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Princeton Teachers Reach Agreement On New Contract

Candace Braun

No teachers' strike is looming for the end of this school year, as the Princeton Regional School Board settled a teacher contract with the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) on Thursday, six months and two weeks before the contract expired. Passed unanimously by the Board, it will extend from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2008.

Settling a new contract before the previous one has expired is a milestone for Princeton, as is the fact that the first contract drafted was the one the two parties agreed on.

PREA salaries will increase above the existing base by 4.65 percent in the first year; 4.7 percent in the second year; and 4.7 percent in the third year. A teacher with a bachelor's degree who now earns $42,684, will earn $47,069 by 2007, and a teacher with a doctorate who now earns $50,977 will earn $56,106 in three year's time.

Contractual agreements three years ago gave teachers wage increases of 3.3 percent to 3.9 percent over four years.

"While this [increase] is lower than the average right now, they are still the second-highest paid teachers in the county," said Board President Anne Burns.

Teachers also agreed to a prescription drug co-payment of $10 for generic drugs and $15 for name-brand drugs, up from the current $7 and $12, respectively.

"You are an absolute pleasure to work with," Ms. Burns said to the PREA representatives in attendance for the Board vote on December 16. She served on the contract negotiations committee with Board members Michael Mostoller, Alan Hegedus, and Board Vice President Charlotte Bialek.

Ms. Burns made special mention of Interim Superintendent Richard Marasco's contribution to getting the job done: "It cannot be overstated how important he was to this [settlement].Š We wouldn't be here tonight if it weren't for him."

One concern Board members and the PREA addressed with the contract was teacher attendance, which has been poor in recent years. Now, new hires will have 10 sick days available to them, instead of the usual 12, for the first three years of their employment in Princeton.

"It's a fair and respectful contract," said Ms. Burns. "I think we've got a terrific set of issues to move forward with Š I can't thank everyone enough."

She added that it will be a nice gift for the new superintendent, Judith Wilson, who is set to assume her post on February 1. It will be good to "get down to the business of education, rather than contracts," said Ms. Burns.

Board member Alan Hegedus also thanked Ms. Burns for her candid, straight-forward handling of the contracts: "It's unlikely that without your leadership and style Š it would have happened this early."

Public Opinion

David Goldfarb, a Charlton Street resident and a member of Borough Council, asked that the Board allow residents to review and speak to the contract before it was voted on by Board members. He said that the process should be handled in the same manner as a Borough issue, which is presented to residents in advance, giving them an opportunity to address it in a public forum.

"I don't know enough about this to give an educated opinion on it," said Mr. Goldfarb, who had received the contract information only minutes before the vote.

His request was denied.

"I don't know of any instance when [teacher contracts] were open to the public for discussion," said Dr. Marasco, adding that in his 24 years of experience as a superintendent, the issue has always been handled privately.

Ms. Burns added that the public is given a chance to show their approval or disapproval of the Board's decision during the budget vote each April.

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