TESD Finance Committee Meeting . . . Raise School Taxes vs Eliminating School Buses or Support for Athletics? Notes from Ray Clarke

In the midst of packing to leave for a family holiday, Ray Clarke was still able to attend last night’s School Board’s Finance Committee meeting.  We are all grateful that Ray attends the meetings and then kindly supplies his notes.  Thank you my friend and happy travel! Below are Ray’s notes and I think you find them interesting!  With the looming deficit, we are not surprised at the direction of our school taxes . . . but tax increase vs.  elimination of school buses or support for athletics?  Don’t think those options are likely to be approved.

There was a well-attended meeting of the TESD Finance Committee on Monday night.  There was much material to cover, though, and not much time for input from the 30 or so community members present.  Since the size of the problem and contentiousness-level (sorry!) of some of the ideas is off the charts, all the Finance Committee could really do was kick the can down the road.

No surprise, the Committee voted to recommend that the full board vote on January 3rd to apply to the state for Exceptions to be able to increase property taxes by 2.8% on top of the Act 1 increase of 1.4% – total 4.2% increase.  This would also involve publishing a preliminary budget at that time that shows a budget deficit (after the tax increases) of somewhere in the $4-5 million range (depending on whether any expense reductions are included).

Important to note: this recommendation keeps options open.  On the revenue front, the Board could 1) still ask for a higher tax increase through a voter referendum (but could not now ask for an EIT), 2) ask voters to approve any tax increase beyond 1.4% (and not apply for Exceptions), 3) hold the increase to zero or 1.4%.  On expenses, there seem to be $1-2 million of “Level 1” and other strategies that could reasonably be implemented for 2011/12.  The gap between revenues and expenses that results from the final choices on the above dimensions would be met from the fund balance.  Kevin Mahoney and Debbie Bookstaber seemed to be favoring revenue option (2).

A few numbers that caught my eye:

1.  This year’s operating statement is being strongly fortified by delinquent tax collections and by reduced PSERS contributions that are each projected to be ~$750,000 favorable to budget, resulting (with other puts and takes) in a reduction of the expected contribution from the fund balance from $1.5 to $2 million.

2.  The district is finally publishing and using figures that reflect TEEA increases closer to the effect of the actual salary matrix.  The aggregate salary increase for 2011/12 is projected to be 7.33%, and may go higher with more movement across the matrix.

3.  The projections use historical rates of increase for medical and prescription costs (10-15% per year); it seems possible that current experience will turn out to be more favorable.

4. The “base case” used for starting points includes the Act 1 tax increase of 1.4%.  This is different from other years when the base case is the current tax rate.  With no tax increase and no additional expense reductions, next year’s gap would be $8.8 million.  This includes $470,000 add back of “one-time” strategies used last year.

5.  Options to close the close the gap with no tax increase include things like: elimination of school buses ($2 million) and of support for athletics ($1.5 million), outsourcing custodial services ($0.95 million), further reducing aides ($0.8 million).  There was no indication that the Board would seriously consider these, although there was commentary about transportation inefficiencies observed by some Board members.  Interesting that the option to hold administration salaries flat (impact $150,000) was included with these “Level 2” strategies.  There is also a set of strategies to eliminate teaching positions that if approved by the Education Committee/Board and if staff attrition occurs would eventually save $3 million/year ($525,000 of this will be up for approval at the 1/32011 Board meeting).

6.  Going forward, the problem compounds – even with a model that includes no TEEA compensation increases (none!).  The issues are flat assessed values, healthcare costs, and PSERS (no, Harrisburg didn’t fix it!).  One audience member cited research that predicts that property values and employment don’t reset and resume growth until 2016.  That ~$5 million in earned income taxes paid to other jurisdictions seems pretty important, as do healthcare benefit cost-sharing programs and index-linked compensation in future union contracts.  Maybe we will continue to look to the state for PSERS help, but there is clearly a lot that can be done at the local level.

There was much talk of the educational value delivered by the T/E program.  Dan Waters compared Lower Merion expenditures and Kevin Buraks asked for comparisons of tax rates of neighboring districts (but this blog knows we need to look at rate times assessed value too).

Finally, there was an interesting aside that the Great Valley School district has asked for support for a County-wide property reassessment.  Not sure what that means, except at the least a correction of imbalances that have built up over the years.

Hopefully, there were other CM readers at the meeting who can amplify and raise things I’ve missed here.

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  1. I would have to imagine that a County-wide property reassessment would only result in less money for the school district. Who’s property has increased in value over the last 5 years?? Maybe I am missing something? Is the overall feel that majority are under-assessed?

    It we are going to go up another 4%, we should have just done the EIT. If we can put a question on the ballet to raise our property taxes, we could have just as easily put the question about income taxes.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Historically, properties were always significantly UNDER assessed. Even with any recent decline, I believe properties are still assessed at far less than their actual market value. A reassessment would undoubtedly result in an increase in revenue, but would be very unpopular since it would also result in much higher taxes even though the millage rate remained unchanged.

    There are many homes assessed at something like $250,000 that are worth more than $500,000 even in today’s market. At the peak in 2006, before the “crash” (which was not a “crash” in T/E) they might have been worth $550,000 or so.

    Had reassessments adjusting assessed value to actual market value been done every two or three years, NONE of the tax millage increases in the past dozen years or so would have been necessary.

    Someone can do the research if they want to verify this, but I believe that is correct based upon my experience on the board from 1999 – 2007.

    [Reply]

    PanhandleModerate Reply:

    Technically you are correct about properties being under-assessed. However, the statement does not account for the fact that Pennsylvania uses a Common Level Ratio system. The CLR system allows counties to avoid doing annual revaluations and saves tax payers millions of dollars. In order to determine if a property is under assessed you must divide the assessment by the CLR which is 56.1% and relate that to the actual market value. The ratio should basically true up the assessments to market value.

    The taxing authorities’ do not have the right to use a county wide revalue to raise revenue. In order to raise revenue using assessments the school district would have to appeal the assessments of under valued properties.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    I was not thinking of individual appeals by the school board. For reasons you cited they are often not practical or politically feasible. I was thinking of a county-wide reassessment. Maybe I don’t recall this stuff very well, but I thought the county picks a base year, and uses market value based upon sales data, to establish a reassessment. For example, if memory serves, Chester County used a 1996 base year and 100% PDR (“predetermined ratio” or 100% of that 1996 base year value) for its last reassessment. I think my point was valid for the years I was on the board, and may still apply if a reassessment was done now, provided that the PDR for a current base year was higher than the previous base year.

    Again, I have not researched current figures, but even with the post 2008 declines, wouldn’t a new base year be much higher than a 1996 base year? Maybe I’m missing somethng. Correct me if I am wrong. I’m not sure about your point that a reassessment has to be revenue neutral.

    Also, I thought the CLR was primarily used to evaluate individual appeals. Isn’t it a ratio derived by STEB taking the actual sales price data for a given year and comparing it to the assessed value, to give a ratio or percentage of assessed to market value? That can be used by a property owner to evaluate whether it is a good idea to file an appeal. Since CLR changes from year to year, a taxpayer may find that he/she is over-assessed. I’m not sure that has anything to do with a periodic county-wide assessement.

    Anyway, not trying to be argumentative, and thanks for your input also.

