Letters: Residents Urge Princeton School Board and Union to Come to an Agreement

To the Editor,

We are writing to express our disappointment that the contract negotiations between the Board of Education and the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) have failed to produce an agreement.

We support a fair, equitable, and sustainable settlement for the teachers; and now that the gag order has been lifted, we seek to understand precisely what the sticking points are in these negotiations. We are glad that the Board has shared details of the contracts settled with the support staff union (PRESSA) and the administrators’ union (PAA) as well as the latest offer made to PREA on May 4. Now we encourage teachers—both the PREA negotiating team and rank-and-file union members—to speak up and help parents understand what an acceptable offer to PREA would look like.

In addition, we encourage not only teachers but all members of the community who feel that there are untapped sources of funding—both within the district’s budget and in the greater community–to speak up now. There have been many promising but vague ideas floated as to how to bridge the gap between the Board’s offers and the teachers’ expectations: now is the time to share concrete, realistic suggestions.

We are pleased that the Board and the PREA have returned to the negotiating table, and urge them to continue to work towards a solution. It is our understanding that an accord can be reached at any point; there is no need to wait for the fact-finding process to play out. Time is of the essence because many people—students, of course, but also teachers, administrators, families, and the larger community—are being seriously and negatively impacted. We cannot afford to have this conflict drag on through the summer and into next year.
Patrick Austermann
Alexandra Bar-Cohen
Barak Bar-Cohen
Sam Becker
Mike Benevento
Rachel Benevento
Jeff Bergman
Nicole Bergman
Abeer Bhatia
Neha Bhatia
Calum Binnie
Jennifer Birmingham
Jim Burton
Zoe Brookes
Carmine Carusone
Marie Carusone
Amy Craft
Martha D’Avila
Franklin deFaria
Brigitte Delaney
Dan Delaney
Christoph Goldenstern
Jessica Goldenstern
Jennifer Jang
Larry Kanter
Susan Kanter
Gerard Lynch
Katie Lynch
Wiebke Martens
Alex Martin
Janis McCarty
Nolan McCarty
Pam McLean
Gabriella Milley
Vojislava Pophristic
Julie Ramirez
Robert Ramirez
Barbara Rebak
Rob Rebak
Dina Shaw
Maria Sophocles
Jeanette Timmons
Mike Timmons
Lori Weir


  1. To the letter-writers: It’s my understanding based on public comments and media reports that among the sticking points, the one has caused this to drag on for so long is PREA’s insistence that the board roll back the amount its members contribute for healthcare, effectively asking the taxpayers to make up this difference.

    The contribution percentages were set in part of a state lawn known as Chapter 78 (C78). This law, which sunsets June 30, sets some of the highest contribution rates in the nation for public employees and it applied to all school workers, as well as municipal, county and state employees, effectively negating whatever salary increase teachers have received the past few years. There was a disagreement over whether negotiating outside C78 was legal, which I personally think is a bit of a moot point.

    While negotiations on this sticking point continued, 107 other NJEA-affiliated locals representing teachers agreed to multiyear contracts that effectively froze the premium contribution at the highest levels in the law (known as Tier 4).

    Our support staff and administrators ratified contracts with healthcare contributions at Tier 4 of C78, but which included innovative, board-crafted changes to plans that will lead to cost savings, with these savings being shared equally between the rank and file of these unions (as a way to offset Tier 4 contributions) and the district (as an additional source of needed revenue). The other unions saw these proposals, which require higher deductibles, as a win-win. PREA, which pays virtually no deductibles in their plans, rejected them.

    Since the other settlements were announced, we know that PREA has been offered a pay increase similar to those offered the other unions, which are in the 2.4 to 2.5 percent range. (For all we know, the board’s salary offer is much greater.)

    These negotiations are happening at a critical time for the district: Enrollment is continuing to rise; 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 like PARCC continue to outpace state aid, which has remained flat for years.

    I’m of the opinion that, given the strains on the budget mentioned above, settling under PREA’s terms would result in program cuts that would be very unpopular with just about everyone in the community. Typically, those cuts fall disproportionally on the many special opportunities students enjoy in Princeton.

    Based on my personal experience, my opinion is that these cuts could result in increases in class sizes in our elementary school, decreases in the number of electives offered at Princeton High School, re-evaluation of the sports program with possible elimination of some sports or teams. It’s worth repeating that these are my person opinions and do not necessarily reflect the thinking of the board. I should also point out that while on the board, I was prohibited by law from participation in (or knowledge of) talks with PREA since my wife teaches in another district and is represented by a different NJEA local. So all I’ve written is based on media reports.

    I would be happy to discuss these matters with anyone outside of these forums. You can also call your board members, though what they are able to say might be less than I can as a slightly better-informed private citizen.

    In closing, I’d like to acknowledge that we’d all like a quick resolution of this matter. The collective weariness of our community is palpable. But these issues are just too important to be hastily decided at this point. I’ve reviewed what is publicly known of these negotiations and the offer on the table and have this advice for PREA: take the deal.

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

    1. In response to those parents who asked teachers to speak up —
      Here’s what an acceptable offer would be for me at 19 years of experience: one in which my take-home pay does not decrease with each continued year of employment. For me, it’s that simple. I am raising 3 children on one income. I do not have other health care options. The Board’s offer not only does not value experience, it discourages it. It puts me in a cage for the rest of my career.

      And thanks for the advice, Tim Quinn. Thanks for presuming to know what’s best for me. A little advice for you from Ben Franklin: Proclaim not all thou knoweth, all thou owest, all thou hast, nor all thou canst.

      Susi Franz Murphy
      English Teacher at Princeton High School
      PREA Member
      Widowed mother of three children in another school district

      1. @susimurphy:disqus: Thank you for your perspective. I don’t presume to know what is best for you and it’s not possible for any of us to know the personal circumstances of someone we’ve never met. Certainly, as a taxpayer, I am entitled to an opinion on how my tax dollars are spent. (Wasn’t that the radical notion Benjamin Franklin and the other Founding Fathers started a Revolution over?) With all due respect — and I have nothing but respect for teachers — I’m also entitled a citizen to look at public statements made by the people you elected to head your union local and the people I elected to represent my interests in the schools and conclude that the Board of Education’s offer is in the best interest of Princeton students and taxpayers, while the PREA offer is not sustainable and eventually will reduce opportunities today’s Princeton students enjoy.

        In saying that PREA should take the deal, I’m not presuming to know what is right for each individual member of your union. I’m also not claiming to everything about negotiations; nor everything about the schools. I’m not even claiming to know anything at all about teaching. I’m saying that I think it’s fair given the real challenges the district faces.

        While I don’t know anything about teaching, I do know school governance. And having worked for 15 years as a public worker (part of a 35-year career as a writer, editor and graphic designer), I do know something about working more hours for less compensation. Why is it that some members of your union seem to think that we don’t understand (and sympathize with) this reality?

        I truly am sorry for your loss and I thank you for your service to Princeton students.

        1. Your continued advice to PREA to “take the deal”, Tim, is getting tired. You have said quite honestly that you do not know what’s “right” for Princeton’s educators and, quite frankly, how could you? The complexities of an educator’s years of experience, education, position, health plan (or lack of health plan) makes your continued contention that “the deal” offered by the BOE is fair, simply inaccurate. It is our experienced negotiating team who knows all those variables and so I think I’ll leave my families’ future in their capable hands.

          Your continued fear mongering that any deal that might be satisfactory to teachers will lead to loss of program for students is just that- fear mongering.

          1. @Martha Friend: If you are growing tired of two weeks of “Take the Deal,” imagine how weary this community has grown of 14 months of blue T-shirts and “Settle Now” placards. If you think my predictions of program cuts, which were informed by data and experience as a board member, are “fear-mongering,” what is the community to think of PREA threats, apparently based on no similar data points, that there would be a mass exodus of veteran teachers unless the board tore up Chapter 78. You said yourself that you would be quitting.

            The truth here is the community now has more information upon which to decide. PREA dominated the conversation for more than a year and its actions caused great anxiety among students and parents. Now, other voices are being heard and questions are being asked that make PREA uncomfortable. Trust me, many more people would like to speak out, but they fear their children will suffer more than they already have if they do speak out. Who is instilling that fear? Me? I don’t think so.

            1. Now your comments are just ridiculous , Tim. Our team is not saying to tear up chapter 78 but we do disagree with the BOEs interpretation of the law when it sunsets. You quote the 100+ districts that haven’t pushed for a more equitable settlement but I know there are many others in our same situation.
              Blue shirts worn to show support of our team and pride in our profession are upsetting? Insinuations that a teacher would act in a less than professional manner toward a student because a parent disagrees with our position? Sorry- not buying it.
              There are no threats being made, Tim, just personal realities.

              1. I think the blue shirts worn on Halloween had a purpose other than professional pride. Other years at our elementary school teachers wore costumes, which the kids loved. This year they wore the t-shirts, which I found petty. The were sending a message to the students and parents.

                1. I am a proud product of the Princeton schools and a teacher in this district for over 25 years. The blue shirts DO send a message- that we are united in our struggle for a fair contract. I think it’s petty to be more concerned about t-shirts, than how hard-working professionals have been treated.

