount of teacher compensation that would be enough?

    The board has remained steadfast in saying the Tier 4 premium contribution levels are non-negotiable. Instead, they have offered proposals that will lead to healthcare savings, which they will split with PRE. This sound proposal, ratified by two other local bargaining units, does not put the burden on taxpayers to provide relief in perpetuity from what are some of the highest contributions required of public employees in the U.S.

    Instead, the teachers are demanding:

    — A salary increase at least on par with the settlements of the other bargaining units, between 2.3 to 2.5 percent. (For all we know, their demand is much greater.)

    — To have taxpayers reduce their premium contributions below the levels paid by every other school employee in the state, by every municipal employee in Princeton and by every other municipal and state employee in New Jersey.

    — No changes to healthcare plans under which teachers pay NO DEDUCTIBLES of any kind.

    Given that enrollment is rising, the budget is capped at 2 percent (or a little over if the board exercises waivers), healthcare costs are increasing at unpredictable rates and state mandates continue to outpace state aid, this kind of settlement will surely result in cuts to programs that will be very unpopular with just about everyone in the parent community.

    As for the idea that our board should exercise every waiver possible every year so as to maximize the amount given by taxpayers to one single group of public employees, I find this not only unsustainable, but patently unfair. This notion that giving up a few lattes per year will give us happy teachers and improve instruction seems not only inaccurate — I think that $39 figure is certainly worth greater scrutiny — but kind of absurd.

    The truth these letter-writers fail to grasp is that there are people who would like to continue to live in Princeton in their autumn years and fear they will not be able to do so because the amount of their tax contribution dedicated to the schools will rise at rates they can no longer afford. Many of them have lived in Princeton for decades; their children have been educated in the public schools. Do they face a future where they are forced to sell so that newer, richer families can move in, send their children to school and leave when the kids are through the schools? Is this the kind of community we want? I know that is not the community to which I moved in the late ‘80s.

    I would ask: What does the board risk by not agreeing to these healthcare demands? Will we see a mass exodus of teachers? I sense some will respond with the much-discussed case of a tenured teacher who will be leaving John Witherspoon Middle School at the end of the academic year for a job in another local district. This case has been cited as reinforcing fears of a mass exodus of good teachers from our district. A closer look reveals this to be something of a red herring. The teacher in question is leaving a middle school position for a high school position, one currently filled at PHS by a well-respected and popular teaching team. This is not a lateral move; it is a promotion. And, to my knowledge, this teacher will be subject to Tier 4 contributions in the new district, which has lower average compensation.

    The truth is that tenured teachers in Princeton have very little economic incentive to leave. It is far more likely for tenured teachers to retire or leave the profession than it is for them to make lateral moves to another district for the simple fact that wages in Princeton are some of the highest in the state. With the exception of a few higher-tax communities in West Essex and Bergen Counties, Princeton teachers have average base salaries higher than anywhere else in the state. As was revealed by Planet Princeton, they also have ample opportunity to supplement their base salaries with non-pensionable extra pay that can total tens of thousands of dollars a year (apparently up to $30,000).

    It’s been my great pleasure over these past few months to correspond with many parents of students in our schools. They fear for a future when rising enrollment and increased personnel costs will force the board to make tough decisions that could include raising class sizes at the elementary level, cutting electives at Princeton High School or reducing sports programs in all schools. No one in Princeton wants to have to do without some program that benefits their children, yet that is the future we face. Loathe though I am to quote Richard Nixon, I call these people the “silent majority.” They agree with the board’s decisions and support efforts to maintain or improve programs in the schools without burdensome tax increases. Most of them have said they are afraid to speak out because they fear reprisals for their children. This is terribly sad in and of itself, but given the way PREA’s job actions have affected students, who can blame them for feeling the way they do?

    I said months ago that it’s easy to write a letter in support of teachers; just about everyone in Princeton is pro-teacher. It’s much more difficult to tell our teachers that we respect their work and are very happy they are educating our children, but we can no longer afford to give them the kinds of raises and healthcare plans to which they’ve become accustomed. Saying this is not “teacher bashing,” it is just accepting reality.