  2. Why would anyone want to compare themselves to Lower Merion when talking about educational value? Lower Merion residents have been deceived into thinking more money buys a better education. If educational value is desired we should look toward Upper Saint Clair or Unionville.

    District… PSSA%AdvancedGr11 ….$s per student
    UPPER SAINT CLAIR SD 76 $13,442
    TREDYFFRIN-EASTTOWN SD 71 $15,491
    UNIONVILLE-CHADDS FORD SD 70 $15,688
    LOWER MERION SD 67 $25,714
    RADNOR TOWNSHIP SD 66 $19,191
    NEW HOPE-SOLEBURY SD 63 $19,958
    GREAT VALLEY SD 59 $17,894
    CENTRAL BUCKS SD 59 $12,689
    WALLINGFORD-SWARTHMORE SD 59 $17,908

    [Reply]

  3. A County-wide reassessment is required by law to be revenue neutral. In other words municipalities can’t raise taxes through the revaluation process. It may help to some degree as owner’s of over valued properties (and some opportunists with unprincipled appraisers) have been appealing their assessments with few offsetting appeals of undervalued properties by the school district. It may result in more equitable assessments but even that is somewhat unlikely and the process is very expensive.

    The school district has the right to appeal under valued properties but there is little evidence that they have the skill set to identify targets of opportunity or the political inclination to do so. I am not sure you can blame the SD for avoiding appeals which have the prospect of drawing them into litigation which may be fruitless in the end.

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  4. As I understand it, the School Board will be voting on January 3 whether to apply to the state ( Dept. of Education) for “exceptions” to the Act 1 limit, which this year is a mere 1.4% increase.

    The School Board is not required to put this matter to referendum but may if a majority of board members vote to do it.

    Assuming the majority votes to ask for exceptions without referendum and the state approves them, our property taxes will increase by an additional 2.4%.

    Unfortunately, even with this tax increase, the 2012 TESD budget will still be in the red and require cuts to services this district has never before considered e.g. middle school sports, the music program, even bussing !!! Even with the additional tax revenue, closing the deficit will require the use of reserve funds.

    Our district is aflluent when compared to most others in the state. We are fortunate to have a $24 million reserve. But given the anticipated deficits in each of the coming years, this reserve will shrink quickly.

    Many residents don’t understand that the School Board is limited by Act 1 in the amount of tax increase they can impose.. Any increase above the Act 1 limit must be approved by the state and will only be granted for several reasons. One of them is to address the district’s increased PSERS contribution. Another is to meet federally mandated special ed program requirements.

    Our School Directors truly have their work cut out for them. I believe they are all deeply committed to maintaining the quality of T/E schools, but the kind of cuts that will be required to balance the 2012 budget and beyond threaten that quality.

    Those who support our schools should plan on attending the Jan. 3 SB meeting (7 PM at the Administration Office on West Valley Rd.) The Board will be voting on whether to ask the state for additional taxing authority to cover the anticipated $8 million deficit next year..

    It boils down to an increase of a few hundred dollars more in property taxes or the elimination of essential programs or services that will negatively affect our schools.

    I no longer have any children in district schools, but I know where I stand: I support this necessary tax increase.

    [Reply]

    Mr. Roboto Reply:

    John Petersen claims that the cost cuts from this year have resulted in “lots of empty store fronts.”

    Really? Did Tredyffrin Township’s budget cuts cause the Oskar Huber furniture chain to go bankrupt? Did they cause the Circuit City chain to go bankrupt?. . .or the Linen & Things? Did Charlie Brown’s Restaurant close because of cost cuts? How about the Genuardis Supermarket or Dylan’s Restaurant?

    Please explain what cuts led to the these closings and, also please explain how they caused these stores to closed.

    By the way: The nationwide Blockbuster Chain is predicted to be headed for bankruptcy. If they do go belly up, are you also going to blame the closure of the Paoli outlet on local cost cutting?

    [Reply]

    Really? Reply:

    John- If you watch the tapes of the meeting, the board members made it clear that they were NOT considering cutting busing or athletics. But in the previous meeting they asked Dr. Waters to put all available cuts on the table. This was an effort to be transparent. The public should know what non-mandated programs are available for future cuts. That doesn’t mean that anyone on the board is calling for cutting things like busing. They explicitly said that they were NOT calling for cuts there. But don’t you think that the public should understand what areas like busing and sports cost?

    [Reply]

  5. You can expand Mr. Petersen’s conclusion this way:
    He says:
    Look around our community.. It’s beginning to see the effects of cutting… Poor services, lots of empty store fronts…Point being…the issues with the schools is a symptom of a larger problem.

    I would suggest that you can swap out the word “community” to any regional assessment — “county, state or country” But the effects are not about cutting — they are first about not spending more for what we have. No one has cut any budgets….they are attempting to control increases, and are making cuts to programs to pay for it. That’s the problem — and the issue. We assume increases in all our costs — so we can only control total expenditures by having fewer purchases. Last year our school board wouldn’t freeze administrator pay — didn’t want to hurt morale. Every year an administrator (or teacher) works for us, they accrue an additional 2.5% toward their pension. So an administrator making $150,000 who works 30 years would receive a pension of $112,500 a year. (30 x .025 for 75%) If that same person works another year WITHOUT A RAISE, they would have an annual pension of $116,250….the beauty of compounding… (31 x .025 – 77.5%)

    So when the district gives raises to help morale, they are costing the local taxpayers twice — in the cost of doing business AND in the PSERS costs forever….

    No one wants a bonus — they want the money on their base. So let’s give that same person a morale-boosting $2500 raise (a mere 1.6%) ….now their pension would be 77.5% on 152,500 or $118,187.50.

    So this raise of $2500 to our base cost will now cost PSERS an additional $1,938 a year for life…..
    So we can talk about the “state” problem with PSERS, but all districts state-wide need to come to terms with the affects they are creating with their “automatic” raises. IN the time of this current teacher contract, the 2008 STARTING SALARY goes from $45,100 (first year out of college — no experience) to $50,250 in 2011-12. In other words, we have added $5,150 to the cost of hiring someone WHO DOESN”T WORK HERE….and yet, LMSD’s new 2-year contract will offer $53,429 to this same brand-new college graduate in 2011.

    The way contracts are done is the larger problem — and the egos of the negotiators — ON BOTH SIDES — gets in the way of the process. LMSD isn’t about to confer with TESD or RTSD members to develop a regional pricing structure. There are hundreds — possibly thousands — of applicants for these jobs. But no one wants to lose a good applicant to the neighboring district….. REALLY? Ask Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay about what drives decisions about where to work? Be competitive, but not number 1?

    The threats of cuts to basic services are meant to get our attention. But we cannot moan about ANY tax increase at the township level (where the total taxes are about 20% of the school district taxes) and then change gears for the school district. We will only get what we pay for — but we need to pay attention to how much we are paying for things, not just what things we are paying for.

    Whew.

    [Reply]

  6. John

    Glad you are so easily amused. Third grade math aside, a lot of people don’t know this point re property asessements. The comment I was originally responding to (CJ above) was based upon the common perception that real estate values in T/E have suffered as much as other parts of the country. They have not. This is not Michigan.

