Seeking Transparency in TESD Teacher Contract Negotiations

As a bit of history for those that are new readers to Community Matters. When I started this journey 2-1/2 years ago, it was without a personal agenda except to engage the community on important issues and to encourage greater transparency from our elected officials.

Transparency implies openness, communication, and accountability; a metaphorical extension of the meaning a “transparent” object is one that can be seen through.  In government, transparency is vital to a healthy democracy.  Public scrutiny helps ensure that government works for the people and spends their tax dollars wisely.

As far as the teacher contract negotiations are concerned, I suggest that both sides ‘open the door’ that in the past has been closed.  We have seen how in the last few days, the ‘cloaked in secrecy’ approach to the negotiations is not working and is showing signs of cracking.  Discussion is turning to conjecture, as in the ‘he said, she said’ world; which is never good.  Letting the sunlight shine in on the negotiations, would help the parents, taxpayers (and employees) better understand the process and the District’s priorities.

My assumption is that if negotiations were public and everyone could see the negotiations, it would help us (the taxpayers) to further understand the positions of the teachers and the District.  If all that the community hears is a partial or half-truth from either side, the misinformation is perpetuated and the line between fact and fiction becomes blurred.  The teachers’ contract accounts for a significant part of the budget and strongly influences the bottom line of the District’s financial picture.  The negotiating period is the only time when informed public opinion can have any possible effect on the decisions of elected officials, but how can the public reasonably weigh in on the proposals without having all the facts.  A mandatory public comment period on the yearly budget seems a bit like an empty exercise if we do not have updated contract negotiation information.

The early disclosure of each side’s proposed contract terms would reduce the incentive to open negotiations with extreme proposals made merely for bargaining purposes.  Extreme proposals from TEEA or the school board are bound to create hard feelings as we have recently seen and the potential to prolong negotiation, thereby making compromise more difficult.  Conversely, an open and public process (transparency) would lead to proposals that are more realistic from both sides and narrow the range of disagreement in the process.

In the last few days, we heard from several teachers who alluded to a less than satisfactory proposal from the school district in regards to insurance and reduced salary.  Add the possibility of demotion for economic reasons to the plate of the teachers, and it is no surprise that they are concerned.  Do we have the entire story from TEEA on the subject of benefits and salary, probably not?  On the other hand, what have the teachers proposed to the District and what was the school board’s response.  Don’t know; the public doesn’t have any of those answers.

How about the negotiating parties work to make the process transparent for the public – posting the bargaining framework, their proposals and counter-proposals on the TESD website, as they become available. This kind of transparency would help the TESD parents and community members understand how children will be taught and how the tax dollars will be invested.  The relationship between teachers and school administrators is an important element in what shapes public schools.  There is no better way to understand this relationship than to observe the contract process.  The teachers are public employees, so why shouldn’t the union negotiations be public.

As a community, we should call on our elected school board members and teachers union to put the needs of students and families first and honor the public investment of taxpayers.  I ask for both sides to be more open about the negotiation process – talk truths to each other and to the public.  It’s time to turn on the lights, open the windows and the doors.

56 Comments

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  1. I 100% agree…

    especially with this paragraph:

    The early disclosure of each side’s proposed contract terms would reduce the incentive to open negotiations with extreme proposals made merely for bargaining purposes. Extreme proposals from TEEA or the school board are bound to create hard feelings as we have recently seen and the potential to prolong negotiation, thereby making compromise more difficult. Conversely, an open and public process (transparency) would lead to proposals that are more realistic from both sides and narrow the range of disagreement in the process.

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  2. TE Teacher — no one is stopping either side. Go for it. None of us are on the board, but you are a member of the bargaining unit. Convince them. We’ll all be better off.

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    TE Teacher Reply:

    I will definitely voice my opinion to my reps!

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  3. Agreed! Unfortunately that level of transparency would immediately end the propaganda campaigns being perpetrated by both sides…. Both sides obviously feel better positioned to make their “case” to their constituents if they are able to craft wild stories about the negotiations, the offers, and the refusals at the bargaining table. sad.

    I have serious doubt that the district proposed a healthcare plan without any opportunity for the teachers to even contribute to cover a family – it makes no sense. But it does make great theater for TEEA to make that claim to the teachers, who will then unknowingly share this inflammatory false info.

    If anyone can substantiate the HC proposal reportedly offered by the TESD i will be very surprised. Let’s see some proof. If it exists I will share the teachers outrage at the TESD.

