Contract negotiations continue: lack of in-service participation, potential extracurricular cancellation

As contract negotiations continue to stall, the Princeton Regional Education Association has persisted in its efforts to publicize the situation and express its displeasure to the Board of Education.

The PREA frequently communicates messages through its Facebook page, “A Sea of Blue-Princeton Educators,” updated by teachers on its action team. These updates include photos, links to local news coverage of the negotiations, and videos of member speeches at board meetings.

At the October 3 Professional Development day, PREA members participated in a job action, an organized demonstration of discontent, in response to the October 2 negotiations meeting. History teacher and head of the PREA negotiations team John Baxter said that the PREA anticipated a counterproposal from the board’s team at that meeting. The PREA’s team was disappointed when the proposal did not materialize, and the meeting lasted under an hour.

“Internally, our negotiations team is working hard and nearly constantly to re-examine and, if possible, revise our current proposals in ways that could meet both parties’ objectives,” board Vice President Andrea Spalla wrote in an email.

Baxter described the in-service job action as a lack of teacher engagement. “There was participation; what there wasn’t was an asking of questions and answering of questions … [Teachers] were going to sit, listen, of course be polite, but not engage,” he said.

Malachi Wood, French teacher and head of the PREA’s action team, said the job action spoke to the morale of teachers following the negotiations meeting. “We were honestly crestfallen from the lack of movement after all the hope that we had,” he said. “Nobody wanted to do anything after that. It was just a very low point for us.”

During the October 3 in-service, PREA members were instructed to change their email signatures to reflect the ongoing contract negotiations. “PREA Member – Still working without a current contract. Please be advised that I will be limiting my use of email on weekends and after 3:00 on weekdays. I will respond to your email between 7:00 am and 3:00 pm on school days,” reads the bottom of many staff emails.

While teachers will continue to check their emails, they will not spend as much time replying to lower priority emails. “For students who need help … they would be responded to,” said Baxter. “It’s to bring the board’s attention to the fact that there are things we do on a regular basis that extend into personal time.”

Thus far, the PREA has met with limited responses from the board. “It is my personal opinion that the PREA team is working hard and in earnest to represent their members,” Spalla wrote. “I personally do not believe that casting aspersions on either team’s reasonableness or motives is productive.”

Baxter said the PREA negotiations team’s next move will be a statement announcing the cancellation of extracurricular activities whose advisors aren’t paid for their work. “Any activity that is not [extra pay for extra service], that would come to an end,” he said.

The PREA has undertaken other initiatives to raise awareness within the community. PREA and community members have attended board meetings in large numbers, and the PREA has rallied before negotiations meetings. Since October 1, PREA members’ cars have displayed bright orange signs reading “Settle Now.”

The negotiations situation has received local news coverage in the form of articles and letters to the editor.

On October 13, the PREA also posted its “Negotiations Fact Check” and “Questions for the Board of Education” documents on its Facebook page, both to keep community members informed of the board’s positions and to clarify the PREA’s responses.

Baxter said the PREA will continue to publicize to the community. “We may be setting up tables … by the shopping center or by the library … to pass out flyers,” he said. “Other actions could include going to a wider-circulation press, such as The Star-Ledger.”

The PREA is also looking into contacting Parent-Teacher Organizations at the different schools, according to Baxter.

The community has also gotten involved. Members of the Community Park Elementary School PTO recently started Community for Princeton Public Schools, a group independent of the PREA, which hosted a community event and information session on October 22. “These are people with their own kids in the school systems, and they want the best possible education for their kids,” Wood said.

“Personally, when I see the ‘Settle Now’ signs in peoples’ cars, I think to myself, yes, please! Everyone on the board wants a settlement too. How we get there – that is the tricky part,” wrote Spalla.

Wood said that, despite efforts to keep morale high, PREA members have been disheartened by the lack of progress. “There’s nothing any of us want more than just to have this over with and get back to life as usual,” he said.

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