    At least I was polite. You were not. Your cheap shots add nothing to the discussion.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Kevin – Thanks. Your points are well taken. The reassessment was done in 1998 – the CLR converted to a factor of 1.07 that first year. (Your assessment times the factor equals the presumed market value). At it’s most skewed, the Factor was 1.93 (2007). It has retreated some to 1.8 (2009) or even 1.78 (if Panhandle is correct that it is 56.1 for 2010). But for TE, that’s not underassement as we were “revenue neutral” for the 1998 reassessment — so the mill was revalued and we started at 0. The increases in taxes were on the same assessed values unless there was an appeal. As someone said above, the district does have the right to appeal under-assessed properties….but we both know how well that would be received — one home at a time :)

    Thanks as always for your input.

    John P – you are right in some respects as to the bargaining outcomes — but as someone who sat at the table 4 times, what’s fair in the educational world doesn’t always translate to the real world. The example above about starting salaries and Lower Merion are dead on. I took the starting salary OFF the table when I did the last contract — 6 years with no step one….I don’t believe the contracts are poorly done — just that there are assumptions that newer negotiators make and that the TEEA now works aggressively with the PSEA — and their goals are not necessarily aligned with individual districts. Union power comes through Union Leadership….membership are just voting yes.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Thanks – as usual you are ready with the numbers. It is interesting, and like everything else connected to public education – complicated.

    I think you are right about the negotiations with the teachers. It is easy to criticize and say that the board at a given time should have just said “no”, but that ignores many things, including economic conditions at the time, political factors such as the public’s tolerance for a strike (not present then, maybe in the future will be).

    Again I point out (not to you of course but to others) that much of the problem came from Harisburg and will need to be addressed there. It was the legislature that changed the pension multiplier. Without that, the problem would be much more manageable at the local level. The pension system is state mandated and state controled. I think overall T/E boards have done reasonably well with the things they do control. Not perfect, of course, but good. Just my opinion, but one that I think most people in the community would share.

    From time to time, almost everyone who blogs here has a valid point or two. I just don’t agree with the extreme “board bashing” some indulge in. For one thing, it is an overshimlification of a complicated picture which has many ties to Harrisburg. JP (above) does make a valid point when he says people should ask Warren what he thinks about all of this. It is a tough problem and I personally would not want to be in Warren’s shoes. I wish him well as he begins to deal with all of this. I hope the legislature as a whole will give this issue the kind of attention it deserves and work out some solutions.

    [Reply]

  7. Are the administrators entitled to the PSERS pensions? They aren’t in the union. I wasn’t sure they were able to get the teachers pensions. I figured they had some sort of standard 401k.

    [Reply]

  8. Anon80 suggests that giving administrators bonuses instead of raises would have saved the district a bundle over the next 30-40 years. Was this option publicly discussed during the budget process? What other factors besides morale did the school board and Dr. Waters consider before awarding administrators raises? I’m bettiing they were substantive.

    Re starting salaries, Anon knows 22-year-olds fresh out of college rarely get hired in T/E. The typical new hire starts out in our district with at least several years of classroom experience under their belts.. And no school board member would argue that T/E’s salaries need to be the area’s highest. There are many reasons why teachers apply to teach in our district – the comp package being just one. Unless things change, the caliber of the educational programs, the level of professional support, the quality of the district’s students and professional staff will continue to matter a great deal.

    The increase in the PSERS obligation is blowing up balanced budgets in school districts all over the state. But disgruntled taxpayers need to keep reminding themselves it was the state legislature that voted to reduce public pension obligations, and to give school districts the option of doing the same. Meanwhile, teachers continued to pay steadily into their pension fund. That’s why they do not deserve the public’s wrath now.

    Hindsight is 20/20. The next contract will be negotiated in a much different climate by school board members who have gone through the process of approving big spending cuts and resetting budgets in the face of declining revenues.

    Then hopefully, at least half the complainers will focus their attention on problems with education funding at the state level – while Marcellus shale drillers contribute nothing to state coffers.

    Governor-elect Corbett has already surrounded himself with a transition team of people in favor of charter schools and vouchers – not with experienced leaders in public education. His direction is predictable. And public education will suffer as a result…

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    I totally agree with you on charters and vouchers. I have always opposed them and have said so in public many times. I don’t have a citation, but I heard there was a recent study on educational outcomes of charters and the result was that they did not outperform traditional public schools – in fact quite the opposite. Does anyone have that handy?

    [Reply]

  9. Mr. Peterson said, “If they keep cutting, the TESD will cease to be what it is – and what has sustained property values.”

    Mr. Peterson neglects to mention the countervailing force. The fastest and most direct method to increase property values is to decrease real estate taxes. This is not some idle theory. It’s called tax capitalization. Think of it this way – if a prospective home buyer can afford only a certain monthly mortgage payment, the lower the tax bill the higher the amount that can go toward principal and interest.

    Let’s remember that repeated studies have shown that a district’s test scores are not correlated with teacher salaries, teacher experience, teacher education, class size, millage rate or spending per student. The two major factors determining the academic achievement of a district are parent income and parent education.- factors beyond the control of any elected official. The other important factor is teacher effectiveness, but we have no easy way to measure it and no ability to reward it.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    You admit teacher effectiveness really matters, but you discount teacher education and teacher experience. I submit that teacher quality – which is a function of education and experience – largely determines teacher effectivenss. If so, teacher experience and education matter.

    Also, re class size, there are many good studies that show is does matter very much. True, the biggest gains are found in poor rural and inner-city schools (where the case for smaller class size is very compelling). It is more difficult to make the case in an already good suburban district like T/E, but the case for keeping class size reasonably small is still valid even here.

    Sure, quality of parents is a huge factor. But those highly educated and affluent parents are the ones who expect and demand modern facilities, the best teachers, and small class sizes. They are also the ones who buy into the local housing market and drive property values.

    It is true that for any particular study, you can almost always find an opposing study. The only antitdote to that problem is to look at the quality of the study, look for possible bias (who is behind it? what is their agenda?) look for consensus among multiple studies, and use your best judgment.

    In summary, I find it hard to believe that income and education of parents means that the other factors are virtually irrelevant. If you substituted a poor, inner-city school system with terrible facilites, large classes, and less experienced teachers in place of our system, do you really believe the educational outcomes would be unchanged?

    [Reply]

    Not quite Reply:

    In my experience as a student in the district many years ago, and as a parent of students in TESD now i have to disagree with the assumption that experience (measured as years in the district) and education are the determining factors of teacher quality or effectiveness. Minor contributing factors at best?

    [Reply]

  10. CJ of the Mainline… Yes the Administrative staff are covered by the same retirement system (PSERS) and get the same benefits. What is even a bigger joke is that our fine School Board has felt that the Superintendent that is paid a base salary of 225,000 can nor and should not pay his share of the yearly contribution (7.5%) like all of the much lower paid teachers do — but we the taxpayers will reimburse him for his share.
    I guess we can thank the former Board members like Andrea & Kevin for such compassion.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Not fair PD. Dr. Waters did not have the contract in place when I was on the board that he has now. The payment of PSERS contribution on behalf of the superintendent is a routine part of most administrative contracts for superintendents, as there used to be an effort to keep their salaries (pensionable!) relevant. Additional perks of the job included paying the PSERS. Let’s remember that in the real world, no one is every happy when they know what someone else makes. You can check out my comments about superintendents on my former blog (I pretty much stopped using it when Pattye started here — but the link is on this site to Understanding School Spending).