                  1. @Sarah Schwimmer:disqus: No one is “concerned” about the T-shirts. No one finds them “upsetting.” @disqus_BT8O6bX3h6:disqus found them petty on Halloween. Another parent questioned the appropriateness of the “PREA action team leader” who wore his PREA “Princeton Proud” T-shirt on an international student trip, then posted photos on the Internet. It’s not about the T-shirts; you can wear them every day if you want. @marthafriend:disqus said she was tired of hearing me repeat the new community catchphrase “Take the Deal.” I pointed out that I am one of many people who, after a year, are tired of the blue T-shirts and the “Settle Now” placards. No one is saying you shouldn’t wear them if you think they promote unity.

                    We’ll have to agree to disagree on “how hard working professionals are treated” and on what constitutes a fair contract. From what I know of the deal your leadership team left on the table and what other locals units agreed to, I think the offer on the table is fair. And I think PREA members are treated fairly since their salaries and non-pensionable extra pay are among the highest in the state.

                    Again, it’s not about the T-shirts; it’s about what’s in the best interest of the district going forward. I think it would be in everyone’s best interest for PREA to Take the Deal.

              2. @marthafriend:disqus: Perhaps I should not have used the term “tear up” and instead said what I’ve said all along: PREA wanted to negotiate outside of Chapter 78. Whatever the legality of the law, it’s clear that the board believes that the district cannot afford to do so. Instead, the board has offered alternatives that two other district unions have found acceptable. You keep talking about other locals trying to negotiate outside of Chapter 78, but there never seems to be a firm number. First it’s six, then seven, then a dozen and now “many others.” If there are many others, why haven’t we heard the name of a single local? Why haven’t any of these efforts resulted in any settlements? Why hasn’t NJEA, arguably the most powerful labor union in the state, issued a statement regarding C78? Why have they allowed 107 districts to settle?

                I’m not insinuating anything by my comments about the fear; I’m telling you what people have told me directly. They are afraid to say what they think — that the board’s offer is fair and they’re tired PREA tactics — because they think it will be held against their children. Whether rational or not (and emotions sometime aren’t), people are afraid to say publicly how they feel. These are people I know and trust, people with students in all of the schools, people who have watched with dismay as opportunities our students enjoyed in the past were denied their children for reasons that didn’t seem to be in the best interest of anyone but teachers.

                Blue shirts are not “upsetting.” Keep wearing them if you’d like; dye your hair blue in a show of support for all it matters. Just know that people are tired of seeing them, just as they’re tired of seeing “Settle Now” placards everywhere. We’ve lived with them for a year

                So if you’re tired of hearing “Take the Deal,” you might want to get used to it. Clearly, it’s supplanted the PREA catchphrase in the public’s mind.

              3. Of course threats have been made. The repeated suggestions that letters of recommendations for college won’t be written is an ongoing threat. That the threat hasn’t been carried out yet doesn’t change the fact it is a threat nor diminish the psychological trauma inflicted on both students and parents.

                1. Yes. And the AP courses were not a threat, but very real. This year the teachers held no extra review sessions before the AP exams. I believe the scores come back in July. It will be interesting to see if the average at PHS went down.

                  1. Add to that the coaches’ letter. It’s a well-honed, and long utilized, pressure tactic that has finally backfired. It defies credulity for any PREA member to deny it. Perhaps what has happened this time around will cause PREA to, at long last, abandon it for more productive negotiating strategies.

      2. Re: valuing experience, doesn’t the current tenure and compensation system value experience above all else? From what I could see on the salary list posted here a few days ago, the teachers w/ the most years in the system (not necessarily those doing the best job today) get paid the most. Just sayin’.

        I think the overall sentiments expressed by Ms. Murphy are ones we can all understand. None of us wants to lose ground. Unfortunately, many of us (including Princeton parents/tax payers) ARE losing ground. So when the teachers make it sound like this would be an extraordinary outcome, many folks think ‘Yeah, well, that’s kind of the way it is for me. . .’

        Big picture bottom line: Maybe the question isn’t “Why are the teachers asking for/expecting more?” but “Why aren’t the rest of us?” Why aren’t we all entitled to job security, affordable health care etc etc etc.? (And, no, I don’t believe in job security with essentially zero strings attached aka the present tenure system). Fighting over the crumbs, we are.

        Local picture bottom line picture: It’s a zero sum game and if the BOE giveth, they’re going to have to taketh. . .

        One more thing, I really wish people would stop making it seem like this issue has just two sides: angels and villains. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Thanks to the teachers who continue to do an outstanding job, despite these challenges. Thanks to the volunteer members of the BOE who have worked extremely hard to come up with fair and reasonable solutions.

        1. @JustAThought: As I said one of the most baffling things to me is that PREA members don’t seem to think that we in Princeton know anything about losing ground. Even those far better off than a teacher or a municipal worker have experienced declines. It seems only those at the very top of the financial world have been immune to setbacks. We watch reports of Wall Street’s rebound or low unemployment numbers and realize they don’t translate into improvements to our lives. We remain, as you said, “fighting for crumbs.”

  2. In the response to the question to “all members of the community who feel that there are untapped sources of funding—both within the district’s budget and in the greater community–to speak up now?” here is a source of funding not being “tapped”.

    Many know we are under a 2% cap each year to fund public schools in New Jersey (without a separate ballot referendum). Because inflation is currently on average 2% per year (inflation over last 5 years was 1.6, 3.2, 2.1, 1.5, and 1.6%) that 2% cap currently means funding for New Jersey schools, in inflation adjusted dollars, remains constant. However, keeping funding the same while student enrollment increases necessarily decreases funding per student. That is why there are exemptions to the 2% cap to allow New Jersey School districts with increasing enrollment the ability to keep funding per student amount at least similar in inflation adjusted dollars. Although depending on the actual increase in enrollment, NJ law does not allow 100% of the costs of new students to be funded (see New Jersey State Budget Guide for 2015 for details on the formula – page 125 {link deleted}

    The stated increase in students reported at the Board Budget Workshop for the Princeton Public Schools used for this calculation in 2015 was 171 (~5% increase in enrollment). (Actual enrollment Oct 2013= 3,746.0, Oct 2014 = 3,891.0, an increase of 145 students between those two years). That increase in enrollment means the Princeton school district, can raise an additional $1,742,715 for next year following State Law funding guidelines to fund additional students in the district. However, the budget the Administration presented and the Board adapted only took advantage of the enrollment waiver increase in the amount of $425,000 (current advertised budget number). So this year, following state funding guidelines, the Princeton School district has given up $1,317,715. Yes, the school district may choose to raise that money in future years. But the ability to have that money this year and all future years would mean a significant amount of money (think compound interest) to pay for rising student enrollment now. That extra money is now lost to the district forever, under current NJ school district funding guidelines.

    I understand that how much society should support funding open enrollment public schools is more of a political question than a simple calculation of dollars, but if the letters writers are truly looking for funding we in Princeton could have had (and I believe should have had), there is an example of “untapped” funding (~1.6% of operating budget of ~$82,000,000 in 2015) allowed by New Jersey State law.

    1. @rob_dodge:disqus: I suspect the board did not exercise the option to apply the entire enrollment waiver in one budget year out of respect for taxpayers. I thank them for that. Saying the district “has given up $1,317,715” makes it sound as if this was grant funding it didn’t receive because it missed the application deadline. The truth is this is an amount it could have levied in taxes in one year and chose instead to stretch that out over three years (I think), presumably out of deference to taxpayers, many of whom feel as if they are going backward and others who have fixed incomes and would like to continue to live in a town that has been their home for decades. Princeton has, by far, the highest average taxes in Mercer County and taxes that are significantly higher than in neighboring Montgomery. Can you suggest a non-tax source of revenue?

    2. Those “untapped sources of funding” are the same sources that pay for the schools now — us, the taxpayers. If I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is that the BOE legally could have raised the school portion of our taxes even more than they did, and you think they should have. I could not possibly disagree with you more. This constant expectation that Princeton residents will just keep paying more to satisfy this group or that one has to stop.

      1. Do you think the school district needs more revenue if there are more students in the District than there were previously ?

        1. @alexiassmus:disqus: You’re correct that rising enrollment will require additional resources. It will also require a reallocation of existing resources since waivers will only go so far. There are the essential questions for the board and the community to answer that get lost in the discussion of who is right. Suppose for a minute that those who believe acceding to PREA’s public demands will trigger programs cuts and layoffs. What would the community be willing to do without? Please see what I’ve written to @princetonresident:disqus on this subject.

          1. Why is enrollment rising? Is more housing being built? Are families having more children? Are the demographics of the town changing from singles or empty nesters to families with children?The answer to the question of how to meet the cost of rising enrollment depends on the reasons for the increase. Besides the Cranbury students and children of PPS employees, are there any other students who live outside the district? If so, why?

            1. Enrollment is increasing mainly because of a demographic cycle. After the war and through the early 1960s, there was a population spike (Baby Boom). The students moving through the system now are the children of that Baby Boom generation, hence a spike in enrollment (‘Echo Boom’). In a few years enrollment will plateau or potentially fall (according to the demographic survey commissioned by the School District).

            2. 600-plus new units have been built or are going to be built in the Witherspoon Corridor area (the university’s new Merwick-Stanworth doubled the number of units of housing, think Palmer Sq, 280-units at the former hospital site, …).

