Contract between teachers’ union and board ends year of negotiations

PREA members attended board meetings throughout the school year, though many were not present at the June 2015 meeting.

PREA members at a board meeting in November. Teachers attended board meetings throughout the school year, though many were not present at the June 2015 meeting. photo: Sarah Gavis-Hughson

After 15 months of negotiations, a unanimous vote by the Board of Education on June 30 and by the Princeton Regional Education Association on June 26 marked the final step for approval of a new contract that is retroactive to July 1, 2014 and will remain in effect until June 30, 2018.

“We all know that this agreement was the result of a difficult process that caused many people a great deal of stress and anxiety. It is now my hope—a sentiment shared by all board members—that we will all be able to collectively move forward,” wrote BOE President Andrea Spalla in an email.

Most PREA members did not attend the June 30 board meeting, in contrast with larger turnouts in the past. “There was no specific reason why there was a low turnout … I think that most members are already away for the summer,” wrote PHS French teacher and PREA member Malachi Wood in an email. “Most members turned out to ratify the contract on Friday, June 26 and may have considered it a done deal.”

When the PREA rejected the board’s proposal at the May 4 meeting, after four meetings with state mediator Katie Vogt, the board reallotted base salary increases. “The board was only able to increase those amounts because the PREA in turn was able to compromise on other key points that were of importance to the board’s goals—particularly, agreeing to the premium contribution levels and deductibles that had been agreed to by the other two unions, and agreeing to revise the salary guide,” Spalla wrote.

The two unions Spalla referenced are the Princeton Administrators’ Association and the Princeton Regional Educational Support Staff Association, whose contracts were approved by the board on May 20.

The new four-year contract specifies salary increases of 2.66% in year one (retroactive to July 1, 2014), 2.67% in year two, 2.50% in year three, and 2.63% in year four.

The revised salary guides provide that longevity will be eliminated at year four and new steps will be added to the guide. “This is a long-term, cost-saving change that was important to the board, as it provides greater budgetary certainty and sustainability for our district beyond the term of the new agreement,” Spalla wrote.

PREA members who subscribe to health care benefits will continue to contribute to the Tier Four insurance premium levels under the Chapter 78 state law. While teacher health care contribution has been increasing under state law since 2011, Tier Four marks the final and highest contribution level. The PREA had previously maintained that years two and three of the contract were negotiable, meaning teachers would not have to pay Tier Four premiums during those years.

“In terms of the Chapter 78 Tier Four payments, this contract was comparable to the contracts agreed on by PRESSA and the PAA, so there is a sense of fairness,” Wood wrote.

As with PRESSA, those who subscribe to health care benefits in the form of annual stipends will be additionally compensated in years two, three, and four of the contract.

Additional provisions include two evening parent–teacher conference periods per year and one more professional development day.

“Overall, the PREA membership is happy with the new contract—we did ratify it without any problem,” Wood wrote. “Personally, I think that this is a contract that will be good for the district in terms of attracting and keeping top educational talent.”

The parties worked to finish the contract before the school year ended, scheduling marathon bargaining sessions on June 2 and June 10, lasting 18 and 12 hours, respectively. “The end of the negotiation process has been an emotional roller coaster,” Wood wrote. “We all wanted very much for the contract to be settled before the end of the school year.”

Students participated in a walk out on April 23 in part because of the cancelation of activities that will presumably resume.

Students participated in a walk out on April 23 in part because of the cancelation of activities that will presumably resume in the fall. photo: Nathan Drezner

“We’re grateful to the PREA that we were all able to accomplish this,” Spalla wrote.

As teachers enter the new school year with a contract, participation in uncompensated activities will most likely recommence. “That’s the biggest things for the students, getting clubs and AP review sessions back,” said Abby Emison ’17. “A lot of students were upset that they were taken away, so I think everyone will be happy that they are going to be back next year.”

During the months leading up to the new contract, students expressed a variety of differing perspectives, attending board meetings alongside PREA members and staging a walkout on April 23 that involved hundreds of students.

However, according to Spalla, as with the nature of collective bargaining, community reactions such as the walkout were carefully considered but did not directly influence the negotiations. “While we appreciated and were proud of the ways that students expressed their views, including the student walkout, these and other actions did not expedite the negotiations process,” she wrote. “The only events that actually influenced the board’s position were those compromises that the PREA was able to make at the bargaining table.”

On June 16, the parties reached verbal agreement on most issues relating to salary and health care benefits. On June 25, the parties released a joint statement, stating that they had signed a memorandum of agreement, and that details of the new contract would be published after the board’s vote.

Because the parties reached an agreement before the initiation of fact-finding, the next step in the negotiations process, the additional costs necessary to pay a state fact-finder were not incurred.

According to Wood, both parties need to reflect on lessons learned during the heated process, in order to foster more efficient negotiations in three years. Yet, both parties also hope to move forward with a common goal to make the PPS district the best possible for its students and community.

“Relations between the board and the PREA have been strained, but we all have the same goal of doing what’s best for our students and our school district … this is a community that values education and I think there will be increased cooperation and communication among the board, the PREA, and the community,” Wood wrote. “This is a district that can accomplish great things if we have unity of vision and goals.”

PREA leadership were unable to be reached for comment.

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