    And teachers are not “lower paid:” == there is a hierarchy of responsibility and work. Teachers choose to be part of a collective bargaining unit and resist merit pay — while Superintendents have a stand-alone contract and LIVE on merit pay. There is no barrier to any “lower paid” teacher becoming an administrator or a superintendent….there is a huge demand for both.

    And his base is not $225….so please use facts you know and not ones you suppose. I would suggest that my background with Dr. Waters is that he did not negotiate for salary — the board reviewed his performance and offered him a new number. This board in place has been generous to Dr. Waters, but has also made major demands on his time and energy. If he was not making enough, he could go to any number of other districts. Two components to salary — to reward you for performance and to secure your continued participation/encourage you. Teacher contracts do not take quality into any of it. They look at experience and education, without regard to value.

    So don’t call it compassion Papadick. Call it business — because that’s what compensation IS — and absent union power, what works. (OH — and Superintendents give up tenure to become Superintendents….teachers do not)

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Jeez – “Papadick” – I happen to know you strongly favor teachers. That’s fine, nothing wrong with that, but – since I get slammed all the time on this blog for having voted for some of the allegedly over-generous teacher contracts – are you going to also thank me for that “compassion?”

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Famous movie line that everything goes back to The Godfather…it’s not personal, it’s business.

    Stand tall Kevin. PD is welcome to favor teachers…but it’s hardly “compassionate” to pay people competitively. The process might be broken, but fixing it is not a one man job.

    We need to learn the response “ouch” :)

    [Reply]

  11. >>Anon80 suggests that giving administrators bonuses instead of raises would have saved the district a bundle over the next 30-40 years. Was this option publicly discussed during the budget process? What other factors besides morale did the school board and Dr. Waters consider before awarding administrators raises? I’m bettiing they were substantive.<<

    Kate
    I don't read the comments the same as you — that giving bonuses would save the district a bundle. What I do read is that you have blind faith in the process…and I can tell you as a former board member, that your faith is misplaced. I have immense respect for Dr. Waters and his staff, but they live on an educational island. Even board members who serve long term are part-time at best, and the complexities of school law and compensation issues are not easily mastered. Administrator morale is important — TESD has plans in place to help to reduce turnover. I explained much of this in previous posts, but unlike teachers, administrators are in demand in the market. Our seasoned group is very attractive to other districts looking to fill positions. So morale is important. But so is sending a message. The message is that "business as usual is not affordable" is the one our teachers and our administrators need to hear.
    And yes — administrators are members of PSERS. They were all teachers once, and they are all tenured. Only the business manager and the Superintendent (maybe personnel director — cannot remember?) are contract employees who surrender tenure if they ever had it. But all pay into the system, and even folks coming to PA from other states "buy" into the system.

    There is very little appreciation for the fact that the pension system is magnimous on the part of employees, but they obviously manage their paychecks with a focused eye on pensions. And rightly they should. But the example above about the increase in pension for every year they work is something the board doesn't typically take into consideration — that's not "our" budget.

    You'll pardon me for suggesting that the next contract is not likely to be negotiated differently. LMSD only did a two year deal, but it was absolutely business as usual. Unless I missed the headline, I believe Radnor is still negotiating, having had the teachers reject an early effort. Every superintendent was once a teacher. And the more our sitting board members have students in our schools, the closer they are to being conflicted if not compromised in the negotiating process.

    Kate — you seem to reach for a Republican to blame for our woes. But here's the deal — the right to strike is a HUGE stick in negotiations. Huge. Districts that take strikes are always badly damaged socially and emotionally. Losing two weeks of school at a random time in the school year, with the threat of doing it again is especially a concern to parents — child care and curriculum being at the center. (AP Students don't get those two weeks back before the May AP exam schedules — and working parents are thrown to the wolves when school days are simply decided one day at a time).

    The public presenations on budget are well rehearsed events. You hear precisely what the board wants you to hear — and nothing more. I"m not saying that's wrong — but I am saying the pragmatism behind it may result in your believing you are part of an open problem solving discussion.

    While I won't comment on Citizenone's tax strategy, I will concur wholeheartedly with his/her final statement on academic achievement correlation and our inability to address teacher effectiveness. But I don't think any of that is the problem. Our problem is that we come to the table with the expectation that costs rise. So if you don't want budgets to rise, you have to cut programs. There are some more efficient ways to reduce cost — but many ways to control costs. The substantive reason to control them is to avoid cutting programs. I hope John P is wrong when he says he doesn't think the next negotiation will be any different than the last one, but I'm not at all sure he is. It takes two sides to reach an agreement, and the threat of a strike simply will not encourage board members to Just Say No. .. but with Act 1 restrictions (Unionville went to a referendum for a high school renovation and voters said no), cutting programs is inevitable.

    Too much information…not enough solutions. 15 years ago, a member of the Strategic Planning team for TESD suggested that the District charter itself….to step outside the state mandates that shackle us. Another member of the team (now a prominent Democrat locally) articulated quite well that TE should take the lead in the state to ensure that state mandates make sense rather than step away from them. It was a sensible statement then — but it was a very different economic time.

    Those closed storefronts are not just here. I think it's pretty obvious that the whole world is struggling with how to return to growth. We don't need to worry about our taxes being "too high" because they are lower than almost anywhere you look around here. But Act 1 doesn't allow that to matter. Pay to Play is inevitable….so make your donation to FLITE when you are asked. A foundation to fill in the cracks for those students who cannot write checks to take advantage of these programs we won't be able to afford without more direct charges to the participants is one very easy way to step up and matter. (FLITE – Foundation for Learning in TE)

    [Reply]

  12. John, the test is whether SB members have the “stones” to tell the union to “pound sand” in the 2012 contract negotiations? How about a less adversarial tone and an ongoing conversation with the teachers’ union starting now? While unions exist to protect workers’ rights and negotiate the best deal they can for their members, our teachers care deeply about their students as well as their job security. They have good reasons to start talking and work with the district.

    I think you underestimate the resolve of SB members to address recurring budget problems and realign spending. For example, the 2010-11 budget reflects lowering health benefit costs by $300k-400k through self-funding. That was the only option the SB had during an ongoing contract. But I expect they will ask more shared sacrifice of teachers in 2012. The salary matrix that Ray Clarke has explained so well will change when smaller raises are incorporated into the next contract. I think teachers expect both to happen and understand their options are limited given the tight job market for teachers.

    We should all turn to the state legislature tand demand they maintain adequate education funding as they slash away – unimpeded by the opposing party – in 2011.

    Cheap shot, Papa Dick, re former board members’ “compassion. Why don’t you step up and run for SB since you fancy yourself a hard-nosed negotiator?

    [Reply]

  13. Do you know that unions can do things like refuse to write college recommendations for students, prepare lesson plans or grade papers (with the exception of what they can do during regular school hours) and more? Strikes are bad, but so are the other tactics the unions can use to negotiate.

    If you want to get TESD’s budget under control, we need our state legislature to get the unions under control by stopping teacher strikes and allowing districts to cut staff for economic reasons. Currently, teachers can force boards to give them raises because they know they cannot lose their jobs due to staff cuts. Unions are more realistic on wages when they know that jobs could be cut as a result.

    With the fund balance, TESD can get thru the next few years, but public unions will take down even TESD in the long run if we cannot stop teacher strikes and allow staff layoffs for financial reasons.

    [Reply]

    Mr. Roboto Reply:

    Have to agree with much of what Kate has said on this one.

