August 6, 2014

Board Responds to PREA: In this Economic Landscape Negotiations Can No Longer Follow “Zero Sum” Model

To the Editor:

We appreciate this opportunity to address last week’s letter [“PREA Notes That PPS Board of Education Is Once Again Spreading Misinformation”] from the negotiations team of the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA). The Board’s original “Update on PREA Negotiations” presentation compared 2010 average state salaries to 2013 Princeton teacher salaries, which was corrected the next business day. Regardless, the PREA team does not dispute that our point remains accurate: Princeton teachers are well-paid compared to teachers elsewhere, earning more than their colleagues in Montgomery, Hopewell, and West Windsor — all high-performing districts. In Princeton, 30 percent of our teachers earn more than $90,000, and approximately 50 of our more than 370 teachers earn over $100,000.

While the Board is proud that we have compensated our teachers well over the years, Princeton Public Schools faces severe budget constraints driven by rising costs in many categories, and a 2 percent cap on the allowed tax levy. That 2 percent cap means that for 2014-15, the total amount by which the district’s budget was allowed to increase was approximately $1,294,055. All expense increases had to “fit” within that amount, or come out of headcounts and programs — to our students’ detriment.

In contract negotiations with PREA, the Board has offered salary increases that are fair to our teachers and sustainable within these budget constraints. To date, PREA insists that its members should pay significantly lower percentages of their insurance premiums than current law requires, shifting most of the healthcare costs and the risk of yearly increases back to the district — ultimately, to taxpayers. Despite this demand, and knowing our teachers feel the pinch of the state-mandated higher contributions to their healthcare premiums, the Board proposed cost-saving measures to reduce premiums while maintaining or enhancing current benefit levels. The Board is prepared to make details of those offers, and the savings they would generate for both parties, publicly available at its August meeting.

The Board’s one-year contract with its administrators’ union included a 2.4 percent base salary increase for those 22 employees. The budget impact of that increase is approximately $72,507. By contrast, a 2.4 percent salary increase for PREA this year (which is significantly less than PREA’s current salary demand) would cost the Board approximately $705,160. The Board cannot fund such an increase for its teachers unless PREA agrees to healthcare cost-saving proposals, the savings from which the Board could then share with the teachers.

We hope the PREA team will recognize that in this economic landscape, negotiations can no longer follow an antagonistic, “zero sum” model. Personal attacks on Board members will not change these facts. The union and district’s interests — containing healthcare costs, creating a strong, predictable salary structure, and maintaining staff and programs — are aligned, not opposed. We must work together to develop a fair, sustainable contract.

Molly Chrein, Andrea Spalla,

Patrick Sullivan

Members, Princeton Public Schools

Board of Education