    We can certainly sympathize with people who feel as if they are going backward. The overwhelming majority of us feel the same way. But to single out one group in one school district in one state for special treatment seems to me be asking too much. My advice to PREA? Take the deal

    Tim Quinn

    Former Princeton Board of Education President
    Husband to a member of an NJEA Local
    Public Employee Subject to provisions of Tier 4 of Chapter 78

    1. For a public employee whose salary is being paid by Princeton taxpayers, @tkq, you sure spend a lot of your working hours posting about PREA on social media!

        1. @resident: When, in another lifetime, I worked as a journalist, the editors would say the same thing.

      1. This Princeton taxpayer has really appreciated @tkq’s insight into the process of negotiating a new contract for the teachers. It’s a complicated business, and @tkq has provided a lot of good information.

        1. So has this one. Thank you @tkq. And thank you, too, Planet Princeton. Between the two, we’ve finally gotten actual facts.

      2. @Princeton taxpayer: How do you know I’m not off today? What’s next? Attacks on my family? Is this how PREA plays?

        1. But, for the sake of accuracy: I get one hour for lunch and one break per day. How I spend that time is my decision.

    2. @disqus_JQHlLEZXCd:disqus: Hi Tim. I’ve seen many of your comments recently. I chose not to respond until you decided to explain to everyone why I made my own personal career change. Interesting that you seem to have the answer for that, too (really?!). You’re close on a small part of it, but let me explain for myself.

      Many people seem to think that working in a high school is the pinnacle of a teaching career, but that is not the case. The pinnacle of a person’s career (or their desired promotion, for lack of better words) is defined by them personally. i know many fine elementary and middle school teachers who make more impact during the year they have a student in their elementary or middle school classroom than they would at a high school. I am in that category of teachers. I have made an impact at JWMS that means more to those students than just the subject I teach. I connected with them during a time in their lives that can be, and is, very difficult for many. It was a very sad and difficult conclusion for me to leave. Having said that, here’s why I left.

      – As an Artist (Teacher of Music), I felt stifled. My work environment was not healthy for me, personally. I worried that I would not be the same teacher the kids had come to expect. I could never live with myself if that actually came to be. My belief is that if the students are breaking barriers, taking risks, and succeeding, the person leading this growth should be allowed to take next steps. I wasn’t allowed this freedom, and was expected to work under status quo. That was a disservice to my students, and I felt helpless.

      – The never-ending arguments and finger pointing took their toll (as they still are this evening). I didn’t feel that I could trust the PREA information, nor could I trust the BOE information. I think there are good people on both sides, but I think there are also selfish and rude people. When the BOE attempted to play the role of social engineer; to say that a Teacher’s child costs $3k to educate, and a Teacher’s child has to leave Princeton if their parent passes way, but an Administrator’s child only costs $2k and could stay in Princeton until graduation, I was incensed. When a BOE member called my Principal (not ME?) and accused me of placing an athlete on a B-Team because we didn’t have a contract, and I was called into a meeting where my integrity was questioned, I was incensed. When PREA failed to inform it’s membership that a 1-year contract was offered, and word eventually got out that they declined it without discussion with us, I was incensed. How long can a person prevail against these sorts of people? However, if you speak with my students, you will realize that they were never placed in between what I wanted for myself, and how I reacted to what was being done to me. Did I give up fewer lunches for individual coaching and lessons? Yes. Did I complain when my only planning period (mandated in the CBA) was taken away? Yes. Did we have an amazing year of performances at JWMS? Yes. Did I do my job in a way that I can be proud of? Yes.

      – I came to PPS as a Step-3 teacher. Five years later I am Step-4. People should understand by now that Steps are the same as seniority and in a typical year of satisfactory teaching you move up one step. Steps ensure that I am compensated for years of service. In simple math, by moving to a different school district which agreed to honor the 3 steps that have been withheld by Princeton Public Schools (5, 6, & 7), I am getting an 11.2% raise in salary. I am excited to work with students at a different skill level, but I can only hope that my impact will be such as I describe above. This is a gamble I have taken. My new District may not pay as high on average, but PPS took away three years that I will never get back from them. I do believe that Princeton will lose teachers. You will lose teachers who have less than 10 years of experience. They are probably excellent educators who thought they would never need to find another community in which to teach. I am one of them. When experienced PPS teachers continue to see new hires being paid wages that get closer to them each year, they are upset. This is happening in both the public and private sector, I know that people can commiserate with this trend.