    I don’t think any student has ever gone to a Union and asked them for a Letter of Recommendation (unless perhaps the kid interned with said Union). If a teacher refuses to write a kid a Letter of Recommendation, it may be due to the fact that the student is a slacker, and the teacher is saying no rather than having to write a letter that tells the reader that the student lacks motivation.

    Unions are not the problem, they are doing their job, which is to get the best deal they can for their membership. The problem is that in years past, School Boads throughout PA promised things that did not have a immediate cost impact, but which became more expense]ive as time went on.

    I think that Kate is wrong, however, when she looks towards Harrisburg for the solution. They are just as cash strapped as the local governments, and if they do happen to have extra cash on hand, I am sure that it will need to go to those school districts that are the most needy, and not the more well off ones such as ours.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    John, you said: “Next contract, if the teachers don’t agree – fire them!”

    As we have pointed out many times, you can’t just fire teachers. Pennsylvania law does not allow for that, in fact you cannot even lay teachers off for economic reasons. That alone significantly complicates negotiations and makes the kind of hard bargaining you suggest very difficult, to say the least. Again, that’s state law, and that would need to be changed in Harrisburg. Also, again, much of the red ink comes from the state-controlled pension system, with the increased multiplier – all of which is not the fault of local boards. Again, all 501 school districts in PA face the same crisis. Are all 501 boards incompetent?

    Regarding the Florida shooter, you say “Nevertheless, you have to wonder what set this guy off.” What?! You say “the tax situation cuts clearly”. You talk of class warfare and imply that this guy’s actions had something to do with “things getting out of hand like that.” (As in, what did the school bard do to provoke this poor fellow – must be the board’s fault). Your comment comes dangerously close to sympathizing with, and justifying, this kid of behavior. Any real or imagined grievance this guy had provides ZERO justification and deserves ZERO sympathy.

    I hope I am wrong. Maybe that is not what you meant to say, but it sure sounds like it to me.

    [Reply]

  14. Union Rules,

    Love the alias. One of several you use on CM., right?

    And that’s right. Demonize unions. How one-dimensional. The current problems of school finance are complex and years in the making.

    Do you have any evidence that our teachers in T/E ever refused to write a college recommendation, prepare lesson plans or grade papers? Or are you just stirring the pot, showing your anti-union bias?

    How insulting to hard-working teachers who spend many hours beyond the school day keeping up with student homework, tests, papers and projects and spend part of their summers planning.

    Your charge that “public unions witll take down TESD” if we don’t eliminate their right to strike and cut their numbers is nothing more than fear-mongering.

    You favor Increasing class size and eliminating courses that make our district curriculum outstanding? Short-term thinking that will degrade our district and – you care about this – lower your property’s value.

    [Reply]

  15. Kate
    While I too believe Union Rules is being a bit combative, he/she is not factually wrong. While we have never experienced the kinds of things in TE that he suggests can happen, we have also never failed to settle a contract in a cooperative and timely manner. And boards have historically portrayed the negotiations as being more conciliatory (and even more frugal) than they really are. Back in the 80s (prior to my time in fact) when they would announce the “raise”, they would say 6%, but that meant first round on the average base salary. It would turn out that they would also add 2 or 3 days to the contract, at a full salary rate, so in fact the raises were closer to 8 or 9% . They would proclaim success due to the “increased school year” but while that was true, it was also an expanded salary cost in addition to the announced raise. I didn’t understand that little trick until I was on the board and doing the numbers myself.
    One thing I have said before as a point of reference (and to help readers understand the nature of the process): When I did my last contract with the union (for 6 years), one thing I tried very hard to achieve was a contractual “8-hour day.” I believed then that every teacher worth hiring worked well in excess of that amount of time, and felt that an 8-hour day would be a public relations win for teachers (how many times have you heard detractors say “they only work 9 months and they don’t even work an 8 hour day?”). No deal. Our union leaders chided me that we already had the longest work-day in Chester County at 7 hours and 35 minutes (including 30 minutes for a duty-free lunch.) [Had we been able to discuss it seriously, I learned that 25 extra minutes contractually would have represented a 5.4% increase in their work day, and would have to come with a raise.] But we never got to money: they would not do it. The reasoning presumably (retrospectively) is that when districts are struggling in negotiations, the PSEA typically orders a “work to the contract” response – which means that teachers do not work one minute beyond their contract day. That’s where all the possible work reductions come from. In that final negotiation with Paul Slanika (pres, TEAA), they in fact dismissed the PSEA rep, whose values were not aligned with what TESD as a whole wanted to achieve. We had a great relationship and were able to accomplish several financial fixes (including health care cost increases credited as part of the raise without putting it on the schedule.) I understand that PSEA has been active in advising our leadership in subsequent talks – but also that our union leaders are much newer to all of this than Mr. Slanika, who had been teaching for 30 years.
    So no – our teachers have never done that and it would be very difficult personally for many of them to do so. But likewise our teachers, like Radnor’s teachers (that recently turned down the first offer?), listen to their leadership. I think you need to presume that if asked, they would. They read the LMSD salary schedule and expect to make the same. (the leadership knows the details of the differences – which in my time were significant and didn’t represent a better job, just a better paycheck.)
    But all this is supposition. Some of our board members may be determined for the next round (and probably are already talking), but it is a very vulnerable position to negotiate when you have children in the school district and the devil WILL be in the details. The salary schedule has limits to the changes – the raises are in place and fall under that constitutional protection of not losing promised benefits/salaries. Every teacher knows whose kids are board member kids. They are wonderful people, but in the same way taxpayers get outraged about money, teachers take it personally too. My children had wonderful educations in TESD, but there were several episodes in my early negotiations that caused conflict and left me feeling very vulnerable – like a warning shot fired over my bow.
    So – Union Rules is not helping by suggesting we could face work rule enforcement. Dr. Waters has a great relationship with our teachers and is a huge factor in the labor peace. (Note Papadick’s reference to his salary – that’s meant to distance the union from him). But look around and see how difficult it is to settle contracts. The history of the process is a huge obstacle, and wanting to have an amicable relationship with the board/TEEA is another. We need to look to creative ways to save money, but we also do need help from the state to level the negotiating field. That’s not anti-union. That’s Pro Kid.

    [Reply]

  16. It looks like I touched a nerve when I merely stated the facts concerning the salary level for the school superintendent. In fact his compensation package is close to 350,000. per year – including a car, all gas & oil costs, insurance – and additional moneys for his benefits (health insurance etc.) as well as several “bonuses” even before he performs.
    My point on all of this is that this package would not happen in industry. It is out of line and could only happen when a group of people are not spending their own money – but rather spending other peoples money. I agree with the NJ Governor when he suggests that Superintendent salaries need to capped.. and stop all this ridiculous envy between school board’s.
    Finally on the compensation package — as I have said before on this topic — all we need to do is look at the salary we all pay the Secretary of Education — our Superintendent would never leave the warm and cozy deal he did not have to negotiate — but was granted to him.
    Kevin — I do not favor teachers but would suggest that like any professional sports team — those on the field are the ones that execute and win the games,,, not the administrative or coaching staffs. So when I look at a compensation package that is four to five times that of an average teacher I must comment. And when that package includes silly inane perks like paying their PSERS contribution – as a business person and a taxpayer I must suggest that the decision to provide for that was NOT a business based decision but one of the heart – compassion. And yet both of the former school members seem to have no “compassion” for the teachers — maybe the Union should ask that the new contract provide for every teacher to be reimbursed for their 7.5% PSERS contribution, and ask for a car and all expenses of running and maintaining it.

