T/E Teacher’s Salary Freeze Offer . . . Headlines on the Debate Continue in Main Line Suburban newspaper

This week’s edition of the Main Line Suburban, www.mainlinemedianews.com features the following news story by Alan Thomas.  Thomas attended the T/E Finance Committee meeting on Monday night and weighs in on the confusion surrounding the teachers offer of a ‘salary freeze’ for next year versus the school boards requested ‘pay increase waiver’. 

If you take the time to read the many comments posted on Community Matters over the last few days, it is apparent that confusion remains over what the teachers union is offering to the school district in savings next year as compared to what the school board thinks that the teachers are offering.  I am hopeful that there will be further clarification in the next day or so on the offer.  Right now, I feel that we are comparing ‘apples to oranges’ when we look at the teacher offer and without some clarification, I don’t see how we get on the same page.

T/E budget workshop discusses teachers’ pay-freeze offer, board’s rejection and sports/activity fees
By Alan Thomas
Main Line Media News
Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board’s finance committee held Budget Workshop II Monday night to discuss sports and activities fees. The committee put more time and effort, it seemed, into explaining how a pay waiver is different from a pay freeze, perhaps in light of the disclosure that the Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association had communicated an offer to accept a one-year pay freeze in a letter dated April 15. It was an offer that the board later rejected but apparently had not disclosed to the public in a timely fashion.

The committee’s if not the board’s explanation of the letter may have come as the result of an April 29 Community Matters blog entry titled “T/E Teachers Union Offers Salary Freeze … TESD Rejects Offer, Wants Pay-Increase Waiver” in which blogger Pattye Benson told her readers that “there was an ‘offer’ from the teachers’ union and a ‘rejection’ from the school district … there is confusion between a salary ‘freeze’ and a salary ‘waiver’ … [and] the school board intends to clarify those distinctions.”

Community Matters is part of Main Line Media News’ Community Media Lab at www.mainlinemedianews.com .

The apparent lack of transparency was explained by board member Deborah Bookstaber as a matter in which “the board didn’t mention the letter [previously] because there was no time to discuss it.” Her explanation answered TEEA president Peter DiPiano, who had addressed the committee to ask for a clarification about when an executive session, during which time the letter might have been discussed, had been held.

Committee chair Kevin Mahoney later explained the difference between the two pay-related terms: with a pay waiver in place, there would be “no increase [in salary] next year, no extension for either [TEEA or TENIG] of the contracts, [and that the TEEA freeze offer was a] pay freeze” with raises deferred while step progression for the union members would continue to the time when the postponed raises would be resumed. The pay waiver being proposed by the board would effectively end the teachers’ contract and erase the final year’s raises and teachers’ vertical movement on the district salary scale.

District business manager Art McDonnell used several graphics to show that, over five years, the waiver plan would save the district a lot more money, around $15 million by 2015-16, assuming that salaries remained flat until then.

All non-union district employees are not getting raises. Only TEEA and TENIG, the non-instructional employees union whose contract runs a year beyond the teachers’, would be affected by either a pay waiver or a freeze.

Board president Karen Cruickshank also explained to the audience that “Mr. DiPiano has been in conversation with us. We will talk with the union and find something that works.”

And board member Richard Brake further clarified the point, addressing McDonnell, that “no advancement on the salary scale is the majority of the difference [between the waiver and the freeze].”

A community member, stressing state legislators’ part in the present overall school-budget crisis, wanted to remind people that Chester County’s Home and School Associations are sponsoring a legislator discussion and question-and-answer session concerning the current critical issues involving public education Thursday, May 5, 7-9 p.m. at West Chester East High School, 450 Ellis Lane, West Chester.

During other related discussion about the agenda, the earned income tax appeared briefly again, with the board loosely agreeing to make it a part of budget discussions for 2011-12. Any EIT must be approved by a ballot referendum.

Other community members’ comments ranged from a plea for “no more cuts or changes [in educational programs]” to an observation that “there is no way to remedy the pension situation.”