      I hope that helps explain my situation more clearly.

      Lastly, before I sign off, I would like to address Chapter 78 (Health Care) for the Princeton Community, one last time. This is a direct quote from the Department of the Treasury: “Chapter 78 allowed for the phase-in of … contributions over a four year period. Once the phase-in is complete, the contribution requirements become part of the existing collective negotiation agreement and are subject to negotiation as is any other negotiable item in the agreement.” I’m not pretending that this changes the economic or financial picture of this year’s (and following years’) budget. But I am saying that it should stop being stated that PREA is intending to break laws by asking if the possibility exists.

      Before I go, I have to say I will miss this town dearly. And so I’ve decided that I will still be part of this town in ways that matter to me. The people I work with, the kids I’ve come to love, and the parents who have worked side by side with me and have been like my family (since mine lives in CO). But this world is far too big to spend my days arguing minutia with people who aren’t even in the room with me, when in the end it doesn’t matter. What does my say matter, anyway? I’m not in the negotiating room. The system is broken and someone outside the room could have all the answers and it wouldn’t matter. I truly hope the sides resolve this issue next week at the next session. It has drawn a line through the community that will take a long time to erase. I trust in the leadership of Steve Cochrane and wish him luck in his time at PPS. I trust in the kids of Princeton, they are truly exceptional, which can only mean that many of you readers are also exceptional.

      1. @rwhite: My apologies if I implied anything that was incorrect. More in the morning.

      2. @rwhite: As I wrote last night before falling asleep, my apologies for pointing to possible other reasons for your departure from JW. I debated long and hard before mentioning your situation, since you are absolutely correct: I could not have known the reasons that went into your personal and professional decision. In the end, I chose to mention you, though not by name, because I first learned of your departure when your May 19 email to parents was posted on the Facebook page of the allegedly “neutral” parent group Community for Princeton Public Schools. The email was posted with this commentary: “PRINCETON: talent exodus – Randy White, Choir teacher at JWMS, very talented and beloved, gave his notice today. He’s leaving for Hopewell where, I hope, the Board treats their teachers like deserving professionals…” You’ll be pleased to know the post has since been removed.

        I know many who find teaching at the middle school level particularly gratifying. So, yes, I understand that my saying your move to a high school was a “promotion” might not have been entirely accurate. I regret that I characterized it that way. I’m not a musician, but I can imagine those teaching choral arts at the middle school level face an added challenge because the voices of boys are evolving during that time. You certainly have my personal thanks for your fine work with our young singers and it was my pleasure to hear them in concerts and at the JW promotion ceremonies at Richardson Auditorium.

        Regarding the contract matters you mention, it’s worth mentioning that the decision to freeze the salary guide was agreed to by both sides in the previous negotiations and was ratified by PREA rank and file and agreed to by the board. This is why the salary guide presentation at the August, 2014 ,board meeting is the most vital, but overlooked, piece of public information presented by either side before the mediator enforced confidentiality. My memory of that presentation is this bottom line: the board’s proposed revisions to the guide would have benefitted teachers like you, who would have seen raises along the lines of the one you will receive in Hopewell, rather than a quarter of the total cash settlement going to a small number of teachers at the top of the scale.

        I remember your commentary in open forums at board meetings quoting Chapter 78, and respected the fact that you took the time to read the legislation. I thought then, as now, that whatever the legality, turning back the clock to PREA’s previous levels of contributions is just not sustainable and would likely lead to cuts in programs. In some districts, those cuts fall disproportionally on the many special opportunities students enjoy in Princeton.