              1. @Alexi – how can these developments possibly be responsible for the current bubble in student numbers? The Merwick Stanworth redevelopment is only half-built. The former hospital site is still a pile of rubble. The Lakeside housing isn’t open yet. The Battlefield housing is tied up in litigation and is probably years away from being built. The Palmer Sq Residences are sitting half-empty, and the ones that are occupied are lived in by millionaire empty-nesters, not familes with school-age children. Will these developments add students in future? Almost certainly some. But they are absolutely not the cause of the current enrollment increase, because most of them aren’t even built yet! The schools are full now because lots of Boomers like you are sending your kids to school now, as is entirely your right.

                Second, increases in enrollment should not mean huge increases in spending. The WW-Plainsboro school district has seen student enrollment rocket in recent years. The population of Plainsboro, in particular, has increased from 5,600 in 1980 to 23,000 in 2010. And yet, that school district spends about 2/3 of the amount per student as Princeton, pays its teachers basically the same as Princeton, and achieves similar education outcomes. Population pressure is not the cause of high school spending.

              2. You are so consistently the source of bad information and shrill opinion as to amaze me. The developments you reference above mostly aren’t built, and the ones that are built are not owned by the demographic with children. So they are NOT responsible for any increase in student enrollment. Perhaps I should just ignore you, since I often do, but this inaccurate representation couldn’t go without comment in case there are others reading you aren’t familiar with the facts. (Do you ever like anything to change in our community?)

  3. As a member of the PREA, I would like to see teachers offered increases comparable to what the administrators and support staff recently accepted. As the Board’s presentation on May 20th showed, both of those unions were offered a greater percentage increase than our union was.

    1. @douglevandowski:disqus: Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but I recall hearing members of the board say that the raise being offered to PREA members was on par with what was offered administrators and support staff. I’d point out, too, that support staff were given the bigger salary increase, percentage wise, 2.5 percent.

      Thank you for all you do for students at PHS. I would be remiss if I did say that I personally know you to be an outstanding teacher. I wish you the best always.

      1. Tim, first off, thanks for the compliment. It was a pleasure to work with your son.

        In terms of the parity of the three offers, I’ve been referring to a PDF of the presentation given to the community at the special board meeting on May 20th. Since that presentation, it has been updated to include a comparison between the accepted PRESSA contract and the on offered to the PREA on May 4th. I tried to include a link, but that seems to automatically reject the posting. So, anyone interested in seeing it should go to the District’s website. Currently, “Contract Updates” is second in the feed, and a link to the PDF can be found by clicking on that update. Again, sorry I can’t post the link directly.

        In terms of PRESSA getting a bigger salary increase than PAA, my understanding is that difference (2.5% all three years for PRESSA and 2.39%, 2.38%, and 2.37% for PAA) stems from the PAA being allowed to “sell back” two vacation days, an option that’s not open to PRESSA.

        In terms of parity with PREA, the document only makes a direct comparison between PREA and PRESSA. Each year, PRESSA has been offered a greater percentage in salary increases when contrasted with the May 4th offer to the PREA: 2.44%, 2.2%, and 2.3%. When contrasting the year-by-year total increases, the difference is even greater. In Years 1 through 3, PRESSA’s total increase is 3.73%, 3.08%, and 3.11%. For the PREA, the increases in Years 1 through 3 are less: 2.44%, 2.87%, 2.79%.

        What is strange about the presentation is that does not have data about the total increases for the PAA’s contract – at least not that I can find in that presentation.

        If anything there is inaccurate, let me know. But based on the data available, the contracts offered to the PREA does not seem on par with the others.

        1. Doug Levandowski: Thank you for refreshing my memory about the slide show. I know it has caused a lot of confusion for everyone. I have no direct knowledge of negotiations, but it is worth noting that the May 4 offer was not characterized as a last best offer. Personally, expect the numbers to change.

          When the contract is settled — there will be a settlement someday — as an observer I will find if/how the salary guide changes to be interesting. The guide the board released at its August, 2014, meeting seemed to me to be far more equitable, bring with it larger raises for those in the middle of the guide. It’s worth nothing that the slideshow says ” the Board’s salary offer in years 2 & 3 proposed distribution of at least $175,000 of total dollars in each year to employees hired before 9/2011 currently on steps 3 through 8 to address inequities in current guide.” That seems only fair to me. I’ve said this several times, but to me the most overlooked but crucial piece of public information regarding these negotiations was that presentation. The timing was less than optimal since attendance was light; the blue sea was naturally at a low tide given that the start of school was a few weeks away.

          I seems to me that all of the items mentioned above could be worked out if the PREA stopped fighting Chapter 78. I know firsthand the impact C78 has had on my family’s take-home pay; we are making private sector-level contributions that were once anomalous with public employment. That said, it seems unlikely that taxpayers who are themselves subject to similar contribution levels and who are also treading water financially will offer relief, particularly when to do so might result in curtailment of opportunities for students. (@Martha Friend dismisses this as fear-mongering on my part, but based on my board experience, it seems a case of simple math.)

          You’re quite correct about the differences in the PRESSA and PAA settlements being the vacation buybacks and it does seem unusual to not include the total increases for PAA. In general, I think the more information, the better.

          1. That May 4th offer, though, is the one that many people have suggested we take. But, as I hope we can agree, it is not an offer that is equitable with what has been offered to and accepted by the other two unions. When the board offers such an offer to our negotiations team, I fully expect that both sides will be content with the result. And I’m hopeful that the settlement will come during the meeting this Wednesday.

            In terms of the August offer, I’m not sure about the details of it, but an offer that disproportionately benefits some of our members is not one that we’d likely accept. PREA remains committed to a fair deal for all of our members, which I appreciate – even though I was hired in 2005 and am on Step 8. But if I’ve mischaracterized that August offer, let me know.

            Lastly, I don’t see how (and forgive me if I’m misquoting this figure from the letter that some taxpayers sent to media outlets recently) a $39 tax increase on houses worth $800k would result in markedly fewer opportunities for students.

            Cheers, and have a great rest of the night.

  4. For what it’s worth, I’m a teacher in another district and have experienced several contract negotiations. In my six years of teaching, I’ve been through two step freezes, increased pension contributions, and health care contributions. As a result, I’ve never seen a gain in my paycheck in my entire teaching career. I have a feeling most Princeton teachers are in somewhat of a similar situation.

    At the end of the day, you cannot expect employees to work for less money each year. Furthermore, if you want an entire district of disgruntled employees for the next three years, the worst thing you can do is give the admins one thing and the teachers another. I’ve seen it happen first hand already. This district helps everyone in town sell their house for what they want. You should be behind the teachers who work in the school because at the end of the day, they are the ones in the district doing all of the legwork to get the students to learn.

    1. “This district helps everyone in town sell their house for what they want. ”

      But that doesn’t help residents who want to live their lives here. For them, property taxes are a more important issue since they won’t be selling their houses in the near future.

      1. It doesn’t hurt those residents either. Your property taxes are capped at 2% and if they were ever proposed to go up, you get to vote on them. The board is just going to have to forgo renovating offices or buying some $150k software that is probably more of a convenience than a necessity.

        1. I disagree that it won’t hurt those residents — paying those additional taxes does hurt. And residents don’t get to vote if their taxes go up by more than 2% (that’s what is happening this year, and there was no vote).

          And from what’s been reported, it’s not possible to pay the salary increases by saving money in the ways you suggest.

          1. There’s always ways to juggle money within the district. Just because something has been “reported” doesn’t make it true. Go look at the actual budget. There are probably things they could live without.

            As far as property taxes, if you aren’t satisfied with the 2% cap, nothing will satisfy you. You want members of the community who have raised your home value by hundreds of thousands of dollars to take another 4 figure hit so you can save a hundred or so on your property taxes.

            1. @disqus_kShHheypwo:disqus: Have you looked at the actual budget? Have you reviewed any of the more than 15 consecutive clean audits of district finances? If you are “a teacher in another town,” then you are perpetuating the PREA’s myth that there is a pot of gold somewhere that the board and the administration have hidden away. What would their possible motivation be for hoarding this tax money? To keep it away from already well-paid staff? To keep it away from students who include their own children? I’m sure fact-finding will reveal this as one of several PREA falsehoods. Perhaps that’s why talks will continue today.

              Who are these “members of the community who have raised your home value by hundreds of thousands of dollars”? I’m confused. Are you talking about teachers here? Sure, quality public schools are a contributing factor to home values. In Princeton’s case, so is the world-class university in our back yards. Dare I say, so is our outstanding public library, our vibrant arts scene and our top-flight municipal services.

              Finally, I would point out that our teachers benefit from this community, too. The overwhelming majority of our students show up for their first day of school (and for most of the days thereafter) well prepared, eager to learn and supported by parents who place a emphasis on lifelong learning. I know many teachers in other districts, including one just about 10 miles from here, who would love to teach such students.

        2. It’s not property taxes that are capped; it’s budgets. When the tax is levied to raise the money that the budgets require, how much the tax goes up per household depends of the value and number of the properties being taxed. That may change from year to year. Properties may be removed from the tax rolls or new housing or commercial properties may be added. But be careful about assuming that new residential housing will help lower taxes because it brings in new ratables. There are two issues (1) it’s often the case that the taxes from new residential housing don’t meet the cost of new services to those new residents (police, municipal services, schools — particularly if facilities needs to be expanded to provide the new services, think the high school). (2) Since we are living in an era of municipal and school budget caps of 2%, it may be that the municipality cannot raise the taxes enough to provide the new services. (there are exceptions and waivers allowed to the 2% rule but they often do not make up the full cost of providing services to new residents) In that case we may see a decline in taxes, but also a decline in services.