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    Read the district press release Reply:

    They said they did not so fast! Read the wording…

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    TE Teacher Reply:

    From the district’s press release:

    “The Board’s initial contract proposal offers Personal Choice C4F402, for the employee only, with the District paying 80% of the premium.”

    link: http://www.tesd.net/Page/7597

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    Not so fast Reply:

    I have seen the TESD press release. I think (hope) that the issue within the release is that it is simply worded very poorly.

    I cannot understand the benefit to TESD of offering a plan in which the employee is not even permitted to pay for family coverage themselves on the same plan if they so desired. It might prove to be prohibitively expensive, but to restrict the possibility completely makes no sense for the district or Blue Cross?

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    Disgusted T/E resident Reply:

    Absolutely it makes sense. As an HR person, I can tell you the reason is to limit exposure on the district’s self funded plan. Add the family and more people that might drive up the overall cost for the district since the the insurance company will raise cost of the whole plan, not just the portion paid by the teachers for their families.

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Disgusted said, “Add the family and more people that might drive up the overall cost for the district since the the insurance company will raise cost of the whole plan, not just the portion paid by the teachers for their families.”
    .
    This is a complete misunderstanding of a self funded insurance program. The insurance company (e.g. Blue Cross, Blue Shield) can’t raise the “cost of the whole plan” because the insurance company doesn’t set the premiums. The district, in concert with their health care adviser, sets the premiums based on the actual claims experience of TE employees.

    Township Reader Reply:

    Do you understand that means the district will only pay for the single, not that you cannot pay the additional?

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    TE Teacher Reply:

    I am telling you that we were told at a meeting with our building reps that the district proposed only single coverage WITHOUT the option to add them to our plan for the additional cost, meaning we would need to acquire a separate plan for our families.

    TE Teacher Reply:

    This is why I keep saying I wish these proposals would come out to the public so everyone on this board would actually believe what I am saying, and not just tell me that I don’t understand the plan or that I sharing inflammatory false info or that I am stretching the truth.

    Hopefully the initial proposals will come out, and then everyone can see for themselves.

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    TE Teacher, I have drilled several teachers over the insurance coverage issue and everyone is telling the same exact story as you. Unless the School Board comes out with some kind of definitive statement suggesting otherwise, it appears to me that the District is saying that they will cover employees only, not spouses or family … and that there is no option for the employee to pay for the additional coverage. This is so crazy that I want the School Board to say the information isn’t accurate. Again, if the employee pays the differential to add their spouse and/or children, why would that be denied to the employee. I just do not understand — which is absolutely why we need this process out in the public. I agree with you, transparency, let the public see the proposals of both sides.

    Denis Reply:

    I’m not sure I read it that way. If that’s what they meant I think the qualifier ‘for the employee only’ should have come at the end and read:

    “The Board’s initial contract proposal offers Personal Choice C4F402 with the District paying 80% of the premium for the employee only”

    That being said, I am also of the mind that this was just a poorly written press release and not necessarily indicative of the actual offer.

    MD Reply:

    I completely agree with you. It is the “they are going to starve us” strategy and is a classic union ploy.

    Not buying it.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Not So Fast — LIKE.

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  4. Well, it sure does add up with what the teachers are saying. My wife’s friend is a T/e teacher and said they get updates and YES that was the boards offer. Where’s the outrage? Sorry teachers…these people won’t fight for you, but there are those of us who will!!!

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    MD Reply:

    Maybe it was but perhaps it was to shake the union up a bit. The Cadillac plan has to end. Sorry. Paying another 5 or $10 for co-pays or premiums won’t cut it anymore. There needs to be actual risk sharing.

    Welcome to the real world.

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  5. Interesting that people conclude the teachers are lying and the district’s own words don’t coincide, but rather a poorly written press release. Huh? Why did the board hire a PR firm to work with the negotiation team that can’t write???? Maybe we can draw the conclusion that they worded it masterfully…it’s true, but not true…perfect press release for this occasion.

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    Not so fast Reply:

    I didn’t read ANY comments that suggested that the teachers were lying – you need to step back and read the comments again.

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  6. Thanks for all this exchange. I think this “proposal” is another strategy if this is what the teachers are being told. Clearly it is the district’s intent to save money and move forward, but these “opening” offers are also meant to dictate tone. Remember — this is the first time the district has ever used someone who is JUST a negotiator. He and the PSEA rep have no doubt met before….so this is game playing. Interesting that the teachers have been scared by the report of the district offer, but the teachers are unable to tell us what THEY have offered.
    Again — $8,000 per employee. Buy what you can afford. that’s my opening offer. :) Caps the district exposure….and you can shop for plans through PSEA and the TESD office.