    [Reply]

  17. Papadick
    I cannot speak for the current contract for Dr. Waters — when I did his contract, his “package” was $125,000. But I can speak for the compensation of superintendents, and I will again refer you to the comments I had on my Understanding School Spending blog (link to the left on this page). It is a very difficult position to HIRE….and while we can quarrel about how or even why Dr. Waters package has risen, it is market driven. Now — is the market appropriate? Gov. Christie may be spot on when he talks about caps, because there are very few people that meet the state legal criteria to TAKE the job (no such criteria for the secretary of education). There are hundreds of folks lined up to teach for every position. Superintendent jobs require “searches” — and having informally been part of one that resulted in the hiring of Dr. Foot, I saw plenty else that was out there – eligible – and TE has been more than well served by the hiring and stabililty of Dr. Waters. Please again review Radnor’s efforts at this job along with Phoenixville etc. And tell your teaching friends to get the credentials and the aspirin and get their resumes out there to be administrators…no one in any company does not envy those above them that make more….earn the job.

    [Reply]

  18. Papadick-

    I’m not going to defend the superintendent’s salary, but there is a big difference in responsibilities between his job and a teacher’s job. Serving as superintendent is equivalent to working as a CEO of a corporation that has well over 1000 employees and a $100+ million annual budget.

    Clearly the superintendent is always going to earn more money than the highest paid teacher. For one thing, he has no job security and serves at the request of the board. A teacher, however, is nearly impossible to fire and gets substantially more vacation time and works fewer hours.

    Also, superintendents require PhDs or Doctorates of Education. A teacher with a PhD and on the highest step of the salary schedule will make over $100,000 without having any management responsibilities.

    Would you argue that a teacher earning six figures is still underpaid? Remember that the teacher can add extra money to his/her salary by coaching sports or supervising activities or serving as a team/department lead. It’s a pretty nice package overall.

    Clearly, we need to get all salaries in line– including the administrative salaries. But the answer is NOT to pay the teachers even more. Public sector salaries are growing faster than private industry, and we’re all expected to foot the bill.

    TE teachers are well paid. Lower Merion pays more, but look at their tax burden.

    As it is, TE gets hundreds of applicants for each open teaching position. This reflect the high pay AND the quality of the district. Teachers in Philadelphia make substantially less than TE teachers yet they face more challenges in teaching students and unsafe schools with poor facilities. Doesn’t it seem a little weird that TE teachers should make so much more than Philadelphia teachers?

    Everyone seems to blame the teachers in Philadelphia when the children don’t achieve on No Child Left Behind tests, but how can these teachers overcome the fact that many of their students are hungry and have no resources available to them.

    I would argue that salaries for teachers should be set at the state level with some adjustments due to cost of living in a particular area or region. It would take school boards out of the equation in terms of negotiating contracts. And it’s fairer. Teaching takes the same amount of work in TE as in Lower Merion as in Philadelphia, but Lower Merion teachers are paid gobs more money because they have a school board willing to tax and tax and tax.

    I can see why TE teachers are pissed that they make less than Lower Merion, but the solution is NOT to pay everyone at Lower Merion rates.

    If all teachers were paid similar salaries in each region, teachers would STILL want to work in TE because TE has good facilities, a safe school environment and great kids.

    We need to get salaries under control, but I don’t see it happening at the local level.

    [Reply]

  19. Mr. Grewell said:

    “I submit that teacher quality – which is a function of education and experience – largely determines teacher effectivenss. If so, teacher experience and education matter. ”

    I would direct Mr. Grewell to the expanding body of research on teacher effectiveness. Here are two quotes from a Chicago Federal Reserve Board working paper:

    “That is, the
    characteristics on which compensation is based [teachers’ gender, race, potential
    experience, tenure at CPS, advanced degrees, undergraduate major,
    undergraduate college attended, and teaching certifications] have extremely little power in explaining teacher
    quality dispersion.”

    “One common proposal is to
    tie teacher pay more directly to performance, rather than the current system, which is based on
    measures that are unrelated to student achievement, namely, teacher education and tenure.”

    http://www.chicagofed.org/digital_assets/publications/working_papers/2002/wp2002-28.pdf

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    You have to careful with research. For any given study, you can often find a study with an opposite conclusion. And T/E is a bit unique. Not everthing that applies elsewhere is true here.

    The T/E administration would not agree with you that teacher experience does not matter. For years, the policy was to hire more experienced teachers, not new graduates right out of training. The administration clearly believed in that approach and the board supported it. T/E was and is one of the very best districts in the state. It is true there are many reasons for this, but the professional administrators believe that more experienced teachers are one of the reasons this is true. Sure, there are experienced teachers who are clunkers and there are new teachers who are excellent, but on average, experience does matter.

    [Reply]

    Not quite Reply:

    I agree with most of what you have said in this discussion, but not this one. In my experience as a student in the district many years ago, and as a parent of students in TESD now i disagree with the premise that experience and education are the determining factors of teacher quality or effectiveness. They are one of many contributing factors at best…

    The administration and the board both lack the tools necessary to effectively manage the teaching staff. You have said yourself that once hired, it is very difficult to remove a teacher. That, combined with the inability to compensate based upon performance, are major roadblocks to maximizing the ROI (which should be everyone’s goal).

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    It is hard to get rid of a bad teacher, and it is not possible to reward a good teacher. That is a problem and I have to agree with you there.

    citizenone Reply:

    Mr. Grewell,

    I see a problem here. You would, I believe, cling to the belief that experience and credentials matter while making teacher compensation decisions based on administrative advice without regard to the literature. It’s scary that you would dismiss the literature with statements like, “you can often find a study with an opposite conclusion”, “T/E is a bit unique” and “not everything that applies elsewhere is true here.”

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    I don’t dismiss studies. In my first comment (above) I outlined my own approach, which I think is prudent. I look for consensus of studies, and I do listen to professionals – I don’t always agree with them, but I take their input seriously. I have argued research for and against various ideas. But I have been off the board since 2007 and have not been pouring over research since then. I am just pointing out the limitations in research as applied to local decisions. In my experience it is seldom as air tight as some would like it.

    Look, at home I have two books on the Kennedy asassination. One says Oswald did it all alone, the other “proves” a CIA conspiracy. Both cite lots of experts and are very “scientific”. Education research is not quite that bad, but it is close.

    (Having said that, when I am advocating for something I believe in, I will argue the research that is in my favor. That is legitimate. Opponenets of any proposition cite their favorable research. If there is a consensus among studies, that carries some weight, but you still have to deal with local realities – what is affordable, politically feasible, what your common sense and life experience tell you, what the community will accept, etc.)

    If I were to look into this further, I would want to sit down with some folks in the administration and ask them what they think of these studies (I guarantee you they will be quite familiar with the extant research). I would want to know just why it is, if these studies are so compelling, we have always tried to hire the more experienced teachers when we can (it has gotten harder to do so in the past few years). By the way, I am talking about initial hiring decisions, not necessarily compensation issues per se.

    A transition to some kind of merit pay system is a whole separate issue which I am not addressing here. I still think experience matters, and would be a factor in hiring even under a merit system, in my view.