          So large-scale residential development has the potential of either causing a rise in taxes or a decline in services . A financial impact analysis of individual projects needs to be done and made public to determine if the project is financially sound for the municipality.

    2. @BL: No one doubts the importance of teachers and everyone wants them to be fairly compensated. The issue here is what is fair, given the external pressures the district faces (rising enrollment, budget caps, increasing healthcare costs, flat or decreasing state aid and unfunded state mandates) and the fact that Princeton teachers have historically been better compensated than their peers in other districts.

      Princeton is pro-teacher, but is looking at a future where a settlement in line with the union’s desires could have serious repercussions for programs. Some call that thinking “fear-mongering,” but others see it as prudent planning based on known data.

      We all sympathize with people working more hours every year for flat or diminishing take-home pay; the question to be answered is if taxpayers should shield one group of public workers from these harsh realities, no matter how vital their roles.

      1. The teachers haven’t been shielded from anything. They’ve taken hit after hit the past six years. With the economy turned around, I think its time to finally give them what they are asking for, which is not anything outlandish.

        If you really want to know the culprit that makes your life difficult, its Horizon. They manage to raise the health care costs each year thousands of dollars for no reason without any blow back from the general public or board of ed. The state should be putting pressure on them rather than local school boards and workers. This is a so called “non-profit” running billion dollar surpluses. They are the ones ripping you off.

        1. The entire district was shielded as it went through the recession without any layoffs. Teachers and administrators had job security at a time when there were significant upheavals in the private sectors.

          I agree with the need to control health care costs in general. That’s what the Affordable Care Act is trying to do.

          1. You shouldn’t expect to layoff teachers in a recession. And they weren’t shielded. They have taken several thousand dollar hits from all the legislation the past six years.

            1. “You shouldn’t expect to layoff teachers in a recession.” And why not? Pretty much every profession laid off workers during the recession. The fact that there were no layoffs, and tenure protected those with seniority from even the possibility, shielded teachers from the worst effects of the recessions.

              Teachers did experience economic hits, but so did workers across the economy, in addition to layoffs. No one wants to minimize the pain of the economic hits, but to not put these losses in perspective to those experienced by others seems skewed.

              1. Because, it’s a school system, not a business. You don’t see the school systems adding a bunch of jobs during good times, therefore, there’s no need to remove staff during the bad times. They should be running a steady predictable budget year in and out. What are you going to do? Tell the kids, “hey, no Chemistry this year, we are in recession”?

                You are still speaking as if its 2008. It’s not. Princeton has done well as a town. I think it’s easily workable to give the teachers a modest raise….you know, the same that was already given to the administration. And like I said, it doesn’t have to be additional money outside your pocket. Usually, these things can be accomplished if they just decide to make some software cuts or decide not to replace the roof for the 2nd time in a decade.

                1. BL: Your “no chemistry” scenario is inaccurate. It would be more like, “No organic chemistry, no AP art history, no ice hockey, Studio Band OR Jazz Ensemble (not both). And, elementary parents, your kids will no longer be in classes of 20, but classes of 25 or 30.” Try selling that to our students and parents.

                  While you’re at it, tell Princeton residents on fixed incomes or retirees (or even those still working) that “Princeton has done well as a town” since 2008. You might learn something that counters your stereotypes. Your perspective seems to mirror what I suspect is the cynical but unspoken belief of PREA members: that as a relatively affluent and well-educated town, teachers should be able to extract whatever they want from taxpayers to educate our children, no matter the long-term consequences on the people who live here.

                  Now, to quote the letter-writers, people are asking both sides for “a fair, equitable, and sustainable settlement.” The key word is the penultimate one: “sustainable.” It seems to me that a settlement that meets the short-term needs of the current cohort of teachers, but results in staff and program cuts next year or a few years down the road is not “sustainable.”

                  1. There’s a difference between whatever they want and modest raise EXACTLY the same as you gave the admin. Did they extract all they could from you as well? You are the one perpetuating the stereotype of the town, not me. Regardless of how the town handled the recession, I’d gather that residents of Princeton as a whole fared far better than the residents of all the other towns within the county.

                    I’m pretty sure there is money tucked away somewhere that doesn’t require a tax increase. There always is. I’ll watch it play out and say I told you so.

                    1. @disqus_kShHheypwo:disqus Can you please tell us if you live in Princeton or not? At least I know @marthafriend:disqus does and @douglevandowski:disqus does not because they have the courage to use their real names. (My respect for Mr. Lev is not at all diminished by the fact that he doesn’t live here.) To clarify: by “Princeton,” I mean the Municipality of Princeton, not a surrounding community using “Princeton” in its name or another town that has a Princeton mailing address. All we know of you is that you are “a teacher in another town.” You never told us if you live in “another town.”

                      It is you who are perpetuating stereotypes about the town — and the district — now. How do you know that “there is money tucked away somewhere that doesn’t require a tax increase”? Have you reviewed any of the 15 or so consecutive clean audits of district finances? Having been elected twice to the town’s Board of Education, I can tell you that PREA’s narrative that there is a pot of gold somewhere that the board and the administration have hidden away is patently false. What would their possible motivation be for hoarding this tax money? To keep it away from already well-paid staff? To keep it away from students who include their own children? I’m sure fact-finding will reveal this as one of several PREA falsehoods. Please do watch as that protracted and expensive process plays out; then, if I’m wrong, you can “say I told you so.”

                      For the record: I did not give the admins anything this time around; I was not on the board when this contract was even negotiated, let alone approved. The board’s May slideshow to the contrary, I personally suspect (pure conjecture) that an eventual settlement will include a parity in pay raise/total compensation percentage increases IF the PREA drops its demand to lower its premium healthcare contributions below the level paid by every other public employee, including you (assuming you are a “teacher in another town”). That is why these negotiations have dragged on for a year: the local’s demand to negotiate outside of Chapter 78 and this board’s refusal to do so.

                      I want to point out that your volte-face on the recession — first you say how Princeton weathered it matters, now you say it doesn’t. This proves you know nothing of our town and the people who live here. If I’m wrong, and you are a Princeton resident, just say so and I’ll retract my statements to the contrary. I’ll even delete them rom this thread.

                      Finally, I’ll go back to what the letter-writers said: they support a settlement that is “fair, equitable, and sustainable.” For those who live here and pay taxes, the final word is as important as the other two.

                  2. I must jump in again, Tim, as your rhetoric has become offensive. “unspoken belief of PREA members. . . teachers should be able to extract whatever they want from taxpayers” You think I spoke out-of-turn when I said there was evidence of “teacher bashing” in on this forum but I’m pretty sure I can speak for my fellow educators when I say this characterization is offensive. You paint a picture that we’re out to take someone’s grocery money. Please make your points without demonizing the PPS teachers because as you continue to point out, you “respect” teachers.

                    1. @marthafriend:disqus: Harsh words, for sure. And not characteristic of my previous comments. I’m glad you stepped in and allowed me to explain. I don’t think this rises to the level of “teacher bashing,” which I define as saying teachers aren’t worth what they’re paid because their jobs are easy and they have two months off a year. I said none of that. I don’t begrudge you or any teacher anywhere what he or she makes. I know how difficult the work is; I know how high community expectations are in relatively affluent districts. You don’t seem to get that.

                      I should have added more context and said that SOMETIMES when I read about PREA’s demands (to lessen their contributions to healthcare; to get a raise comparable to other bargaining units who made concession on healthcare; to continue to pay virtually no deductibles for healthcare; to add to their already-high non-pensionable extra pay) and then hear its members who don’t live in our town opine as to what is and is not reasonable for my fellow Princeton taxpayers to contribute, I do get frustrated and, in my frustration, I think the worst: that PREA believes that Princeton can afford to continue to pay whatever teachers want because of our average housing values and our community values. As @disqus_kShHheypwo:disqus, a teacher in another town, said, “Princeton has done well as a town” since 2008. He says that, but doesn’t say he knows anything about our town or anyone who lives in it. He certainly doesn’t know anyone who lives in my neighborhood. We have reached the time as a community when some of us are saying, “All due respect, your demands are not sustainable.”

                      I apologize for offending you. I hope some day, I and the former and current members of the Board of Education will receive an apology from your union for being called, among other things, “teacher haters,” “union busters,” “tools of Gov. Christie,” “destroyers of the middle class” “Koch Brothers supporters” and “Tea Party members,” to paraphrase but a few choice comments uttered by PREA members in open forums at board meetings. (I can’t imagine what’s been said at the bargaining table.)

                      I leave you with this message from the former president of the Morris Hills Regional District Education Association, which I discovered while doing research to debunk @disqus_Xhaac6BNen:disqus’s false narratives about C78. (Please check out the post about Union County Vo Tech.) Read it and reflect on your leadership’s attitudes toward the board. I hope you accept my apology.

                2. ” And like I said, it doesn’t have to be additional money outside your
                  pocket. Usually, these things can be accomplished if they just decide
                  to make some software cuts or decide not to replace the roof for the 2nd time in a decade.”

                  I don’t think anyone can be serious about such suggestions. You are proposing to finance long-term annual increases by a series of one-time year to year cuts of individual items. That simply won’t work.

                  Yes, education is not a for-profit business, which is why teachers were shielded from layoffs. But I find it bizarre that you can’t admit that this is a way that teachers have benefited over the past 7 years in a ways that other professions didn’t.