    THEN negotiate the number, NOT the plan.
    Good luck!

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  7. Ok…I have gotten beyond disgusted and did some fact-finding. Made a call to wife’s best friend, a T/E teacher, to get the story. She SAW the 100 plus proposal at a sub-committee…trust me this woman does NOT lie!!! Guess what??? “Employee only” just like the district press release states.
    I’m speechless of how mortified that my elected officials would represent me in such a disgraceful way to the teachers. I will get every person I know in this town to fight them.

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    Not so fast Reply:

    Still waiting for substantive proof of the TEEA claim – does “employee only” truly mean that families cannot be covered at the employees expense?? Or simply that the district will cover employee only?? The diference is vast, yet the wording is vague, poorly worded in either case.

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    MD Reply:

    I think it is a negotiating ploy intended to let the union know that the old days are over. The math doesn’t work anymore and you can only tax so much. The union needs to come back with their offer now. Pattye is right – it should all be in the open. Both sides.

    The parents are completely fed up despite one poster’s contention here. We will not be held hostage at contract time. We know a strike could occur. Many are making contingency plans for that.

    While I think the quality of teachers in TE is high, the public simply cannot afford to keep funding them at this rate.

    The old days are ending. You can kick, scream, do every over the top, obvious PR type of strategy that you want to do. It won’t change the basic math.

    This type of thing will be repeated at every level of gov and at 10’s of thousands of school districts across the country.

    The day of reckoning is at hand. There is no changing that.

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    Mark Reply:

    “This type of thing will be repeated at every level of gov and at 10′s of thousands of school districts across the country.”

    That’s your dream, isn’t it? The reality is that there is a silent, non-tea-partier majority who think we can work it out without hurting our kids or throwing their teachers to the curb. Those of us with kids at TE realize that the teachers aren’t the problem.

    And, by the way, those in our neighboring school districts who are paying much higher taxes are laughing at our self-imposed predicament here. $30 million in a fund that we refuse to touch, preferring to cut our most educated teachers down to part time. Cutting out music and language programs because our school board is too weak to even suggest the idea of a tax increase (that would still leave most of us with tax bills thousands of dollars lower than parents in Lower Merion). And telling our teachers that not only are their spouses and kids’ health insurance not going to be covered, but they won’t even be allowed to buy it on our group plan, a ploy that will inevitably lead to teachers, including some of the best in addition to the run of the mill, to have to find other jobs just so they can keep their kids insured.

    A day of reckoning is coming, that’s for sure. I just think that it will involve our school’s ranking tumbling down, along with our property values.

    But at least we’ll have showed those teachers who’s the boss, right?

    Township Reader Reply:

    Disgusted:

    THIS is why labor peace has always been the primary goal, and how the last contract got too bold.
    Do you understand that these are negotiations? Do you understand the process? What is offered is an opening. It’s always polarizing. Again, you are sure that the district is trying to screw the teachers. WHY would you make that assumption. Maybe — if (and it’s a big if) that is the offer, it is to bring some reality to the conversation. And I can assure you — with everything I know about negotiations — that the PSEA is orchestrating this firestorm. They are using language to SCARE their own membershp and to engage the public. IF the board had the power to do this without a contract, there could be some legitimate concerns that was their plan. But they do not. NOTHING can happen that the union does not ratify.

    AGAIN — where is the teacher proposal? Can we stop this rant? THIS is what they want. Two months ago, people were behind a hard line to hold costs down. Now — two “hypotheticals” are floated and you “will get every person in this town to fight for them.”

    PLEASE settle back and watch the show. It has a long way to go. And no — your wife’s best friend is not lying — but she may not know the truth either. GIVE IT A REST.

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    MD Reply:

    Did she tell you what the counter proposal was? This best friend of your wife?

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    MD Reply:

    I love the endless scare tactics. Same exact script every time. As I have said repeatedly, I respect the teachers. However, the old days are over. The bills are due. There is no way around it. The families will get coverage but it won’t be the same as it is now. Welcome to the real world. Mark – why don’t you send them an extra 20% of your pay? Pony up.

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  8. The elephant in the room is pension payments that have to be made by the PA school districts to the pension fund. If you think this year is bad , wait until you see the payments required for 2013 and 2014. I don’t remember the exact numbers but they are staggering -(Patty maybe you have the expected pymts). There will be school districts in PA that will not be able to cover payroll because of these required pymts unless the state makes some changes in the required funding or sets up loan programs for school districts.

