October 15, 2014

For the Second Contract in a Row, The Board Proposes to Take Away PREA Members’ Future

To the Editor:

In last week’s letter to the editor [“Real Issue from Board’s Point of View Is Sustainability of Quality Education”], the three Board members who sit on the negotiations team set forth three goals of the Board: a reasonable salary increase, containment of healthcare costs, and a fair and predictable salary guide. The Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) shares with the Board each of these goals. Who wouldn’t?

It was unfortunate that the letter reduced the position of the PREA to “demands … far in excess of the maximum tax raise … (which) jeopardize the quality of the education we provide our children.” None of this is true.

I’d like to just address one of the Board’s stated goals: control of healthcare costs. Here are the facts.

We have repeatedly stated to the Board during these negotiations that we are willing to work with them to reduce premium costs. Given that we are now paying as much as 35 percent of our premiums, why in the world would we oppose or be unwilling to discuss ways to lower premiums?

The Board’s proposal is to reduce premiums by having PREA members pay higher deductibles and co-pays. The Board states they are willing to share some of those premium savings with us in the form of a higher salary offer. It may be, however, that the increase in salary (which the Board has not specified) will be completely offset by the deductibles and co-pays. In other words, only the Board will experience true savings. We have asked for additional information on this proposal to help us quantify its financial impact on our members. The information has not been provided. The Board would like us to say yes while blindfolded.

The Board says it is interested in reducing health care costs and yet they withdrew a proposal that could possibly save the district $100,000’s more than their current proposal. We have even provided the Board with information to back this up. Why has the Board done this?

Our track record over the past contracts is clear. We have always cooperated with the Board to reduce premiums. We just dropped two health benefit plans on July 1, 2014, to save the district $300,000. In short, there have been and will continue to be discussions of ways to reduce health benefit premiums.

The Board’s other two stated goals are a reasonable salary increase and a salary guide with predictable salary increases. Obviously, the amount that constitutes a reasonable increase is usually at the heart of any labor contract negotiations. And finally, all salary guides, including the one we now have, achieve the Board’s stated goal of predictability — that’s what we’ve been saying all along. What the Board is proposing is to take away, for a second contract in a row, the future our members do rely upon.

It’s been said before, but it deserves repeating. The logjam to these negotiations is the Board’s interpretation of Ch. 78 regarding premium contributions. All the Board needs to do is change from “the law requires Tier 4” to “we the Board propose Tier 4” and progress to a fair contract for both sides will follow.

John Baxter
PREA Negotiations Chair