            2. @disqus_kShHheypwo:disqus: The expired contract was a three-year deal. It was agreed upon by the union and the district just as Chapter 78 went into effect. So the correct time frame is four years, not six.

              1. @disqus_kShHheypwo:disqus: You are correct. Including the year teachers have been working under terms of the expired contract, it is four years. It’s certainly not six years, as you claimed.

        2. @disqus_kShHheypwo:disqus: For the sake of accuracy, I don’t believe I said the teachers “have been shielded.” They paid healthcare premium contributions at levels that are among the highest in the nation for public workers, as did every other teacher, administrator and support staff worker in every school district in New Jersey. The same was true for all Princeton municipal workers and every other public employee in New Jersey. That they made these contributions at a time when their salary guide was frozen in bargaining meant that teachers in the middle of the guide were hit harder than their colleagues at the top. And the time frame of these reversals was three years, no six.

          What I said was that the PREA now expects the taxpayers to shield them from these premium contribution levels going forward, likely to the detriment of programs for students and definitely to the detriment of taxpayers. I think a lot of people look at that and say, no matter how much we value teachers, that is wrong.

          It also leads to this question: If the PREA is successful in getting the board to agree to negotiate outside of Chapter 78, does this force the board to file for insurance waivers every year because healthcare costs would artificially rise due to the extra amount taxpayers are paying to offset C78 costs? If so, this is effectively an end-run around taxpayers, placing an even greater burden on taxpayers for teacher healthcare, or, as I said, effectively shielding PREA from contributions paid by everyone else in the public sector in New Jersey.

          I urge the Board of Education to hold the line on C78, no matter how long it takes. The consequences for capitulating are enormous.

      2. @tkq – In almost all of your responses on this issue, you refer to program cuts (or “serious repercussions for programs”) that might help save money for the district. I am a community member, taxpayer, and parent of children in the schools, and I have not heard of anyone discussing this. For the record, I would be open to this discussion and to seeing where we could make some cuts. I think it is a mistake to assume that this would be “unpopular” with everyone, especially when weighed against the importance of happy, engaged teachers.

        1. Princeton resident: I would welcome this discussion, as would the Board of Education. Shortly after my term ended in January, I wrote a letter to the editor here and in the town’s

          weekly print publication asking residents, particularly public school parents, to think about what they would be willing to do without in order for teachers to be paid enough to offset their healthcare contributions. I urged parents to attend the board’s budget workshop to educate themselves about the fiscal stressors the district faces and to follow that up by speaking at the budget hearing. Two people spoke at the hearing, one of whom said “a vote for this budget is a vote against children” because the board did not exercise every dollar of every waiver to raise more in local taxpayer revenue. No one discussed a single program they would be willing to do without.

          Putting aside services for students with special needs — it would be unconscionable and illegal to cut these services — let’s look at some of the programs that make our schools different than the average public school district and different than some of our neighboring high performing districts. It’s important to note that while I am calling attention to these differences, I am not advocating for cutting them or even saying these were areas of discussing when I was on the board. I’m making two points: these programs reflect community values for education, which is why we elect boards of education; these are among the things districts cut when they are forced to look at programs.

          — Class sizes at neighborhood elementary schools: We’ll leave aside the question of neighborhood elementary schools, except to point out that other districts realize savings by consolidating grades into single schools. (In this example, students would be assigned to school building by grade: all PreK-Grade1 students in one school building; Grades 2-3 in another; and so on) I personally think our neighborhood schools are a strength of the district and I think there would be outrage were this sort of reorganization proposed, which is why I said we should leave it aside to focus on class sizes.

          As it is now, when class sizes in the elementary schools reach a certain number in any grade — Littlebrook’s 2014 unpredicted sharp rise in kindergarten classes comes to mind — the district simply hires more teachers. I’m not sure what the trigger number is, but it definitely an established district practice, reflecting community values. The advantages of smaller class sizes are well established and I remember from my days as an elementary school parent that variations in class sizes within a grade level or between grades were causes for concern. The answer to rising enrollments in cash-strapped districts is easy: raise class sizes

          — Fewer electives at Princeton High School: I don’t know how many here have viewed the PHS program of studies, which is available online. For those who haven’t it rivals that of some colleges. PHS students enjoy a wealth of academic opportunities that are fitting for a town with a world-class university. Some of these classes are rarely offered in other high schools, including multivariable calculus, Great Books, organic chemistry, physical anthropology and forensics. The program of studies of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts alone is rich and deep with electives that are beyond the reach of many high schools. Similarly, more AP courses are offered than in most other high schools, with the arts and humanities represented as strongly as math and the sciences.Meanwhile, class sizes in core, required classes at the high school have been high for many years. We still hear stories of students turning up for geometry classes where there are not enough desks in the room

          — Co Curricular Activities: Again, there is a depth to the offerings reflecting community values that students have a wealth of opportunities in high school. I will focus here more on sports than on clubs, since sports are the more expensive. It’s worth noting here that many of the arts are curricular offerings — students take Studio Band or Drama as a course, for example — as opposed to co-curriculars like Speech and Debate or Model U.N. Where sports are concerned, PHS takes pride in its relatively high percentages of participation, resulting from a variety of offerings. In addition to the standard sports, PHS has extras such as fencing, volleyball, golf and ice hockey. (For many years in the early 2000s, PHS and Summit High School were among the few public high schools in New Jersey to offer girl’s ice hockey.) In 2010, when cuts in state aid led to a serious examination of co-curriculars, boys and girls ice hockey were defunded by the district, forcing parents to pay out of pocket for the teams to survive until funding could be restored.

          So these are some of the things I personally think could be imperiled if the board somehow gave in to the demands of the teachers. I suspect this is why negotiations, particularly attempts to negotiate outside of Chapter 78, have gone on for so long. If one were to ask a representative group of public school parents what they might be willing to give up so that teachers could get more take-home pay, I’m guessing the answer will be, “Nothing that’s going to affect my child.”

          1. Tim, if money is the issue, then the Board should be planning so that all employees – PAA, PRESSA, and PREA – are all sharing equally in the cuts. As we discussed yesterday and I think agreed, PAA’s contract and PRESSA’s contract were both better than the most recent publicly-discussed offer to the PREA.

            Are PRESSA and PAA better compensated than their peers in other districts, too? I don’t even know how to start looking for that data, but if so, then it seems reasonable that PREA should be as well.

            When it comes to getting rid of electives, I’m teaching all core classes this year, and none of them has more than 21 students in it. I’m not sure class size is really an issue. Furthermore, if electives don’t have sufficient enrollment, they just don’t run – or fewer sections run. But there is, if I’m not mistaken, a minimum class size for an elective to run.

            Lastly, numerous parents wrote a letter saying that they would be willing to pay more in property taxes. While I guarantee that not every member of the community would feel that way, budgets over the 2% cap have regularly been approved by the voters of Princeton. I think it’s a false dilemma to say it’s either compensation for teachers or maintenance of school programs. The third option is one that taxpayers have frequently chosen in this town.

            1. @douglevandowski:disqus: Hi again, Mr. Lev. I think we’re in agreement that any eventual settlement should result in comparable percentage increases for all units. It’s worth noting that 2.5 percent for 20 members of the PAA costs far less than 2.5 percent for the more than 350 members of PREA. So I said “Take the Deal,” knowing what was said on the slide: that the final percentages were negotiable. The real deal to be taken — the one that’s caused this to drag on for so long — involves giving up the fight to negotiate outside of Chapter 78 and accepting cost-saving measures that benefit everyone.

              Budgets above 2 percent were certainly approved by voters prior to legislation establishing the cap. Since the cap has been in place, I can’t recall the board putting a second question on the ballot, but I could be mistaken. This year’s board exercised waiver for enrollment and health insurance, but were mindful to spread the waiver over three years to soften the tax blow on residents. I’m very grateful they did so.

              Asking parents if they mind paying more in taxes for the schools is a little like asking the NBA if they want to have a basketball game. If you go into the neighborhoods and have conversations with people who have lived here for decades, they are afraid that they’re going to be taxed out of town. These are people who might have moved here in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s — sure, the schools were a draw — and whose children are grown and through the schools (and maybe even through college) and they would like to continue to live in their homes and enjoy all their town has to offer. Some of the people I mention are on fixed incomes, making one person’s “modest increase” another person’s ticket out of town.

              One of the stated goals of Princeton’s leaders is to have a town that is diverse in every way, including economically. Taxing people out of town; forcing them to sell so that other, wealthier families can move in to send their kids to our schools, would seem to work against that goal. Take a vote and see if all of Princeton would like their taxes to rise above 2 percent to support the schools and you might find the answer very different than a sampling of public school parents. Meanwhile, if the parents you speak to are willing to pay more to support the schools, please suggest they make gifts to the Princeton Education Foundation.

              For information about compensation, I would suggest NJ Spotlight’s Interactive Map to School Salaries and NJ DOE’s Taxpayer’s Guide to School Spending. Finally, here is a chart comparing average residential taxes in Mercer County and in Montgomery. While schools are only half of that amount, and Princeton pays more in county equalization taxes than other communities, you’ll notice that our average tax is higher than other towns and that it is rising faster.

              I hope there is a settlement this week and I’m pleased to hear that your class sizes are steady. I wish you the best for summer.