    Some of you may recall that the teachers pension formula was significantly boosted up around 10 years ago, partially as a result of the stock mkt doing so well in the 90’s. Well the 00’s haven’t been to kind to the stock market but yet the idea of reducing the pension formula is not allowed!

    I am not suggesting changing the pension plan for current teachers but it has to change for new hires or else we will continue to have this problem 5, 10 20 yrs down the road. The taxpayers of PA can simply not afford to pay teachers lifetime pensions starting in their 50’s!

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    Township Reader Reply:

    The reason the district has such a significant fund balance is to help weather some of the PSERS spikes…which are one time. They go on for a long time, but they do reverse at some point, and hopefully sooner if our legislators are able to overcome the pressure from the PSEA and actually change the pension plan to a defined contribution, not a defined benefit (going forward only).

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  9. Will those so eager to take away health benefits from teachers sleep better at night if they succeed?

    How much do spend on your entertainment in one year? Fios? Comcast cell phone? But many here never want to raise taxes. No one wants to raise taxes, and we all know, including the union, that some concessions need to be made.

    It is very clear that some have an agenda to make sure the teacher ‘suffer’. I find it interesting that no on cared what teachers were making just decade ago when their 401ks were flush, they were getting stock options. Etc.

    This whole process seems disingenuous to me. Fairly negotiate respect the fine teachers and wonderful school district that has a direct connection to health and value of our homes and community.

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    MD Reply:

    Every year my taxes go up. Next?

    Boy, the union sure is working it. The old days are over. Get used to it.

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    MD Reply:

    Dave – what concessions have you made exactly with this contract proposal? From your post, it is fairly simple to ascertain that you are part of the union. Since “you know” how they feel.

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  10. Per the District’s own press release:

    <<>>

    Three points:

    1) “Not so fast,” Denis and others seem to be demanding proof of the claim that the School Board is seeking to take away the health insurance of the families of teachers, proof that goes beyond the multiple reports here (including from Pattye) from teachers who have seen the offer–which reports, by the way, are completely consistent with the plain meaning of the words that the District itself has stated in its own press release. I believe we have plenty of evidence (“admission against interest” comes to mind , looking at the press release); now I think the burden is on the District to show that it’s not the case that the teachers are being told they will have to drop their families’ health insurance coverage, _even if they want to pay for it themselves_. Or not to show that; it seems by the fact they trumpeted it in a press release that the District is proud of that being its offer.

    2) The District states that the proposal’s goal is to put healthcare coverage “more in line with national standards.” I’d like to see a list of public school districts where the teachers are not even permitted to buy health insurance coverage for their families. There is no way this is “more in line with national standards.” Are there jobs where health insurance is simply not offered at all? Of course, there are tons of them. But I’m not sure there is a job in America where health insurance is offered but the employees are simply not allowed to pay extra and have their families covered. Is this simple vindictiveness on the part of the negotiators? (I would say “on the part of the school board,” but as we know, the school board can’t be bothered to actually get involved in the negotiations.)

    More relevantly here, are there jobs where people get PhD’s and masters degrees as part of the coursework for the job where health insurance isn’t offered–or is offered for solely the employee? I doubt there is a single industry or class of jobs in America where that is “in line with national standards”, and if it goes through here, TESD may be the only such employer in the entire country. I work in an industry similar to that of a top-performing public school in the sense that I work with a whole lot of people with PhDs and masters degrees. They (we) have a lot of choices of where to work–none of which would deny our families the right to buy healthcare coverage.

    (Of course, if we demote all the PhDs to part-time, I guess that takes care of that, huh?)

    3) I’d like to see how “professional negotiator” Jeffrey Sultanik would react if his employer, the (moderately) high-powered local law firm of Fox Rothschild, told him that they were dropping his wife and kids from his health insurance. Somehow I doubt he would think it “baffling and disappointing” if his colleagues fought back against the demand. Yet that’s what he is saying about the teachers’ refusal to cave on that point. I can’t stand empty posturing like that from a negotiator, whether on my side of the table or the other.

    Why are we doing this to our teachers? What will happen to those whose spouses can’t get their children onto other health plans? Should the kids of those who teach our children go without health insurance? What about those kids (and spouses) with pre-existing conditions, especially if Obamacare is struck down this summer?

    Who exactly is supporting the board in this (to me) shockingly harsh approach? I don’t get it.