In the end the committee agreed to plug a middle-of-the-road sports and/or activity fee “place-holder” worth $70,000 into the budget process in order to pass the committee-approved budget to the next regular board meeting May 9 with the general fund designated as the solution to closing the more than $3-million gap. That and more can still change of course as the budget continues on its way to final approval June 28.

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10 Comments

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  1. Some of the confusion is intentional I fear — on both sides. But some of the confusion is honest as well. No need to obfuscate this one — it’s confusing. Other districts “accepting the freeze” is a meaningless concept absent information about each plan.

    Remember — we are talking about salary schedules, not salaries. You don’t just go from step 1 to step 2 to step 3. You go from Year 1- Step 1, to Year 2-Step 2, and then Year 3- Step 3.

    So the question is (using your example):
    Are they going from Year 2-Step 2 and staying at Year 2- Step 2, or are they going to Year 3-step 2, or are they staying on year 2- but going to step 3? What is freezing? Any of those wo uld be a freeze, but all would have very major changes for subsequent years.

    So using the example you used, but a four year schedule:

    Right now, our sample teacher is on Year 3-Step 10 in the M+15 column. They are earning 69,540.

    If the freeze is staying on year 3-step 10, M+15, that’s simple. They get $69,540 again.

    IF they stay on year 3-step 10, but move to M+30, they get $76,350. — an 11% raise.
    IF they stay on step 10, but move to year 4’s schedule, staying with M+15, they get $82,680. That’s a 19% raise.
    IF they stay in year 3’s schedule, but move to Step 11, again staying at M+15, the salary would be $71,140, or a 2.3% raise.

    ANY of those scenarios could be called a salary freeze. Regardless, if you take the simplest of them — staying on the 2010-11 schedule (year 3 of the contract) and not moving vertically (to step 11) or horizontally (to Masters Plus 30), — then what happens in year 5 — ? What “catch up” takes place? Do they go to the 4th year of the contract schedule? Do they continue to advance in seniority, and now reclaim their rightful step/educational credits?

    John says regarding a waiver: “there’s no reason why the union should do this. Put another way, the board has not earned the necessary goodwill for the union to do such a thing. Besides, what would the union get in return.”?

    I’ll answer: because the community cannot afford the alternatives. It doesn’t really matter what’s on paper right now. That’s why I have said “who cares” about who and how this contract was negotiated. The current contract is signed by Kevin Mahoney, Pat Wood and Deborah Rollins. None of these 3 are on the ballot going forward. I do not know who else was on the negotiating committee.

    And a reminder: the existing contract has THIS in it:

    Memorandum of Understanding on Salary Schedules

    Understanding that the demographics of the District will impact the matrix, the parties agree to a joint labor-management committee which will convene in the 4th year of the agreement to discuss possible strategies to keep increment costs down.

    So the district anticipated some issues and was prepared to convene a joint committee for next year anyway. The reason the teachers would do this — is because they get to keep very good jobs. They may in fact lose great ones.

  2. I feel that I am missing something in this entire budgetary process and I think it is a lack of “transparency” from the board. If you “the board” want to break the teacher’s contract for the remaining year of their agreement, just say it. Don’t beat around the bush and wasting time with your confusing analytical computations that don’t compare apples with apples. Don’t misrepresent the statement of “shared sacrifice” as the road you want to take in accomplishing your goal. You have not only caused ill feelings within this school community, but you have also caused a lack of respect for the process as well as for yourself, the board. Breaking a negotiated contract that was bargained “in good faith” requires legal assistance and legal assistance = additional expense for this district.

    1. Or it requires the TEEA to help.

      The “shared sacrifice” is about the union and the taxpayers. At no time does the board need to sacrifice anything. They represent us –taxpayers who have been adamat and vigilant in the past year about needing to control/reduce costs and not revenue enhancements ( a new term of art). Prior contracts have absolutely been about “fairness” and “labor peace.” Before this recession, no one even came to budget hearings in any measurable number.

      So transparency isn’t just about what they tell us — it’s about what we understand. And if you believe one thing, it’s that the PSEA (not necessarily the locals) don’t want you to understand much. The “script” calls for “shared sacrifice” that isn’t a sacrifice the way it is currently offered.