        As for the specifics about the interpersonal dynamics in the district, I do trust that, once this ugliness is behind the district, Mr. Cochrane will work with the many positive people on staff to forge a new and better way forward. I admit I cannot be very objective (or at all objective) in the matter, but I suspect the 2013-’14 board’s selection of Mr. Cochrane as superintendent will be looked upon as favorably as the mid-2000s board choice of Judy Wilson, both being the right person at the right time for Princeton. I remember when the board’s search committee visited Mr. Cochrane’s previous district, a faculty member active in that district’s union said this to our board members: “If anyone can change the culture of a district, it’s Steve.”

        I wish you continued career success in Hopewell. Thank you for pushing me to clarify my previous statements.

      3. Dear @rwhite,

        I wish you all the best in Hopewell in your new position. The students in Princeton will miss you. This entire situation is sad and the pain it has caused talented individuals like yourself is tragic.

        Regarding Chapter 78, the full text from the bill is listed below. Full implementation of Chapter 78 health contributions in Princeton only started in 2014-15.

        Chapter 78 language (section 79):

        A public employer and employees who are in negotiations for the next collective negotiation agreement to be executed after the employees in that unit have reached full implementation of the premium share set forth in section 39 shall conduct negotiations concerning contributions for health care benefits as if the full premium share was included in the prior contract. The public employers and public employees shall remain bound by the provisions of sections 39, 42, and 44, notwithstanding the expiration of those sections, until the full amount of the contribution required by section 39 has been implemented in accordance with the schedule set forth in section 42.

  4. For 9 months a year, the AVERAGE is 78,000 a year. That’s for 9 months. Based on 78k, a full 12 months would be a salary of 104,000 plus 75% of healthcare. Hmm, that’s not terrible for one person.
    Not to mention the 65-80% of salary pension that comes when retiring + Healthcare.

  5. This logic ignores the fact that when a teacher’s healthcare contribution rises, the employer contribution rises by 3 to 4 times that amount.

    So the demand is that the board bear 67-77% of increased healthcare costs AND reduce employees’ exposure, too?

    1. @brett_borowski:disqus: Apparently, that is the demand. Don’t forget PREA wants to perpetuate a system under which teacher pay no deductibles. For anything. And add to that a salary increase of at least 2.3 or 2.5 percent (maybe more).

      1. I missed the no deductibles piece. Wow, that’s ridiculous. Without deductibles, there is no incentive at all to use health care services reasonably, resulting in higher premiums all around.The best move the PREA could make at this point, IMO, is take the deal before the BOE takes it off the table. The tactics that have worked in the past have not (and hopefully will not) worked this time. And it is about time.

        1. @Resident: Exactly. Any PREA members reading this would do well to advise their leadership: Take the deal.

          1. Do you think that the union leadership actually listens to members who simply want them “to take the deal”?

            1. @jim_jenson:disqus: Were I a union leader interested retaining my leadership position (and its modest NJEA-paid stipend), I would certainly listen to the rank and file. That said, there were a few times when my votes as a board member were at odds with feedback from some of my constituents. I recognized that I might not get their vote when I stood for re-election, but I did listen and believe their feedback better informed my ultimate vote. I’m assuming here that PREA rank and file elects its leadership, but I must confess to having not idea when or how that happens.

            2. If you have questions, Jim, about how a PREA member feels about our leadership it might be quicker to simply reach out and ask one. My work email is martha_friend@princetonk12.org and I’d be happy to answer your questions or connect you with other teachers throughout the district.

      2. When I did the math on the last contract, individual teachers’ raises (with BA only) were more like 1.5 to 7.5% with only the newest teachers at the low end of that range. Wasn’t that a 2-point-something salary increase as well?

        I hate these “average” or consolidated numbers. One really needs to look at the steps compute the raises as an employee moves up from year to year.

  6. Isn’t the teacher contribution to the healthcare cost set by the state not the boe? Wasn’t that a substantial portion of Christy’s new rules? Teachers need to stop fighting for unsustainable pensions and free benefits, and start fighting for better pay. If it weren’t for the ridiculous pensions, the pay could be much higher. Time to get with the times.

    1. I would bet the younger teachers would love to dump the current pension system and go with 403b’s. They pay in quite a lot and the arithmetic due to long-lived retirees hasn’t helped.