              1. I don’t think the PEF, a private fund, is the best way to maintain funding for a public institution. It’s tough to plan long-term using charitable giving that can vary widely from year to year, especially for something as important as ensuring equitable access to a K-12 education.

                As far as voting is concerned, I believe – though I could be wrong since I’m just going off of memory here – that immediately after Christie implemented the so-called 2% cap, Princeton voters voted resoundingly to pass the over-2% budget. The nature of democracy is that majority rules. If the majority of the town wants to pass a budget, then it should be passed. If they believe that the money could be better spent elsewhere, then they’ll vote that way. And I don’t see how a $39/year increase would price anyone out of living in Princeton – and that’s only for families with $800K houses. The property tax burden would be less for families in less expensive homes.

                As for the 2.5% increase costing more for the PREA compared to the PAA, of course it does; there are more members in the PREA. If we were talking about parity in dollars, the PAA would get a much larger percentage raise. But that would be decidedly unfair. As I’ve said before, if the Board could not afford to give a comparable percentage raise to all unions, they should have given less to the other unions.

                And thanks for the reference to the Interactive Map. A quick look at it indicates that the salaries of administrators in PPS are also higher than nearby districts. However, given that there are varying levels of experience, the only way to get a real comparison, I think, would be to look at salary guides for both teachers and administrators from local districts. And I have annotated bibliographies to grade. 🙂

                1. @Doug Levandowski: I will attempt to determine the percentage of increase in the tax levy at the last budget vote. It’s worth noting that we haven’t had a budget vote in several years, for which we should all be grateful, because I doubt one would pass now.

                  I am most curious about this $39 number that keeps getting kicked around. I don’t think anyone on the board ever cited that figure; I think it came straight from your leadership and was repeated by supporters of the PREA. I’d be interested in seeing the math on that one. Again, making it sound as if all we have to do is give up a few visits to Small World for teachers to be happy is not helpful for people who have seen financial reversals worse than those experienced by teachers.

                  So I hope I understand that you don’t really care much about people in town living on fixed incomes, some of whom are PREA retirees, so long as you get 2.5 percent and relief from Chapter 78. So the board should exercise every waiver and maximize the amount of tax raised each year no matter the effect on the citizenry? I hadn’t had you pegged for one of the PREA cynics who thinks everyone in Princeton is a millionaire.

                  Finally (for now), I don’t quite get PREA’s fixation with administrative salaries. I’ve commented several times that I’ve never seen a union throw another union under the bus the way PREA does, and all to prove nothing. Are our adminstrators well compensated? Yes. Are our teachers well compensated? Yes. What is the point? You can see for yourself in the chart Planet Princeton published that several 10-month teachers earned more than 12-month administrators last year, yet we don’t hear the latter complaining publicly that they are hurting and deserve more.

                  1. Tim, in looking through the past letters, I found out that I was mistaken. From a June 2nd letter, “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.” So, I assume that covering any additional costs would require proportional increases. I have no idea what it would cost to relieve Tier 4 contributions. And that’s a letter that was written by district residents, not the PREA.

                    More importantly, I think you misunderstand my concerns in a few important ways.

                    First, I do care about anyone struggling to make ends meet, whether it be because they’re on a fixed salary, because their pay has been frozen, because they’ve been “downsized” – or for any other reason. Both my mother and my in-laws are retired, so I’m acutely aware of the changes that come from living with a fixed income. And I certainly don’t think that everyone in town is a millionaire. I’m not sure how you’d gather that from what I’ve said.

                    Second, I bring up the contracts with PAA and PRESSA when it comes to issues of parity in those contracts. I cannot see how that’s throwing anyone under the bus. All I’m saying is that, if times are tight, they should be tight equally, not more for one group than another.

                    Lastly, in terms of some teachers making more than some administrators, any payscale that rewards experience is going to have that issue. There are teachers who have been teaching for more than 35 years – and some administrators who have been in the district fewer than 2 years. As long as we value years of experience and time in the district, that will remain the case. To see the ways in which a teacher and an administrator are compensated, we’d need to compare total compensation based on a salary guide (including any longevity bonuses), then add 20% to the teacher’s salary. Then, we’d be comparing apples to apples.

                    1. Thank you for clarifying your points. So we see that the $39 comment came from parents, not from the board or the PREA. I’m still interested to see the math on that. You’ll forgive me if I trust a board elected officials to represent my interests instead of a group of parents. Even if the $39 figure were real, it is based on taking a waiver each year, the amounts of which are not predictable and cannot be known until budget time. Such waiver budgeting could lead to wild swings in staffing, class sizes and programming.

                      It also raises a question: If PREA is successful in getting the board to agree to negotiate outside of Chapter 78, does this force the board to file for insurance waivers every year because healthcare costs would artificially rise due to the extra amount taxpayers are paying to offset C78 contributions? If so, this is effectively an end-run around taxpayers, placing a perpetual, ever-increasing burden on taxpayers for teacher healthcare. Is that even possible by law? Aren’t the waivers intended for actual fluctuations in healthcare costs, not on an engineered increase negotiated in a contract?

                      I have been commenting too long and am using shorthand for what I’ve written previously. I do think PREA’s focus on administrators salaries both works against collegiality and is a labor tactic I’ve never seen. From a union standpoint. I’ve written several times that when I was a Teamster and we struck against our employer, settlements by other steelworkers or autoworkers never factored into the discussion because they were not germane. I personally believe PREA’s fixation on PAA is an attempt to distract attention from the fact that teachers are well compensated. Yes, they have longevity; teachers have opportunities to earn non-pensionable income that can total up to $30,000. (That was the top non-pensionable payment in 2013 according to public documents. The 2014 top payment was $29,901.) So a true apples-to-apples comparison would be more difficult since non-pensionable payments are not consistent. (For instance, the non-pensionable payout to to the person who received $29,901 in 2014 went down to $28,770 this year.)

                      For what it’s worth, in my non-union public workplace, the director negotiates a separate contract with our board, and employee raises (when such things do occur) are not benchmarked to the amount of the executive’s salary increase. This is because, well, she is the boss and has different duties and responsibilities than other employees.

                      Forgive me for interpreting your comments regarding housing values and the relative impact of tax increases on income levels as being consistent with PREA members who believe everyone in Princeton is wealthy enough to sustain the kind of tax hits that would come with a contract outside C78. I’m glad you acknowledge that not everyone has the wherewithal to continue to pay these kinds of tax increases.

                    2. Well, it depends what the tax increases are. If they’re in the $39 dollar range, then yes, I think most residents have the wherewithal to cover them. For residents who don’t, I’d be surprised if they’re in $800K housing, so they wouldn’t be equally burdened with that tax as would people living in more expensive houses. Do you have any numbers from the Board about what they say the increases would look like?

                      As for the end run, my understanding is that this would be a one-time increase, not a perpetual increase. And, as for this being negotiated into a contract, the Tier system was implemented by Christie, not negotiated in. Unless I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying…

                      In terms of the comparison, I think part of what gives me no pause in comparing our offer with the accepted contract is that, at the May 20th Board meeting, the Board’s presentation compared the three contracts extensively. Also, given that much of what we’ve been discussing here is whether or not there’s the money to go around, I think that the deals with the other unions show that there was money available for them. If the Board’s stance was, “We think PAA and PRESSA deserve a larger percent increase,” I would respectfully disagree – but that would obviate any criticism on the issue with the pool of money. The Board would simply have different priorities. But the fact is that they have not said that.

                      Throwing PAA and PRESSA under the bus would be saying that they don’t deserve the contract they got. I’ve never said that, never thought it, and I hope never said anything whereby that could be inferred. Everyone working in this building (the group I feel qualified to speak about) does damn fine work. What I’m saying is that, if we thought the compensation under the previous contracts was equitable, the percentage increases in total compensation should be the same.

                    3. @douglevandowski:disqus: Exactly why we need more information about that $39 figure. Obviously, $800K is an average housing valuation. As our last community revaluation taught us, there’s great danger in making assumptions about people based on their housing values, just as there are dangers in making assumptions about the lives of teachers based on their salaries. (A teacher who is taking home just under $90,000 this year told the board she is living on ramen noodles.) Do you agree that people on fixed incomes could be living in houses with high values because they bought relatively low a long time ago? Perhaps people overpaid at the peak of the housing market and are struggling to stay in their houses. In both scenarios, any tax increase is of consequence.

                      Lowering the premium contributions of PREA members below Tier 4 of Chapter 78, something no other district has approved, could force the board to take a healthcare waiver every year. And with enrollment rising, we as taxpayers would be on the hook for a lot more than 2 percent a year. This is why maintaining C78 is crucial to taxpayers and why PREA is on its own in demanding that the board turn back the clock on healthcare contributions by its members. (The other numbers to consider herr are 107, the number of districts who have settled contracts with Tier 4 in place, and zero, the number of districts who have settled contracts outside of C78)

                      Could this insistence on rolling back of premium contributions have played some factor in why the board’s offer to PREA is 0.06 percent lower than PRESSA in Years 1 and 2 and 0.2 percent lower in Year 3? Really, the way forward is for PREA leadership to accept that absent a radical lowering of overall health insurance costs, Tier 4 of C78 is here to stay.

                      I’m happy to hear there is collegiality at PHS. I remember those who spoke at board meetings about PAA, particularly regarding the one-year deal they accepted to give Mr. Cochrane at least a small measure of labor peace in his first year, did so with a vitriol that is absent in other districts, and, as I noted, absent from my past experience as a union member.