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  11. Per the District’s own press release:


    The District’s contract goal is to significantly reduce the healthcare costs for the District and the taxpayers through a combination of a less expensive plan and/or increased premium share by the teacher, more in line with national standards. The Board’s initial contract proposal offers Personal Choice C4F402, for the employee only, with the District paying 80% of the premium. If accepted by TEEA, it would provide significant savings in healthcare costs for the community, thus meeting the District’s goal.

    Mr. Sultanik noted, “It was revealed during negotiations that the T/E teacher’s union does not want any changes to the existing plan or premium share increases for the employee.” Sultanik continued, “Ms. Waldie’s refusal to begin discussing the critical aspect of healthcare is baffling and disappointing to the District.”

    Three points:

    1) “Not so fast,” Denis and others seem to be demanding proof of the claim that the School Board is seeking to take away the health insurance of the families of teachers, proof that goes beyond the multiple reports here (including from Pattye) from teachers who have seen the offer–which reports, by the way, are completely consistent with the plain meaning of the words that the District itself has stated in its own press release. I believe we have plenty of evidence (“admission against interest” comes to mind , looking at the press release); now I think the burden is on the District to show that it’s not the case that the teachers are being told they will have to drop their families’ health insurance coverage, _even if they want to pay for it themselves_. Or not to show that; it seems by the fact they trumpeted it in a press release that the District is proud of that being its offer.

    2) The District states that the proposal’s goal is to put healthcare coverage “more in line with national standards.” I’d like to see a list of public school districts where the teachers are not even permitted to buy health insurance coverage for their families. There is no way this is “more in line with national standards.” Are there jobs where health insurance is simply not offered at all? Of course, there are tons of them. But I’m not sure there is a job in America where health insurance is offered but the employees are simply not allowed to pay extra and have their families covered. Is this simple vindictiveness on the part of the negotiators? (I would say “on the part of the school board,” but as we know, the school board can’t be bothered to actually get involved in the negotiations.)

    More relevantly here, are there jobs where people get PhD’s and masters degrees as part of the coursework for the job where health insurance isn’t offered–or is offered for solely the employee? I doubt there is a single industry or class of jobs in America where that is “in line with national standards”, and if it goes through here, TESD may be the only such employer in the entire country. I work in an industry similar to that of a top-performing public school in the sense that I work with a whole lot of people with PhDs and masters degrees. They (we) have a lot of choices of where to work–none of which would deny our families the right to buy healthcare coverage.

    (Of course, if we demote all the PhDs to part-time, I guess that takes care of that, huh?)

    3) I’d like to see how “professional negotiator” Jeffrey Sultanik would react if his employer, the (moderately) high-powered local law firm of Fox Rothschild, told him that they were dropping his wife and kids from his health insurance. Somehow I doubt he would think it “baffling and disappointing” if his colleagues fought back against the demand. Yet that’s what he is saying about the teachers’ refusal to cave on that point. I can’t stand empty posturing like that from a negotiator, whether on my side of the table or the other.

    Why are we doing this to our teachers? What will happen to those whose spouses can’t get their children onto other health plans? Should the kids of those who teach our children go without health insurance? What about those kids (and spouses) with pre-existing conditions, especially if Obamacare is struck down this summer?

    Who exactly is supporting the board in this (to me) shockingly harsh approach? I don’t get it.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Parent whose eyes are opened — you need to relax. Really. The board isn’t at the table because it’s not far enough along. What could they add? You are interpreting a press release with the worst possible option — and are falling into the trap of already turning on the board. The board is negotiating. Not commanding. They could suggest they want everyone to cut their salaries to $10,000. That would wake people up, but the board can only put into place what the union agrees to. Whatever the intention of the “offer” that you believe so seriously takes health care away, it cannot happen without their agreement.

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    MD Reply:

    A full court PR press! I wonder how many of these posters are brand new here. I suspect most. Good try union.

    The old days of scaring everyone into getting what you want are over.

    BTW – someone above mentioned the pensions. He was correct. That problem is infinity worse.

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  12. Have to speak up here officially.
    I have no idea who is talking about what here, but let me promise you that all of this is part of the dance that takes place in negotiations. PSEA is not telling the rank and file what they are proposing, and the positioning is ALWAYS to make it look like the board/negotiators are heartless and careless.

