Here’s the question for the day:
Why is it that Tredyffrin Easttown School District has the largest fund balance in the state ($32 million) and is the only school district giving serious discussion to ‘demotion of professional staff’ to fund the $1.5 million budget deficit?
There are those that suggest that the idea of demotion is not a serious consideration but simply a contract-negotiating tactic to use against the teachers union. If I understand the tactic, the school district keeps the teacher demotion idea afloat in hopes that the teachers union (TEEA) will offer reduction in health care benefits in exchange for no demotion. Looking at the calendar, here is what I do not understand — The School Board has to vote on the 2012-13 budget at the June 11th school board meeting but … the teachers’ contract does not expire until June 30th. Presumably, based on the calendar, our school board members will need to make the demotion decision prior to knowing the contents of TEEA’s contract offer.
I don’t claim to know what ‘magic’ amount our school district should have in reserve, but it would appear that with $32 million of taxpayer dollars, the District could afford to use $1.5 million to fund the budget gap. As I said in a comment on Community Matters, Haverford School District voted to use $1.3 million from their fund balance to fund next year’s budget gap – but unlike TESD, they only had $2.6 million on which to draw! Their school board decided to take 50 percent of their reserves to fund the budget shortfall. The Haverford School Board choose this approach to funding the gap versus demotion of teachers. I know, I know, some will say that TESD is being fiscally responsible by preserving the $32 million fund balance, and yes, I realize that the District’s pension obligation grows significantly in the years to come, but still … ?
Regardless of motives, is the ‘demotion talk’ from the School Board, the right direction the discussion should be going? According to the agenda for Monday’s Finance Committee, the two big ticket items that still remain as budget strategies are $640K for demotion of professional staff for economic reasons and $345K for increasing class size one at each level. My guess is that there will be a decision at this meeting whether or not to recommend these strategies to the entire School Board.
The Finance Committee agenda defines demotion as a “reassignment to a position which has less authority, prestige or salary.” (PA School Code). “Demotions are permitted by the School Code for economic necessity. Seniority provisions do not apply to demotions for economic necessity. The right to demote employees is an inherent management right and does not need to be bargained. The TEEA contract is silent on demotion.” Under ‘considerations’ of demotion, the agenda lists “retention of existing trained staff could become more challenging, and (2) “Introduces a competitive disadvantage to the recruitment and hiring process.”
This afternoon, I received the latest communication from TEEA – titled, “Demotions Will Harm T/E Students, Community; Residents Asked To Share Voice”. Although some reading Community Matters may suggest that demotion of professional staff is nothing more than a negotiating ploy on the part of the union, it certainly appears that the teachers are taking the demotion strategy seriously, stating in their latest press release “ … any minimal and short-term economic benefits produced will be offset by greater and more serious long-term costs. If the Board decides to follow through on teacher demotions, we ask—what is the true price? How will these demotions affect our students, our schools, and the T/E community?…” TEEA echoes my question in regards to other school districts, declaring that “… T/E is currently the only district in the Main Line area considering teacher demotion as a cost-effective strategy…” I have spoken with several District teachers and they are concerned and consider ‘demotion’ a serious District strategy, not just a negotiating ploy. It will be very curious to see if the Finance Committee is met with a similar audience of teachers, parents, students, taxpayers were at the last school board meeting.
For the record, I absolutely believe that members of TEEA understand that their health care benefits cannot remain at the same level and, further I think that their contract offer will be reflective of that understanding. On the topic of health care benefits, I do have a question that maybe someone can answer. The administration is not part of TEEA but I have never heard their health care benefits discussed. Do they have the same insurance plan as the teachers? And if so, will the administrators health care benefits change when presumably, the teacher’s plan changes? Anyone know the answer?
I found the following comment for Community Matters apropos to this post. Rather than see the comment, I think the commenter’s sentiments are reflective of what many in the community are feeling:
I would rather procrastinate with using a small amount of reserve money than decimate our teaching staff.
I would rather use a small amount of reserve fund money than lay off our most experienced teachers.
I would rather use the taxpayer’s money: THE RESERVE FUND, than ask our non-profits to chip in.
I would rather use some of the reserve fund than cavalierly dismiss employees who have worked for the District for many, many years.
I would rather do what Haverford School District is doing or what our School District has done in the past, which is to use some of the Reserve Fund, some tax increases, and some employee give backs, than make a rash ridiculous decision that is really about destroying the teacher’s union than about great fiscal principles.
The same five people on this blog hash over the same tired arguments over and over again. Would love to hear from more people. But I guess they are reluctant to contribute because they just don’t have the same level of experience/knowledge/brilliance as you.
The problem with many of the postings on this blog is the groupthink that persists. It would be interesting to have a real debate with real analysis.
The District has done a heckuva job (great job Sultanik PR firm) convincing most of the public that they don’t have a nickel in the bank. If we had a real newspaper asking real questions; if we had more community members come out and ask more questions; the truth would come out.
It is an absolutely unbelievable that a District with $32 million in the bank has convinced the public that we are Chester Upland. Since when? It is demeaning to this community that the powers that be have made TE out to be broke and near bankruptcy. Since when?
The board has done a good job cutting expenses, and the teachers need to pay more for health care; but we should NOT destroy this school district because we have a few people who want to take an ideological stand on not using the fund balance.
I don’t want my property values to plummet because TE schools go down the tubes as we cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.
I watched the school board meeting on TV and saw the woman at the end who revealed that it is not that the school district CAN’T use the fund balance; they have CHOSEN not to use the fund balance by passing a policy to put it in a lock box.
UNLOCK THE BOX! Stop this nonsense! Stop attacking the teachers! Work with the teachers!
I agree with Pattye. I elected YOU school board members, to represent me. DO YOUR JOB! Get to the table. Settle this contract. Stop making the teachers the enemy.