                    4. As I’ve said before, it depends what the increases would be. $39? Fine. Many thousands of dollars? Of course not. If the parents’ estimate is unreliable, what does the Board say the increase would be?

                      Where are you getting the figure about number of districts who have settled contracts with Tier 4 in place? I haven’t heard about that.

                      And the Board’s offer to PREA is not 0.006% less than to PRESSA. In terms of total compensation, across the three years, the difference in total compensation is 1.29%, .21%, and .32%. The numbers you’re citing are for salary only.

                    5. @douglevandowski:disqus: You are correct that I was citing only the salary portion of the slideshow. (My apologies.) The slideshow is also where the 107 number appears. There’s no attribution, but I’m guessing this came from The New Jersey School Boards Association. I reviewed NJSBA document titled Settlement Rates in Perspective and could find no information about a single district settling outside of Chapter 78. Here is the cover sheet for that document, which is available on the NJSBA site under the Resources tab.

                      I’d still like to see the math from the parents on the $39 number. You continue to cite it as fact with no methodology behind it. Again, you’ll have to accept that I’m trusting the board on this. The absence of any such statement could be explained by the fact that negotiations are still under way; it’s also possible that the information is not favorable to taxpayers and would cause members of the community to urge the board to reduce its offer. I simply don’t know.

                      That said, I gather from your comments that you would consider only a tax increase of “many thousands of dollars” as unacceptable for people living in houses with an average valuation of $800,000, no matter the possible circumstances of the individuals living in those houses. Should I conclude, then, that teachers earning $90,000 a year are eating ramen because they like ramen, not because their healthcare contributions are too high?

                    6. Unless they’re saying that no districts settled out of Tier 4, I’m not sure we can take a lack of mentioning it as evidence that it hasn’t happened. I’m not saying anyone has or hasn’t; I have no idea whether or not they have.

                      My issue with flatly agreeing with the Board on their statement that it would be a significant increase is that I don’t know what they mean by that. Given that I haven’t heard a number from them, I think it’s reasonable to trust the taxpayers of this district to accurately do the math – unless, of course, their math is shown to be wrong. I’d love to see their math, too – but I don’t know how to contact any of them to ask.

                      And no, I was giving the two extremes. “Many thousands of dollars” is far beyond an increase that I would expect and far beyond what I think is reasonable. As I’ve asked many times, what’s the Board’s estimate for what the increase would be? (This is the last time I’ll ask. If it’s not available, just let me know. As I said earlier, I feel like you and I are flogging this poor, dead horse here.)

                      As for what other teachers have said, I’m only here to speak for myself, as asked by the community members who wrote this letter. I’m not going to pretend to know the circumstances of whoever it was who said that, and I’m not interested in making this personal.

                    7. Doug Levandowski: To be clear: What the board has said is that 107 NJEA locals representing teacher have agreed to settlements with Tier 4 contributions in place for Years 2 and 3 (after the law sunsets). Meanwhile, we’ve heard from PREA leadership an ever-changing number of districts (first six, then seven, then 12) have been in talks where Tier 4 of Chapter 78 was thrown out the window in Years 2 and 3 in favor of local proposals. No one who talked about these districts ever mentioned a single name or county or DFG. When I called NJSBA after my term ended, they said they’ve never heard of such a thing. And I could find no mention of such a settlement in any the NJSBA materials available online.

                      So evidence of the 107 is there, but there is no evidence about the six or seven or 12, even from the people who claim they’re out there. If these districts existed, don’t you think we’d hear about them. After all, it would be a great victory. Wouldn’t NJEA issue a statement? Would NJEA allow 107 other locals to settle based on terms with which they didn’t agree? Is there even an NJEA policy statement on C78?

                      I’m not sure why the board has not released a statement on the potential tax impact of its proposals. Obviously, you believe the $39 statement because of your faith in the parents who released the number. And I am highly suspicious of the number because I don’t know where it came from and how it was determined. Agree to disagree?

                      I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on the impact to taxpayers as well. I’ve lived here a long time (more than 25 years) and it’s been my pleasure to meet a lot of different people of all income levels. Many have been going backward for years. They love the town and want to stay here. They respect teachers and understand what your membership is going through, but they fear an endless string of tax increases will force them out of town.

                      For them, the key word is the last one: “fair, equitable and sustainable”

                    8. The districts that have negotiated Tier 4 are as follows:

                      Tewksbury Twp.
                      Morris Hills Reg.
                      Green Twp.
                      Park Ridge
                      Ridgefield Park
                      Union County VoTech

                      According to the NJEA these are as of September 30, 2014. There are likely more since. I’ll continue to research.

                      It’s not surprising in the least that the NJSBA would have nothing to say about districts that negotiate Ch. 78. It’s hardly in the best interest of the New Jersey School Boards Association to advertise that Ch. 78 can be, and has already been, negotiated. It is in their best interests, like the Princeton school board, to remain mum on the issue.

                      Frankly, it’s also hardly surprising that the reported number of districts that have negotiated Ch. 78 has changed. As a former member of the Board, you know that contract negotiations and ratifications are ongoing, so that number is constantly in flux. Therefore, one wonders why anyone would say “first it was six, then seven, then twelve.” That’s how contracts are settled; presumably all school board members know that’s how they are settled?

                      And to be clear, the Board has never denied that other districts have negotiated Ch. 78. If the PREA had lied about such districts, don’t you think the Board leadership would have called them out on this? After all, it would be a great victory. Instead they have been content to say nothing about this supposed lie and to allow a former Board member to raise questions about it, rather than simply refute it. Presumably, then, the Board has elected to let this lie stand, if it is a lie, and, if memory serves, you would have sat on the Board at the time the PREA was issuing these statements. Is there a reason you yourself did not challenge them? Or even question them?

                      Furthermore, I can’t imagine what you mean by this: “Would NJEA allow 107 other locals to settle based on terms with which they didn’t agree?” The NJEA doesn’t get to “allow” or “disallow” local settlements. The NJEA has no such power, any more than the NJSBA has. You know this, of course, so one wonders why you would propose a scenario that is a blatant fiction.

                      Finally I daresay the NJEA – as well as every other public workers’ association – made its policy position quite clear on Ch.78 back in 2011. I’m sure we all remember the many photos in the news of public workers massed outside the statehouse in Trenton. (Given your statements, maybe you were one of them?) If that statement about policy isn’t clear for all to see, I’m not sure what more the NJEA, CWA, NJSPBA, and others might do to make it more obvious yet.

                    9. It’s easy to see who is telling the truth. All one has to do is produce a contract showing that Chap. 78 was negotiated (or not) for one of these districts. Contracts are public record. Can you post one?

                    10. @Joseph Addison: A brief reply before bedtime. More tomorrow.

                      Once again, I find myself replying to someone using a nom de plume— at least this one uses the name of a historical figure — instead of someone like @Doug Levandowski or @Martha Friend, who command respect if only for having the courage to use their real names, agree or disagree.

                      So, I have no real way of knowing if the information you claim to come from NJEA actually came from NJEA, but let’s assume for a minute that it does. Let’s look at some of these districts you list, the ones that have actually settled. It’s worth noting that none of the settlement agreement information on NJSBA’s site mentions any healthcare settlement outside of C78. And, as you can see from the cover page I posted earlier, NJSBA provides lots of details about less-than-straightforward settlement items.

                      Here are five of the nine districts you list.

                      — Deal: Type, K-8; enrollment, under 400; settlement date, June, 2014; yearly percentage increases, 3.5, 3.5, 3
                      — Green Twp: Type, K-8; enrollment, under 750; settlement date, May, 2014; yearly percentage increases of 2.5 and 2
                      —Lakehurst: Type, K-8; enrollment, under 750; settlement date, August, 2014; yearly percentage increases of 2.5, 2.5, 2.5; note: extra 15 mins of instruction time per day.
                      — Park Ridge: Type, K-12; enrollment, under 1,800; settlement date, May, 2014; yearly percentage increases of 3.0, 2.9, 2.7
                      — Ridgefield Park: Type, K-12; enrollment, under 3,500; settlement date, May 2014; yearly percentage increases of 3.0, 2.0, 1.0

                      The only district remotely resembling Princeton is Ridgefield Park and they’re not in same DFG. I’ll be checking on their enrollment situation in the morning. One thing these districts do have in common, “Joseph,” is that they all settled LAST YEAR.

                      I must admit, I was delighted to see another number introduced. Can we settle on nine as the number? We’ve already heard six, seven and 12. More in the morning.

                    11. @disqus_Xhaac6BNen:disqus It still seems to me that the number that matters here is ZERO. (I know some math friends would argue that zero is not a number, but a placeholder.) That is the number of districts we have evidence of settling contracts with employee healthcare contributions outside of Chapter 78. That said, I am happy to have the names of these districts so I can do additional research on their demographics related to type and enrollments. I’ll also attempt to determine if enrollment is rising.

                      It’s worth noting that I never quoted the board as doubting the existence of these districts; I did that myself after my time on the board was over. I found it strange then that names were never attached, but now we have them (assuming you are, in fact, somehow affiliated with NJEA).