    I did teacher contracts for this district 3 times, and TENIG contracts as well. Let me tell you what the board “did” to the union:

    TENIG: The board contracted out services for bus drivers. WHY? In negotiations, the board approached the union to allow the district to restructure the benefit package for the bus drivers. Their benefit plan simply made paying our own drivers too expensive. We were not attempting to strip them of benefits. We had little or no interest to going to a private contractor, but in looking for cost saving opportunities, reducing the cadillac plan the bus drivers received as part of TENIG was not viable. IN some cases, their benefits exceeded their payroll. Unlike what the custodians did this past year, the bus drivers were not invited to the table. TENIG (read: PSEA Uniserve rep) declined any discussion. We had a date by which we had to sign a contract with the bus contractor and made all kinds of proposals to keep our own drivers. On personal levels, drivers approached me and said they were in favor of it. Regardless, PSEA would not allow any modification to the contract, and the bus drivers were gone.

    Headline: TE dumps Bus Drivers

    Please believe that the PSEA is a very calculated negotiator. They have 500 school districts in this state (I believe they represent them all, but may be wrong and some unions may be represented by others – Teamsters do have some of the school unions). Don’t wait for the board to tell you what is going on. ALl these teachers are being pawns of their own union — they are telling what the board offered. My own history is that the initial offer from the union is completely status quo with raises. If the board started with “single only” insurance, I can all but promise that it refers to premium, not coverage. A question at a meeting would certainly explain the press release. I suspect as others have said here that it was intentionally obscure.

    This job is not easy for either side. I had to seek advice from my own lawyer in a negotiation I did because I was loosely threatened by treatment of my own child with an unfair labor practice. (He had gotten a detention and when I questioned the teacher about it, she went to her Rep to complain).

    Kevin posts here. I don’t know if he negotiated, but I assure you that being a board member and sitting at the table is very tough. I was fortunate enough in the final contract I did to have a great relationship with the Union. They actually dismissed the Uniserve rep from the process after he insulted me. Carol Aichele and I did the contract with 3 senior TEEA members. Our solicitor had died unexpectedly in an accident, so we used the negotiations as a “test” for potential new solicitors — but they were not at the table.

    So friends — teachers and parents and plain old taxpayers — wait it out. Don’t read every press release. MD above has said that the math doesn’t work. He/She is right. This time it’s about the math. It’s not about cost control.

    And for the record — my kids were very inspired by teachers. I consider many of them to be good friends. I was an enemy for awhile — but I think after the contracts are ratified, everyone goes back to work. Please don’t let the hostilities of the process — part of the game — damage your relationships. And one final caveat — PLEASE leave your kids out of it. Unless you truly understand the process and the numbers, they only get used. From 2nd grade on, my kids dealt with it. But even their friends were conflicted with the noise about why parents/taxpayers wanted to “hurt” their teachers.

    No one wants to get hurt here people. “Why are we doing this to our teachers?” above is simply anxious. We are NOT doing anything to our teachers that isn’t part of the give and take of working.

    Trust the process….push for transparency….and expect both sides to find a reasonable middle. For the first time, they have to.

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    MD Reply:

    Great post. I also agree that the teacher’s I have encountered are of high quality. I have absolutely nothing against them personally. I do despise the tactics of the union though. It is all so predictable.

    In the end you are completely correct. Ignore the PR battle.

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    Kevin grewell Reply:

    Andrea, thanks for weighing in. The only contract during my time was 2004. I was not on the negotiating team, but as you know (and as the people on this blog should know) the whole board gets reports from the team and follows every development very closely. The whole board was involved in discussing strategy and objectives. Not sure how this works with a professional negotiator, but I know I can assure the public that the board is involved, cares very much about kids and taxpayers, and knows very well how valuable our teachers are. This is all about negotiating at a time when the distric faces serious ongoing budget deficits. $30 million fund balance? Forget about that! A drop in the bucket and mostly set aside for future pension liabilities.

    No one is out to hurt the teachers. The fact is that the teachers contribute far less than the rest of us do towards health care – and that was introduced for the very first time in the 2008 contract. Before that, there was no cost to the teacher. Given current realities, this has to change. The fund balance would only “solve” the problem for a couple years if all of it were to be used as some here have suggested. Act 1 of 2006 severely limits the board’s taxing authority, and there are “political realities” involved in raising taxes in a recession. You can forget a tax referendum. It would never pass. A board that put one on the ballot would likely be turned out of office in the next election. Psers is a state program and the legislature is going to do nothing . . .

    So – it has to come out of operational efficiency cuts – but those were mostly already made years ago – or it has to come out of the next contract. Otherwise the kids get hurt by program cuts, larger class size and so on.