    Andrea Reply:

    No give backs. Not with the PSEA steering the ship. The difficulty of explaining contracts is that you never want to show too much of your hand…but it wasn’t so long before my time on the board that the “board” voted a number and the union did the salary schedule, putting money as they saw fit. The top number grew exponentially. It’s not an easy gig.

    Quality is a relative measure universally. Kate jumped my comment long ago that I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most unionized industries we have — steel, automobiles and education — are all suffering. A friend who is a professor at the Univ of Washington pointed out on FB recently that 20 years ago, the cost of attendance at UW was funded by 20% tuition and 80% state. Education was a part of a value system. Next year, the split will be 65% tuition, 35% state. Another friend who is a professor at NC State says the state of NC has a different issue — that tuition at Chapel Hill is $6,000 next year…and taxpayers aren’t sure that’s the best use of their tax dollars in this economy.
    But as long as unions are driving the base costs — and they are — these industries have been unable to deliver a quality product in this global economy. Education will soon see a more dramatic shift by including distance learning in public schools locally. The teachers will grieve it as a threat to their jobs, but eventually, you’ll have online learning at Conestoga (which already exists in many charter schools throughout the state). You won’t have to hire a teacher to teach Italian, or Chinese, or Biochemistry….but you will be able to enroll in a course. My old line — “keep a good job or lose a great one” will see the light of day again. Because the more workers demand (not earn, demand), the less affordable their job becomes.

    Now — using the UW example, that’s not to say that we cannot afford to pay the costs of education. Tuition at Episcopal and other private schools is upward of $30K a year, and some of them are actually seeing demand increase (not routinely I would imagine). But as a culture, we are all more concerned about our own economic security, and I don’t know how to solve that political dilemma. 20 years ago teachers left teaching to enjoy the dot com explosion. I remember a new teacher at the induction program in the summer academy talking about how excited he was to be teaching, but that some of his friends that were already millionaires were now jealous he had a job….we lost our sense of what was a “good living” when the Dow went from 700 to 10,000.

    So — just as taxpayers fight against every 1% increase and claim it is not affordable, likewise teachers who are also paying those increases want everything they can get. I’ve never had a job where I could demand a salary. I did have jobs where I asked for an outside offer to be matched, and my boss was incredibly kind by telling me NOT to put a gun to his head unless I was prepared to blow my own brains out. Unions don’t need to worry about their own safety — they can and do bring the proverbial gun to the table — but it’s not loaded locally. It’s loaded in Harrisburg. The largest and most powerful lobby in the state that keeps the right to strike alive and well will not voluntarily take any giveback (not constitutional….) But then, would you take a voluntary pay cut if you could just say no?

    [Reply]

  20. Andrea –
    I am not surprised by the vitriolic comments in which you end you post.
    “And tell your teaching friends to get the credentials and the aspirin and get their resumes out there to be administrators…no one in any company does not envy those above them that make more….earn the job.”
    From a former school board member – WOW – what an attitude.
    And the discussion was on the cost of Administrators salaries versus the the cost of those that perform each and every day in the classroom… while the highly paid administrators – sit in their spanking new quarters quietly attending meeting after meeting, with no children banging their heads on the desk disrupting the learning of the others in the ever increasing class sizes, .. WOW….
    Your attitude and comments are in my mind out of line and certainly inappropriate for anyone that sits on or sat on the school board. And such comments and feelings are shared by many on the current board and will have no positive effect on negotiations for the new contract.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Note PPD that I am addressing my comments to YOU — who seems so determined to speak on behalf of teachers. Never in my time on the board or in personal exchanges have I ever done anything to disrespect a teacher — including encourage them to grow if they want to make more than a collective bargaining agreement allows them to do. My “vitriol” is directed to you…who seems intent on creating hostility relating to administrative compensation vs. teachers.

    [Reply]

  21. Papadick — I now see why Kevin has issues with you — they certainly are not in any way vitriologic — they are responses to your inane view of life — from the “lower paid teaching rung” — which of course I do not believe exists.

    You said:: My point on all of this is that this package would not happen in industry. It is out of line…..

    If you are correct about the value of Dr. Waters package, then he CEO of the district makes approximately 7 times what a new college graduate with no advanced degree and no experience (and a 7:35 minute day for 185 days)…. With an average teacher salary exceeding 70,000 the multiple falls to 5 (and still a full year vs. a 10 month employee with a contractual work day). With a top step PHD, at a salary of $106,400, the multiple is just over 3…and the top step person works far fewer hours and a shorter work year. And takes sabbaticals….

    If anything is out of balance, that is. So what’s the fix Papadick? Supply and Demand? Lowering the bar? Dr. Waters does not make too much –but indeed the board may be paying all the employees too much. Again, back to the state for relief.

    LETS BE FAIR above is very articulate on this topic. Right now, there are no legal provisions for cuts for teachers for economic issues. I am NOT bashing teachers in any way — I did their contracts and believe both sides were okay with the results. YOU are attempting to put administrators on a different scale and complain that ” sit in their spanking new quarters quietly attending meeting after meeting, with no children banging their heads on the desk disrupting the learning of the others in the ever increasing class sizes…”

    WOW is right. If you believe my attitude is inappropriate, I only wish you had been at any meeting when I was on the board. I have the deepest respect for teachers — in my time negotiating, I said then and would say again, I’ll pay a great teacher a great salary, but not on a schedule that under the PSEA guidelines aims to be 10 steps. I believe our salary schedule should be 35 steps…and should never change except for major inflationary pressures. (In which case you might drop step 1 and add step 36). I don’t tbelieve we should have 15% raises to reach “career earnings” within the schedule. If you want to work in a collectively bargained environment, then you give up your right to claim merit.

    And while you consider it inappropriate, I will say it again :: THere is a huge market demand for administrators. If you truly believe that the job of a teacher (with children banging their heads on the desks disrupting learning…) is so hard, then STEP UP and suggest that teacher consider administration. Because I promise you — it’s not the weaker teachers that have made the switch. It is strong teachers who have an appreciation for lesson planning, curriculum development and facing parents in mass that compose our administrative staff.
    You do hit a nerve when you suggest that the Admins have a cushy job. NOTHING could be further from the truth. At least the teachers only deal with the 25% of taxpayers who HAVE a child in the schools. The rest of the story is the board and the administration who must relate to not only learning in the classroom, but mandates from the state, legal advocates for children of special needs, non-parent taxpayers and financial stresses of assessment appeals, …..

    Never mind. For those that understand, they don’t need my explanation. For those who take pleasure in trying to disrupt (you play absolutely into the PSEA hands of dividing /isolating the parties before negotiations), no explanation will be enough.

    Please do not presume what feelings and attitudes are shared by anyone unless you have spoken to that person and have the first clue about the mission.

    Comments like it could never happen in industry are simply wrong. But then, if you are in industry, you no doubt begrudge what those above you make — (though it’s unlike the CEO of any business with 100+ million budget has a CEO making $350K….much less only 3x what employees make.)

    The US complaint was that the multiples were closer to 600 times the average worker, dispelled by concluding that they are 350 times what the average worker makes.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    John
    In 2002 I did. Not since. Likewise the teacher contract operated very differentily the last contract I did. It’s why I have always said you need to know the matrix before you examine the schedule. Some “big raises” simply have no one getting them.