  7. I come from a family of educators and union activists. I encourage the members of the PREA to take this deal. And to not consider such acceptance a defeat, nor as meaning in any way that the residents and parents of Princeton do not value, and do not, and would not, stretch to support fair compensation for teachers. Please accept that this is actually a decent offer in the context of the unfortunate realities of economic change under which all of us are taking home less, securing less for the future, and paying more for health care. Please understand that the taxpayers of Princeton alone can not fix all that is broken that gets us to this place. Please take the passion, the energy and the fight now to the state and to the nation, and the parents and the taxpayers of this town will stand right beside you in that fight. And if you find us neglecting the greater political fight, remind us, don’t let us forget, kick us in the pants, hand us a sign and a tshirt, and remind us to get out there and engage for the sake of our kids and their kids. Engage state legislators in promoting policies that support education. Elect a better governor next time. Engage in the 2016 Presidential election and force a discussion about obscenely compensated corporate executives and stricter regulations and enforcement so that our economy does not continue to devolve and pit struggling middle class families with students against struggling middle class families with teachers. And so we can move forward together, please take the deal.

    1. This post articulates my sentiments exactly. I have been following these discussions and the whole conflict with increasing dismay, for how we (de-)value education more broadly in our society, and for the apparent lack of understanding on the part of PREA leadership (not rank and file) that we cannot do the impossible in the face of forces beyond our ability to control (fyi I earn less than most of my children’s teachers yet am considered well compensated with endless graduate degrees to my name).

    2. I understand your sentiment and applaud your willingness to frame what’s happening here in Princeton within the larger national issue. There is no question that we all have serious work to do as citizens to get affordable health insurance for all of our citizens and make sure all have the ability to make a living wage. But right now, you’re asking teachers to continue to sacrifice our own families so that we can “move forward together.” We have given up the most expensive health insurance options, taken multiple pay freezes and continued to watch our paychecks shrink. I disagree soundly with Tim’s depiction that Princeton educators are the only NJ public school teachers fighting the interpretation of Chapter 78 (after it sunsets.) Just down the road, Lawrence Public School teachers were outside of their schools this morning asking for relief from shrinking paychecks and are themselves in “fact finding.” Teachers all over the state are wondering why districts find money for administrators but not for teachers. All this being said, if my PREA Negotiation Team tells me that the offer we are presented with is fair for all (community and educators- from novices to experienced) then I’m fully behind it. If they exit today and explain how the district is playing a shell game and finding money to pay Administrators but crying “poor” for teachers then it’s “no deal.” I’d rather leave this district then send my own children the message that I’m willing to work for people for whom I don’t respect as teaching children is simply too important.
      (I can hear many readers saying, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” You just might get your wish.)

      1. @Martha Friend: From what we know from public statements, the salary offer your leadership left on the table is comparable to what two other unions in this district ratified. More than 107 NJEA locals have approved contracts with Tier 4 in place for years two and three. Meanwhile, I can’t find any evidence of a single contract where any district has settled outside of Chapter 78. I’ve looked at recent NJEA settlement info and can’t find a single reference to anyone settling outisde of C78. Where are these six or seven or 12 districts we heard about last year? Lawrence is in fact finding? Did they ask to negotiate outside of C78? You imply that, but don’t say it. Where is NJEA’s statement on C78?

      2. @Martha Friend: I do not see where @tkq said that “Princeton educators are the only NJ public school teachers fighting the interpretation of Chapter 78 …” It seems to me that @tkq has taken great care to write with accuracy and that his comments pertained to contract settlements, not other locals’ concerns. And he has continued to do so even after being subjected to personal attacks on these pages. Anyone certainly is free to disagree, of course, but inaccurate characterizations are not helpful. This is why the factual information @tkq and Planet Princeton have provided, in contrast to the rhetoric we were limited to before, has been so helpful to those of us who are impacted by, but not involved in, the situation.

  8. “These rates, combined with previously-agreed-to austerity measures, mean that some district teachers’ take-home pay is less now than it was eight or nine years ago.”