                      Speaking of the state’s most powerful labor union, perhaps I’ve overestimated their reach. I remember in the past, the talk among interested parents (the ones who lived through PREA’s last strike) being that NJEA used PREA as a benchmark to try to drive up statewide settlements. In fact, at the time, I recall one PREA member, now retired and living in a fixed income here in town remarking, “I never knew how bad I had it till the local brought someone in from Trenton to tell us.” I assume someone from the state office has been with the PREA negotiating team throughout this process and would have let them know if someone settled outside of C78.

                      I well remember the red-shirt demonstrations of 2011 where unions showed solidarity against C78. It was very stirring, but NJEA’s actions have spoken louder since then. With no evidence of a single district rolling back C78, its members must be wondering why they took personal days to march if their union was not going to follow that up with legislative action. Has a bill been introduced to roll back C78? I know several cementing Tier 4 in place were introduced, but never made it out of committee for what appear to me to be political reasons. I’m sure if NJEA could point to a win on C78, we’d have heard about it; certainly the state office must have a document similar to that of NJSBA.

                      In my experience on the board, NJSBA was never present during any negotiations. When I served on a team, we appreciated their information on statewide settlements, but that was the limit of their involvement. (They do an excellent new board member orientation, in my opinion. It’s where a veteran board member advised me to follow the healthcare money in negotiations, since that is where there were potential savings for taxpayers.) Yes, I know the board brought in a lawyer for this round of PREA negotiations, but given the fact that the district has a new, first-time superintendent and a raft of complicated issues to deal with, I think this was prudent.

                      While I look into the C78 Nine, have a look at NJSBA’s settlement info mentioning C78. You’ll note that in all cases, locals whose members for some reason were not subject to all provisions of C78 have negotiated INTO C78 at Tier 4. Not highlighted, but of note is that the settlement by our cousins in Cranbury, which involves “smoothing of all guides, eliminating bubbles.” Seems I’ve hear of a similar proposal closer to home, “Joseph.”

                    12. @disqus_Xhaac6BNen:disqus Here are enrollment figures for the districts you mention as having negotiated outside of Chapter 78. Many are small districts, but five had enrollment increases ranging from 2 to 41 students. No word on settlements outside of C78.

                      Info is from the Taxpayers’ Guide to Education Funding 2015, from the New Jersey Department of Education

                      Tewksbury Township: K-8
                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 695
                      ’13-’14 enrollment: 686

                      Deal: K-8
                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 159
                      ’13-’14 enrollment: 161

                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 479
                      ’13-’14 enrollment: 479

                      Morris Hills Regional: 7-12
                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 2,767
                      ’13-’14 enrollment: 2,792

                      Green Township
                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 668
                      ’13-’14 enrollment: 684

                      Park Ridge: K-12
                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 1,322
                      ’13-’14 enrollment: 1,321

                      Ridgefield Park: K-12
                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 2,317
                      ’13-’14 enrollment: 2,358

                      Union County VoTech: 9-12
                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 1,555
                      ’13-’14 enrollment: 1,573

                      Lakehurst: K-8
                      ’12-’13 enrollment: 567
                      ’13-’14 enrollment:: 548

                    13. @disqus_Xhaac6BNen:disqus: While still unsure of the status of the Morris Hills Regional contract, I was able to find this information from Pages 12 and 13 of the district’s online budget presentation. This indicates everyone there is at Tier 4 or headed there. More information as it becomes available.

                    14. @disqus_Xhaac6BNen:disqus: Here is what is known about Union County Vo Tech School, which is supported by county taxes. Their last contract covered 2011-’14 and contained a healthcare contribution of 1.5 percent under Senate bill S-3. Since then, they have been trying to negotiate a new contract. In May, they were forced to lay off all non-tenured teachers — 30 percent of their staff — because of budget uncertainty. If this is one of the district’s fighting Chapter 78, we can see the consequences: the pink-slipping of a third of their staff.

                    15. @disqus_Xhaac6BNen:disqus Lest you doubt the accuracy of my statements, here is the Cover Page and Page 31 of the expired Union County Vo Tech contract.

                    16. @disqus_Xhaac6BNen:disqus: No word on a settlement in Tewksbury, put the district’s budget presentation seems to confirm that everyone is at Tier 4 and no future increases in employee contributions are expected. Also worth noting that enrollment in this K-8 district continues to fall.

                    17. @disqus_Xhaac6BNen:disqus: We’ve provided info on all but one of the C78 9. To sum up: Five of nine (Deal, Park Ridge, Green Twp., Lakehurst and Ridgefield Park) settled last year with no mention of a settlement outside of Chapter 78. Of the four for which we have no settlement information, two are confirmed to be paying at Tier 4 of C78 (Tewksbury and Morris Hills Regional) and last month one (Union County Vo Tech) laid off a third of its teachers to maintain healthcare at pre-C78 levels for tenured staff. Still digging for info on Shrewsbury. Stay tuned.

                    18. Yes, agree to disagree, though I still think that trusting a calculated figure is better than trusting a vague phrase.

                    19. @douglevandowski:disqus: I’m trusting my former board colleagues to do the math. Having worked with them for many years, they are among the most intelligent people I know. Here’s to a settlement being reached tomorrow so we can go back to discussing Emerson and Kerouac.

                    20. No one has ever named a district that has settled out of Tier 4. If there were one that had settled like this, someone should give the district name as it’s been claimed many times by PREA members.

                    21. @douglevandowski:disqus I know that equity is your big concern and I hope nothing I’ve written suggests that I think it shouldn’t be your concern. It seems to me that true equity here can only result from PREA giving up its fight against Chapter 78 and agreeing to then cost-saving measures ratified by the other two bargaining units. PAA and PRESSA looked at the optional HSA (with 60 percent of the deductible covered by the board) and the opportunities to receive stipends for realized healthcare savings and found them win-win propositions. Why has your leadership continued to fight for a losing proposition?

                    22. I haven’t been in negotiations meetings, so I don’t know if the total compensation rising to meet the other levels is predicated on PREA accepting Tier 4 contributions for the next three years. Have you heard otherwise?

                    23. @douglevandowski:disqus I haven’t heard any details; i’m just making educated guesses based on PREA’s long battle over Chapter 78, which has been at the center of public discussion of these talks. To me, true equity would involve the same premium healthcare contribution levels and the acceptance of the cost-saving measures ratified by the other locals.

                    24. It seems like a big supposition to me to say that if the Union accepted Tier 4 contributions for three years to say that percentage of total compensation would increase. But, that’s just my opinion. I know we disagree on that, and I don’t want to beat this horse any deader.

                    25. @douglevandowski:disqus : Again, I don’t know anything more than what has been said publicly, so I have no evidence to back my belief. I do remember many years ago in my NJSBA board orientation on the basics of negotiations, one veteran board member who led by small-group discussion said, “You will find that the real savings are in healthcare.”

                2. @douglevandowski:disqus: A quick bit of research from the Papers of Princeton database revealed the following regarding the most recent budget votes. The last budget approved by voters in an April election, 2011, contained a 1.98 percent increase in the tax levy. The year before, under special circumstances, voters approved a 3.9 percent tax levy for a budget that was smaller. This 3.9 percent was to forestall a domesday scenario. Please see the screenshot of the Town Topics, which adds context. Finally, in 2009, the tax levy increased 1.66 percent.

                  1. Thanks for finding that info! I’m surprised those budgets needed voter approval since they were so low. But that’s good info. Thank you!

                    1. @douglevandowski:disqus Until the Legislature gave boards of education a choice, all budgets were voted upon. One actually went down to defeat just before my time on the board. The Legislature’s choice was this: Move your board election to November, remove the public budget vote and as long as the budget is within 2 percent, and the County Superintendent approves it, you don’t need further approval. We were given two years to decide. Our board had a lengthy debate about this, ideclining to remove the public budget vote in the first year, then voting for the state plan the following year.

                  2. @douglevandowski:disqus: Until the Legislature gave boards of education a choice, all budgets were voted upon. One actually went down to defeat just before my time on the board. The Legislature’s choice was this: Move your board election to November, remove the public budget vote and as long as the budget is within 2 percent, and the County Superintendent approves it, you don’t need further approval. We were given two years to decide. Our board had a lengthy debate about this, ideclining to remove the public budget vote in the first year, then voting for the state plan the following year.

        2. @princetonresident:disqus : I regret that in my longer post, I did not address one of your points: why you are not hearing more about these possible repercussions. Based on my experience as a board member, I would guess that members of the current board are reluctant to frame these issues in quite the way I have because they don’t want them to be perceived as threats, particularly during negotiations. You saw one teacher dismiss my concerns, which are based on facts available to the board, as “fear-mongering.” That said r, I’m just guessing that these realities are part of the board’s talking points at the bargaining table. Obviously any settlement that isn’t a simple rubber-stamping of PREA demands could serve to ameliorate the situation, leading to fewer hard choices.

          Certainly, it would not be in PREA’s interest to acknowledge the possible repercussions of its offer because it undercuts their narrative. They would prefer the conversation be about nebulous ideas such as “respect” and tangential issues about administrator compensation than on data points regarding enrollment, class sizes and electives. This is why I personally find their demands to be reckless: they don’t seem to be in the best interest of the students in the district now and those who will be starting in the next several years. PREA’s demands certainly aren’t in the best interests of taxpayers, who are left to wonder about its membership’s attitudes toward the Princeton community.

  5. As both sides close in on a settlement, putting an end to the collective misery of our community, the board has yet another possible external stressor to consider. As if rising enrollments, increased healthcare costs and flat state aid were not enough. Good luck to my former colleagues if this comes to pass.

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