Teachers working minimum after contract rejected

Princeton High School instructors wait in a parking lot at the high school last Friday at 7:18 a.m., minutes before their cue to enter the school. While teachers have not publicly stated the reason for this so-called work-to-rule action, evidence indicates it is in reaction to the teachers not finding the school board’s new contract offer acceptable.

Princeton High School senior Tom Crawford had a question for the Princeton School Board on March 13 that led into the topic of the school board and Princeton Education Association (PEA) union being at odds over settling on a new teacher contract.

Crawford, during the board meeting’s public forum, asked the board if it had any involvement with, or control over the work-to-rule practice that the district’s teachers had begun executing on March 7. “It kind of cramps my learning style,” Crawford said.

“That’s a union thing,” Superintendent Rick Lahn said.

He explained that the school board has no control over the work-to-rule practice.

Under work-to-rule, the teachers work the minimum hours required under their contract which is eight hours per school day, according to Lahn.

Princeton’s classroom buildings don’t all start or end their day at the same time but they are only about 15 minutes apart. Teachers at each building, all walk into the school building at the same time and leave at the same time as part of work-to-rule.

Crawford, asked later in the week to elaborate, said that when work-to-rule is not going on, he has more time to spend with teachers if he needs help with a subject, such as before or after school.

PEA president Elaine Maples commented on the work-to-rule in an e-mail: “The teachers are working to the contract. We are sincerely hoping that the Princeton School Board and the Princeton Education Association will reach an agreement which will be to the satisfaction to both parties in the near future.”

Lahn noted that working to the rule or to the contract means just doing the minimum required in the contract. “It is impossible to do the job” with just the minimum requirement, he said.

The PEA leadership executed the start of the work-to-rule (it was still going when this was written on Monday) shortly after the Princeton Public Schools’ certified teachers voted 213-4 to reject the board’s contract proposal.

The board is in mediation with the PEA to come up with a two-year contract for the school years 2011-12 (the current one which began July 1, 2011), and 2012-13.

It means the teachers have been working under their former contract this school year.

Various scenarios have been discussed during the mediation sessions between the school board and PEA representatives, but the proposal the board offered for the March 5-6 vote by the PEA was formal and it was “fair and reasonable,” Lahn said.

Neither Lahn nor Maples have made the terms of the offer public. Lahn, in fact, said the mediator has the authority to keep the mediation meetings closed. Once an offer has been accepted then it becomes public, Lahn said.