    Yes, pretty much the same reality faced by most Americans, thanks to electing an incompetent ‘progressive’ who doesn’t understand the American economy to the presidency and Democrats for mayors. Look at the wonderful job they are doing in Baltimore (with just about the highest contribution per pupil in the country), Chicago and other Democratic-controlled cities.
    You reap what you sow, folks.

  9. After reading this letter and teachers’ salaries in a separate post, I strongly urge PREA to accept the board’s demands. This has gone on for far too long, and PREA’s belligerent posturing has left many families, who once were fully behind the union, now questioning its efficacy and motives.

    1. @PatW: This is well said. I appreciate all our teachers do (and will resume doing when this is over), but respectfully disagree with PREA’s contract demands. It’s good to see more people speaking out.

  10. warning: this is not a short post!

    I am parent of two kids in the school system, and I like, respect and value the teachers I know and want them to be compensated fairly. I also like, respect, and value the board members I know, and I can’t help but note that the hours they put in, to the best of my knowledge, are unpaid. It’s hard to even imagine the hours
    they are working for no money at all, particularly in this current context. That is not the point of
    writing this; I just couldn’t help but point it out.

    Objectively, what seems to have happened is that there was a
    breakdown in trust early on, as the last time administrators received a new
    contract, the terms were not able to be replicated for the teachers, who are a
    much larger group and hence much larger line item in the budget. In hindsight,
    with the little I know of this, it seems like that rather simple tactical error
    contributed to some pretty bad mistrust. In order to negotiate, there needs to be trust between the parties. It is hard to say how to get the trust back, yet it almost seems like it has to be set aside at this point in order to move ahead. (Besides, at this point both sides have mistrust!) I truly see no reason whatsoever to believe that either party means to be bargaining in bad faith, not least of all our unpaid parent board members. It’s not as though they directly gain in any way from any of this. They wish it were over for sure!

    For a negotiation to move ahead, all parties also have to want the negotiation to proceed and to be completed in a fair, and dare I say timely way. I say “all parties” rather than “both parties,” because I think it is worth noting that community is itself an indirect party to these negotiations.
    The longer this all drags on, and the more acrimonious it gets, the more
    we are all worse off. Sadly, it is the kids of Princeton, for whom this entire
    system is built, who suffer the most. Kids no longer have most of their
    teachers there to answer their questions before or after school, they no longer
    have teachers on planned curriculum-related field trips, and the intuitive ones
    no longer can rest easy knowing that the main reason their teachers are in the
    business of being teachers is because they care deeply about educating children
    in the best ways possible. Kids are now making comments about the teachers, and have lost respect for some of them, and this is so sad. The blue shirts as a sign of unity are one thing, but taking one’s attention and enthusiasm away from kids as a bargaining chip is unprofessional, uncalled for, and diminishes
    the respect that kids (and parents) have for our otherwise beloved teachers. It is also worth noting that it is the kids of least means who likely suffer disproportionately in many cases, which is certainly an important point in Princeton schools.

    Teachers rely on their negotiating team to decide if a deal is fair. Sadly, other than mistrust and wanting to “win,” I have not seen a single reason to think the current deal is in fact unfair. So I can’t see why PREA is pushing so hard and encouraging such harsh tactics that involve our kids. It is probably not easy for the teachers, but it seems like their anger perhaps is misdirected. In fact, I wonder if teachers realize that their compensation including pension, health care (even with these premiums) and adjusted for working a school year, exceeds the compensation of many, many Princeton parents who foot the
    bill (and who earn less now than several years ago). Because of rising health care costs, we have rising premiums and we also have large and rising deductibles. Pensions are no longer the norm, and most professions work year round. (If insurance premiums really the sticking point, then seriously PREA should stop the madness, take the deal and move on.) The vast majority of parents do not have contracts or guarantees of any sort, so our job security is limited to a job consistently well done. So as much as we all deeply want our teachers to be compensated fairly, it is hard to say that a zero insurance deductible is reasonable in this day and age, and it is easy to say that a pension is a heck of a benefit, as is having a summer off to either have fun or to earn income in other ways…not to mention job security. It sounds so tempting, it makes me want to
    apply for a teaching job in Princeton, and I am happy to say I also have a graduate degree, so I may even be qualified.