    Since my departure from theboard, I had a major falling out with many who were new because they did not even ask what the background was in Dr. Waters contract, the admin plan OR the teacher contract. They had no idea what the background of the negotiations were (what was given up to get what…) and they moved forward without any historical context (Carol Aichele and I did the last contract I was involved with, so both of us were off the board before the next contract went forward). There were certainly people who carried over from my time on the board, and I won’t try to dispute their input, but let’s just say that without talking to Carole and me, they were flying blind. I advised them of such, but several egos were of a mind to steer their own course. So be it.
    As to Dr. Waters contract — I’ll allow Dr. Waters and the current board to comment on that. I had more than a major falling out over some terms I believed were quite frankly made in ignorance — they didn’t know what they were doing. Maybe I’m wrong — but I stopped asking. I don’t think the market number for Dr. Waters is wrong — he has more experience and much more success in the job than any comparable district, but I believe some of the terms were redundant and made without an understanding of the background.

    Papadick – your comments about real estate and strategic direction are not far from my own. But serving on a board is not about a single point of view — it’s about consensus. I’ve said before — the high school renovation almost didn’t include air conditioning — because several board members believed it was not necessary. I believed that any renovation of a building in 2001 would be pointless if it didn’t bring the building up to more modern standards. Because I could only barely get agreement, (5 votes) the system is a “two pipe” system…which is fine, but nothing that has been designed into a building in my experience since the 80s… I built department stores in Texas where we relied on heat coming from humans, but never was cooling ignored. You can’t very easily mix outside air to cool a building. Conestoga as a building has 200+ employees and almost 2,000 students who carry their books…..but it was pulling teeth to get it air conditioned. (And all this happened in meetings where no one showed up, but we had public monthly meetings where we were under a barrage of complaints from a citizen group that we should be building a second high school instead of super-sizing Conestoga….the art of the possible.)
    Anyway, it’s all complicated, and I’m happy for you to call me the best friend teacher’s had, because to be truthful, they were competitively paid without breaking the bank and they paid for a whole bunch of their health care within the contract terms, but they didn’t know it because it wasn’t a co-pay. It was a negotiatoin where both sides walked away with the knowledge that we had done well for the district and for the union, but not to the detriment of either.

    And again, I left the board in 2002….so it’s kind of moot two contracts later to worry about my influence. I had and retain none.

    [Reply]

  22. Andrea — Please do me a favor and show me where I have ever said that teachers were underpaid or that I support the Union in any way… I am not a pawn of anyone or organization. I speak only as a resident, homeowner and taxpayer.
    On this thread I merely responded to a question concerning whether the Superintendent was covered by PSERS – and added a commentary in which, in my opinion, the fact that a a person making a base of salary of 220,000 – 225,000 might be able to afford to pay his share of the PSERS contribution – not unlike all of the teachers in the district. Please remember that we as taxpayers also pay the school districts contribution as well for the Superintendent.
    I have never questioned the base salary – but I have questioned the additional perks that add another 125,000 or so to the compensation package.
    In the private sector there are government regulations that would inhibit many of these add on benefits – such as a car – gas oil – insurance. Hard to understand how one can justify a car plus all expenses – can anyone explain the “business need” for these costs — other than “we need to compete with Radnor”. And we have not mentioned “educational reimbursement’ of 35,000 for his family.
    My point is quite simple — and not a personal slam at Waters (who by your own admission never negotiated his contract) – we are in this position because of school boards in bedroom communities that have huge egos – historically an ever increasing revenue stream that needs to be spent… and decisions being made without any bona-fide justification.
    It is not just the the compensation package that is out of line — it is also the purchase of real estate with no plan to use the properties or dispose of older buildings. Take the ESC as an example — in no way could a business or an individual make any sense of buying a new building or residence without any idea as to the disposal of the old place. Oh yes — we can attempt to explain it by saying we just may need another school building — so now our tax dollars are being used not for education but as a real estate management company.
    Now as to the other side — the teachers union – I would and have suggested that not all teachers are created equal – that they should be expected to pay some of their health care costs – your idea of having the contract speak to an 8 hour day makes sense as I am confident that 99% spend that time now… starting salaries are entirely to high but again here we go with the silliness and egos of the bedroom community school boards justifying such nonsense. I find nothing wrong with the Unions in this regard… sort of like the comp packages for Superintendents — all determined by the Boards.
    I would suggest that the belt tightening going on now will not have a positive effect on the quality of education for our kids. Increasing class sizes, eliminating Aides – taking a hard stand on special needs students (budget constraints) will only contribute to a decline in in growth. The board – at times – makes decisions for political reasons and their own interests rather than what is in the best interest of the kids.

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  23. John,

    You want a retraction? Fine, you’ve got it. I am glad you clarified your position. The way you wrote that comment gave me pause.

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  24. Well I’ve been gone for a week and much informed discussion here! I do hope that the School Board gets to see this material.

    So where next? Decisions to be made:
    1) Cuts in programs, activities, class sizes
    2) Size of 2011/12 tax increase
    3) Contract objectives
    I think that all should be approached based on the principles of “what can residents afford to pay?”. There’s no money tree that comes with our ever-escalating-in-value (?) houses.

    1. Expenses. I agree that busing, sports, and reduction in aides are “straw men”, meant to illustrate the type of actions required to balance the budget. It wouldn’t be hard to demonstrate how those expenditures contribute to our students’ success.

    However, a quoted $1 million from outsourcing custodial services makes us long for further information. That $3 million program savings from attrition is real money, over time. And there’s more. I may have mentioned here before (!) that our Admin staff needs to earn their compensation, and perhaps that can be tied to (educationally positive/neutral) expense control results? I believe that the $3 million list is a promising preliminary indication of their efforts.

    (Note that the District is in the process of appealing commercial assessments)

    2. Revenues. I advocate that the Board hold the line at the Act 1 1.4%, and draw down the fund balance to meet the gap. That $28 million fund balance is property taxpayer money and I think we can establish that it’s not necessary to the bond rating for all that to sit in the District bank, earning no interest to speak of.
    Of course, that moves the problem to next year, when the $5 million of EIT T/E pays to other school districts will be surely attract attention, and should by then have been studied to death. When asked to directly compare the twin property and income tax increase evils, Tredyffrin residents favored by nearly 2:1 the additional EIT virtues of tax diversification, inflation adjustment and direct link to taxpayer cash flow .

    3. Next Contract. Here the Board needs to state at the outset that the only acceptable contract is one that ties aggregate SW&B growth to changes in ability to pay and to tangible performance improvements. Much easier said than done, of course given the strike capability. And if anyone doubts the ability of unions to use college recommendations, read this:
    http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/20101116_Neshaminy_teachers_end_boycott_of_extra_duties.html
    To quote:
    “Particularly troubling for nervous high school seniors was the threat that teachers would not write letters of recommendation for college.

    But Boyd said some letters were written anyway.

    “In some instances they were able to get done, in others they weren’t,” she said.”

    In some instances they weren’t??? What???

    The only way to deal with this type of thing is to get out in front in the forum of public opinion. Right now. Publish reasonable objectives and expectations of the process (no student hostages!). Publish historical compensation data. Publish private sector/public sector comparisons. Set up a long run plan for Andrea’s advocated on-line learning approach. Did I say, “right now”?

    I hope that everyone can send their own recipes to the School Board over the holidays and if possible show up for the Jan 3rd meeting.

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