Princeton Public Schools officials are optimistic that a deal will be reached with the teachers’ union next week.
A second daylong negotiating session was held on Wednesday, June 10. The session lasted about 12 hours. The first marathon negotiating session, held the previous week, lasted 16 hours.
“Although the parties have not yet reached a complete agreement, progress on all open
issues was made,” said School Board President Andrea Spalla. “The parties are working to resolve their remaining differences over the course of the next week, so that an agreement can be reached before the end of the school year.”
If a deal is reached, the board and union will avoid an expensive fact-finding process that costs between $1,600 and $2,500 per day. The cost would be split between the school district and the union. The fact-finding phase is similar to non-binding arbitration.
Teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract since July 1 of 2014. Health benefits contributions have been one of the major hurdles in reaching an agreement.
Last month, the school board unanimously approved three-year contracts with two unions – the union representing support staff and the union representing administrators.
The new contract for staff who belong to the Princeton Regional Support Staff Association, the union that represents instructional aides, custodians, grounds crew, bookkeepers and secretaries includes a 2.5 percent base salary increase for employees per year for three years. Employees will receive longevity pay of $100 per step for the first year of the contract. There will be no change for the second and third years of the contract.
The support staff union agreed that employees’ contributions to their healthcare premiums would remain at the highest “Tier 4” levels set forth in the state law known as Chapter 78. The union agreed to several cost-saving measures in their healthcare benefits package, including the elimination of the most expensive health insurance plan, health insurance deductibles of $100 per staff person and $200 per family for in network healthcare providers for the most popular plan, and prescription cost containment measures. Employees can also choose a health savings account plan with a $2,000 deductible. The district would contribute 60 percent of the deductible, or $1,200, for that option.
Because the employees agreed to the cost-saving measures, the district will provide annual stipends to certain support staff members in each of the contract years to offset their premium contribution increases.
The members of the Princeton Administrators Association, the union representing principals, assistant principals and supervisors, but not including central office administrators, will receive salary increases of 2.39 percent for the 2015-16 academic year, 2.38 percent for the 2016-17 academic year, and 2.37 percent for the 2017-18 academic year. Longevity payments will remain flat for all three years of the contract.
Administrators agreed that contributions to their healthcare premiums would remain at the highest “Tier 4” levels set forth in the state law known as Chapter 78. The union agreed to several cost-saving measures in their healthcare benefits package, including health insurance deductibles of $100 per staff person and $200 per family for in network healthcare providers for the most popular plan and the option of a health savings account plan with a $2,000 deductible. The district would contribute 60 percent of the deductible, or $1,200, for that option.
As part of the bargaining and trade offs, the school board agreed to share some of its savings from these changes in the form of “vacation day buy-backs,” whereby administrators may opt to “sell” back to the district two unused vacation days per year at a per diem rate.
School board leaders said the teachers’ union was offered a deal similar to the options offered to administrators and support staff.
Under the proposal made by the board negotiating team on May 4, teachers would receive an aggregate increase in compensation of about 2.44 percent in year one of the contract, which would be retroactive to July 1 of 2014. They would receive 2.87 percent in year two of the contract, and 2.79 percent in year three of the new contract. The board’s offer was contingent on union members remaining at their current Chapter 78 premium contribution levels and implementing cost-saving measures similar to those agreed to by the other two unions regarding health insurance deductibles.
The board also proposed spending $175,000 a year for year two and year three of the proposed contract to be used to compensate employees in steps three through eight who were hired before the fall of 2011, in order to address inequities in the current salary guide.
Teachers’ union leaders said the increases offered to support staff and administrators were actually higher than the percentages presented by the board when health care stipends and the option for administrators to sell back two vacation days were factored in. With those items factored in, the union said administrators received raises between 3.19 percent and 3.94 percent.