    Again, I like, respect and value our teachers!! And our board members.

    (I didn’t even mention the points that others raised-there were so many good points, not the least of which is that we need sustainable solutions, not just tax increases that will be needed at every new contract to match insurance costs! There also needs to be a pledge that “next” time around, there will be rules of the road and new negotiators on both sides.)

    1. @parentoftwo: Thank you for this heartfelt and poignant comment. What you’ve written makes total sense and reflects the feelings of what I referred to earlier as the “silent majority” of parents who respect teachers but disagree with both their contract demands and their tactics, which have put students in the middle of something that should be none of their concern. The experiences they were denied this year while PREA was protesting a state-imposed law cannot be replaced.

      The more people who speak out with the difficult, nuanced message that we respect teachers but find their demands and behavior of their union leaders unacceptable, the more hope I have that this might be resolved without an even longer and expensive process.

      Thank you for your kind words about my former colleagues on the board. I know what it’s like to devote tens of thousands of volunteer hours to a very rewarding and noble effort and how difficult it is to be publicly disparaged as a result. The heroes here are the members of the negotiating team who have shown a willingness to meet time and again for 13 months (and counting), always keeping the best interests of students at heart. Board members get no payment whatsoever for their service, though sometimes they get some leftover cafeteria food.

      Finally, I think you should know something regarding the one-year administrator contract that caused so much anguish. Around the time talks with PAA were under way, PREA was offered the opportunity to negotiate a one-year contract. This was part of Judy Wilson’s exit plan; she hoped to give Mr. Cochrane labor peace in his first year as a superintendent. I was not a part of those talks and know nothing about what was discussed, but I recall hearing there was only one session. Given what we’ve lived through as a community for the past year, this should come as no surprise.

      1. I find the behavior of your Board of Ed negotiating team “unacceptable” , Tim. You speak about understanding how difficult it is for teachers to continue to lose money and yet it’s your negotiating team that started 14 months ago by offering NO salary increase for the teachers. They’ve dragged their heels and “found money” when it suited them. What possible benefit is there for teachers to be part of this extended negotiations? There is no winning for teachers in this although it seems to me that this extended negotiation is a money-maker for the district.

        Just about every effective teacher knows EXACTLY what it’s like to “devote tens of thousands of volunteer hours to a very rewarding and noble effort” and to be “publicly disparaged as a result.” (I chose to bring my lunch from home.)

        1. @Martha Friend: Was it ever confirmed that the board started with no increase or is that what the PREA negotiating team told you? The only public comment from the board I recall with anything hinting at an offer was after the other two units ratified and the board said the PREA team left a comparable offer on the table. There was a proposal for a restructured salary guide covered publicly, but many people missed it because the board presented it last August. It recall attendance being light that night.

          As for “heel-dragging,” the question remains: Why did two other units settle in weeks, but PREA has taken 14 months (and counting)? It’s not about alleged “found money” (another PREA red herring); it’s about your negotiating team’s insistence that Princeton do what no other district appears to have done: settle a contract by rolling back Chapter 78. And how is there’s “no winning” in receiving a raise of at least 2.3 percent or 2.5 percent? Many would consider that a win.

          Yes, Ms. Friend, I am guilty as charged. Sometimes when transitioning from my full-time day job to a board committee meeting that preceded an executive session that was followed by a board meeting with an hours-long open forum, I would eat leftover cafeteria food that would otherwise have lined a dumpster. Mrs. Kennedy was always sure such refreshments were well within the strict state laws governing board “entertaining.” Oh, and sometimes Dr. Lehet would treat the Student Achievement Committee to a pizza from Conte’s since our meetings were Friday at noon. (She paid out of pocket.) Nice woman.

          In closing, I’ll repeat what has become a bit of a refrain in this forum from parents and other taxpayers: Take the deal.

  11. As a settlement appears tantalizingly close, ending our community’s collective misery, there is yet another external stressor for the board and administration to consider. As if rising enrollment and rising healthcare costs were not enough.

Comments are closed.