July 8, 2015

Teachers Have New Contract At Last

After long drawn-out negotiations between their union and the school district, Princeton’s teachers now have a new four-year contract.

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) and the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) reached an agreement that was unanimously approved by the Board last week.

The long-awaited contract is the result of talks between BOE and PREA that began in the fall of 2013 and the cause of much criticism directed at both sides from teachers, parents, students, and taxpayers since that time.

The contract is retroactive to last July 1, when teachers had been working under the terms of an expired contract. It will expire June 30, 2018.

Under the terms of the new contract, teachers will receive a salary increase of 2.66 percent for 2014-15; 2.67 percent for 2015-16; 2.50 percent for 2016-17; and 2.63 percent for 2017-18.

According to district officials, longevity pay will be eliminated in year four of the new contract and will be incorporated into a new step system going forward.

The new contract includes increases in the stipends that teachers receive for extracurricular activities such as coaching or advising student clubs. In this case, however, the increase is not retroactive for the 2014-15 school year. The increase for year two is 2.5 percent. For years three and four, the increase is 2.25 percent.

Under the new agreement, teachers will continue to make health care contributions at the tier 4 level under Chapter 78 of New Jersey state law.

The interpretation of Chapter 78 had been a bone of contention between the two parties and the inclusion of such health care contributions at the tier 4 level was one which the teachers’ union had opposed, even after sessions with a state-appointed mediator brought in to bring the two sides to a resolution.

The new contract holds teachers to two evening parent-teacher conferences a year and offers an additional staff development day a year.

In addition, teachers who subscribe to the district’s health care benefits program will receive annual health care stipends for years two, three and four of the contract.

The agreement came just as the two sides were about to enter the expensive arbitration stage of the bargaining process known as “fact-finding,” which could have cost between $1,600 and $2,500 per day for a state appointed fact-finder. The two sides would have shared this cost.

In recent weeks, with the approach of the end of the school year, both sides met face-to-face to thrash out a deal. Hopes rose after two marathon negotiating sessions on June 2 and June 10, the first lasting 18 hours and the second 12 hours. After the second meeting, BOE President Andrea Spalla said that both parties were working to “close the remaining differences between the two sides.”

Asked Monday what had clinched the deal, BOE member Patrick Sullivan responded that “Nothing in particular ‘clinched the deal’ except many hours of listening to each other and lots of hard work. The Board’s only goal has always been to come to an agreement that is fair to our teachers and financially sustainable for our district and our children. We are grateful that the PREA worked with us to come to such a conclusion.”

Compared to earlier BOE meetings, last week’s presentation failed to draw a large audience of teachers and parents.