  3. Why not just follow the agreed contract, and then get authority from the state to furlough teachers and use it. And demotions too. This is an appropriate management response to a situation with labor costs that are contractually fixed above market with no mechanism to adjust. If the price of the commodity cannot fall to an affordable level, use less of it. Thats ECON 101. The union deserves the fruits of their labor. And this is part of that fruit. The fact is the 7 pct increase was agreed to when transfer taxes were on an upward slope. Well they no longer are. Thats not the school boards fault, and its not the teachers’ fault so theres no need to get testy over it.

    But the fact is the current year increase is off size for the ecnonomic conditions, the money is not in the till. Taxpayers in the district are in many cases earning less than they did in previous years, if they still have a job. That is my reality. And the reality of everyone i know who isnt a teacher. Now if the teachers union wants to enforce their contractual right to a 7 pct increase next year (which i am not sure is the case in any other school district Pattye is referencing), there will necessarily collateral consequences to staffing levels. How can there not? A necessary reduction of staff. The world wont stop spinning on its axis if that happens, and the school board shouldnt be vilified if thats the result.

  4. First of all, the TESD cannot furlough (at this point in time) until they apply to the PDE for a curtailment of programming (which they have not voted on or done yet). The SB also has to be able to prove a curtailment of programming – just making teachers teach 6 classes instead of 5 is not a ‘curtailment’ in programming.

    Second, wouldn’t you rather have more teachers for the same amount of money than less teachers?

    Third – quick question – anyone out there that is getting a raise this year, would you be willing to donate that to TESD to help in the budget crisis? It appears that is what is being asked of the teachers…

  5. Every year a teacher teaches ups their pension by 2.5%. If a teacher making 75,000 was frozen for 10 years, their pension would still go up $18,750 a year after retirement. IN today’s economy, do you have any sense of how much money you wouild have to save to do that?

    Mad Anthony is correct, and that’s why the TEEA is now in the position of bidding against itself. They can keep what they want, but they will lose a great deal in the end. They have very good jobs. They have benefits and tenure and pensions. It isn’t anyone’s fault that everything is spinning….at least not anyone we can identify locally. But this is not about shared sacrifice. The teachers hold all the cards — now. People demanding accountability are even buckling in response to the PR campaign regarding shared sacrifice and “freezes.”

    My tired adage — teachers can keep good jobs, or lose great ones. If we are unable to afford this commodity (and that is what it is), we will find alternatives. Individually, teachers make a huge difference. But they do not allow the district to differentiate between the good and bad teachers, and the increase in salarires is simply no longer economically sustainable.

    One comment — the salaries did not rise because the transfer taxes rolled in. The salaries were supportable by property tax rates on property values that have been reduced, assessment appeals, foreclosures, and declines in new construction (forecasts are done annually on new properties coming online). The transfer tax is what buffers the fund balance. Part of this economic mess is because rather than raise taxes as much as they increased spending, they did offset some program costs by using fund balance.
    It’s a difference without much distinction, but the fund balance drying up is what to blame on the transfer tax loss. The revenue shortfall (or the out of balance with expenses) is because of a CHOICE to deficit spend.

  6. The same way they are in the free market — even in government. salary schedules. Quality rises to the top, not seniority. Raises are given to prevent people you want to retain from leaving. Bad teachers would be replaced. Good teachers would be retained.

  7. Aye — there’s the rub. How is anyone defined in any job as “good or bad?” Our reluctance to grade teachers — who grade students subjectively every single day — is always warned as something that gets brother-in-laws jobs ….
    Teachers are observed now — but with warning so failure would seem almost intentional on their part. But as in any job, work can be evaluated. Classroom management skills, mastery of the subject, student outcomes (since they have a different teacher every year) and whatever criteria management would set. Anyone in any job gets a review — teachers do not get one that influences their compensation. That could change. In private schools, it already does take place. Contracts are renewed or not renewed. People are replaced by better options. The current practice of tenure and collective bargaining, however, makes this moot.

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