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    Andrea Felkins Reply:

    Thanks Kevin. As former board members, I hate to presume what is going on as I’m sure you do, but I think the public and the teachers need to know just what a public relations battle these things can become. A year ago when people were complaining about the current contract, people said the board gave away the store. While I didn’t agree with many things in the contract, I know better than many just how destructive a “fight” can be to a community. Just responses to these comments here — by parents, teachers, and taxpayers — ought to put us all on guard NOT to get too invested in anything for a long time. The contract expires June 30. No one is in school then, and it is next September before any issue of work stoppage would even come into play. But the budget also has to be done by June 30, and if you look at the preliminary budget, something has to give. Even with the 3.3% tax increase to take the millage to 19.2628, we are still in a hole. The improvement in real estate sales will cushion that in reality because the transfer tax revenue will rise, but that doesn’t help the budget figures, as they cannot responsibly forecast those revenues until we see a steady trend.

    As a former negotiator and 3 term board member, I would like to weigh in on the participation (or not) of board members at the table. I would have been far too hands-on to stay away — but I have no issue with this board doing it the way they are doing it. My kids did have some tough times with teacher feedback. There is nothing that will happen at the table that would be changed by a board member’s presence. I do not agree that the Superintendent should be at the table, nor the Personnel director, as he is the CEO of the District and she is the Human Resources guide. I think their relationship with the TEEA is potentially compromised/jeopardized if they have to sit there and play tough guys. Presumably, Mr. Sultanik is the primary communicator, and the 3 admins are there for informational support. But that’s my opinion, and I’ve shared it with the board through their website. Each generation makes its own call (did I really sound like I was in a previous generation?)

    There are all kinds of outcomes we can anticipate. I would ask that we all sit back and let it play out for awhile. Again, it would be September before anyone would have to worry about a work stoppage, and I honestly believe that our teachers would not agree to one. They know this is not a war – -just a recurring battle. To bring the kids into the field of battle would be a PSEA tactic, and would damage our community just like it has others for a very long time.

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    Kevin grewell Reply:

    I think you are right on with your comment. We should all take a deep breath and step back and let the process work. I still believe in te things will work out. Certainly it is too early to start throwing rhetorical fire bombs as some have done here.

    papadick Reply:

    Kevin — you hit the nail on the head when you said “A board that put one on the ballot would likely be turned out of office in the next election” referring to a referendum on the ballot for an EIT. I remember a member of the Board making this same comment at a Board meeting… so the fact remains — the Board is more concerned about their ability to smile at cocktail parties and commenting about the trials of being on the Board rather than addressing the issues at hand. Namely that until ALL areas of revenue are on the table all of this rhetoric is meaningless.
    I am ashamed that such a local group of folks can be and are so political. Sorry kids and sorry teachers and sorry parents.

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    Kevin grewell Reply:

    Papdick – you always seem to make this about personalities – as if it is a big ego trip to be on the board and that is the only reason anyone would think about political realities like getting elected. Coctail parties indeed! That is perhaps the most insulting – and idiotic – comment I have ever seen on this blog.

    Being on the board is such an excruciating pain in the ass that no one is doing it so that they can brag at cocktail parties. And the adults in the room understand that political realities have to be considered by anyone who cares and wants to actually get something done as opposed to just taking cheap personal shots on this blog. Grow up and smell the reality.

  13. Here are some of the PSER’s contributions the school district is required to make to the teachers pension plan.

    2011-12 (last year) $4.7 million
    2012-13 (current budget) $7.0 million
    2013-14 $9.6 million
    2014-2015 $$12.2 million
    they are projected to continue to rise and stay at an elevated level until at least 2022.

    There is nothing the school board can do about the above payments without the state getting involved.

    We are going to have tax hikes and budget battles for the next 10 years so get used to it. If you look at the school board Budget notes (on the website at tesd.org) it is amazing the number of changes the board has done and/or is considering to either increase revenue or reduce expenses. As detailed as changing the lighting to save $5,000 in electricity use. But when I looked at the list , it struck me that all the one-time, low hanging fruit has been picked. It is going to be very difficult to deal with this years budget deficit, let alone years to come.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    The spikes are part of what the fund balance can help with. If, for example, the board budgets 7 million a year for PSERS, they could use the fund balance for 2013-14 at 2.6 million, and 2015 at 5.2 million. Reality is they have to increase taxes to up the budget for it too — and hope that transfer revenue improves to help lessen the spikes. I know it goes beyond that, which is why it takes careful crafting of the budget. The board has known of these projected spikes for a very long time. Failure to build up reserves more to smooth out the spikes is on them, but no amount of planning would have eliminated the obligation, however we pay for it. . In many years, the board taxed below the Act 1 index, continually stating that the state had to fix this problem. They have always presumed since it was hard on TESD, it would be even harder on other districts, so they anticipated the state would fix it. The state can only kick the can further down the road. So , they are right, but on our nickel. And the state cannot ignore it either. So it’s coming out of our pockets, whether through local taxation or state taxation. At least when it’s local, we get to spend all our taxes on us. When it’s state, more goes out than comes back.

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  14. We hear about the “state” here alot and I have said it too.
    Why has the state government put TE and the rest of districts statewide in this bind? Favorable laws vis a vis pensions?

    Anything else? Isn’t the state government supposed to be working for us? Did they think they were? or was the PSEA so strong they were able to get what they wanted? Anyone who can shed light on this would be most appreciated.

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  15. We all seem to have forgotten that about 10 years ago, when the stock market was flying high, that the state legislature significantly “REDUCED” the contribution percentage for school districts while leaving the rates for teachers at the much higher levels.
    So we as taxpayers have had the benefit of lower rates during this period of time and it is now that time to pay the pauper.
    Seems to me that the only fair way to handle the shortfall is to ask ALL that got the benefit of the lower tax rates to belly up to the bar and pay the tab. To sit back and whine and wail that it is the teachers that should suffer is a bit disingenuous.

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    TwspDad Reply:

    You conveniently left out the fact that that 10 years ago the pension multiplier was increased because of the flying high stock market. Now that for the last 10 years the stock market has been flying low, are we going to see a reduction in the pension multipier?

    How about this compromise – the taxpayers will belly up and pay the increased contributions if the pension plan lowers the pension multiplier?

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Sorry PPD. Pattye is correct. Your voice is welcome and I do learn by hearing it. Ther personal angst you experience is obviously reflective of what your wife is feeling. Here’s my concern: Your wife is being used, as are all the teachers, but the PR campaigns of both sides. Just as taxpayers are being used.
    It has been said here and elsewhere — we all need to step back and let things play out. I’m sorry I was harsh. I think we all love our homes and our community. We want to be able to afford to live here and to have all that we are used to. Some things, unfortunately, have to change.

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  16. PPD — I think we all know that this is TOO personal for you to be thoughtful or realistic. Your wife teaches I understand. Please step back.

    FF — the state has boggled this, but the district has had plenty of warning. The Act 1 of 2006 is a real problem in the way business was done traditionally, but many make legitimate comments that it was necessary to force districts to control spending. As a taxing authority, the only barrier to tax increases was political will. In 2004, TE did not raise taxes. No one would suggest that they did not increase spending. SInce that time, tax increases have been at or below the Act 1 index. Whenever spending did not match the tax increase, they were digging a hole. PSERS contributions have been forecast for almost a decade. This is NOT a surprise. It’s just that no one wanted to believe the state would hold us to it.
    And I again remind us that Warren Kampf held a town hall and is making an effort to address this at the state level, but the PSEA will fill your mailboxes in the fall with all kinds of anti-Kampf campaign literature. These are fighting words. Just look — it was the local democrats that rallied the troops to support the teachers recently. At some point, we have bills to pay — statewide and in our own homes. Finding that balance is not going to be easy, because regardless of the mis-used reference to a referendum (Kevin said no board that wanted to raise taxes under referendum would survive — and PPD mistakenly attributed that to the EIT question….two very different things).

    So this is reality. It’s what families face. The tax bill is something we have to pay. Well — the pension contribution is something we have to pay. PPD’s comments that teachers have paid into it are pretty useless information–it’s their retirement. We are talking about the employer’s and the state’s contributions here. We have not had the benefit of lower rates in taxes. PPD “Time to pay the pauper” — maybe you have a clue what that means — I sure don’t. WHo is the pauper in your hypothetical? And how is asking teachers to pay a fair share of their health care benefits suggesting in ANY WAY that “it is the teachers that should suffer”…..living like the rest of us, without a guaranteed job, and a guaranteed raise, and lifetime pension benefits, and no cost to your health care….how much suffering comes when some of that dials back?

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    As the tagline of Community Matters says — ‘Your Voice Matters … Join the Conversation’. Open discussion (and debate) is important and hopefully, we can all learn from one another. Some of the people who comment on Community Matters are already engaged in community issues but for others, they are finding their voice on important issues for the first time. Everyone is welcome to join the conversation on Community Matters. The TESD contact negotiations is causing some to ‘take sides’ and I would prefer that we stay focused on the issues & try not to personalize the remarks. The contract negotiations and District budget are stressful enough without fighting with our neighbors. Thank you all for your comments.

    [Reply]

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