Date – May 24, 2012

Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board Approves Teacher Demotions, What does this mean for T/E teachers?

Sixteen months ago, I wrote an article titled, “Looking at Unionville-Chadds Ford School District – Is the ‘Handwriting on the Wall’ for TE?”  The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (U-CF) is similar to the T/E school district and the districts are often compared.  Students from both school districts enjoy similar academic performance; both top performing school districts.  On the SAT and PSSA, the performance of the districts places each in the top 1% statewide.  We often seen the districts listed together for the similar quality of their education.

You may recall, the U-CF teacher contract expired June 30, 2010 without the signing of a new contract. The talks between the school board and teachers union continued but after six months, the PA Labor Relations Board assigned an arbitrator to resolve the bargaining impasse through a fact-finding report. The school board voted to accept the findings of the report whereas the teachers union rejected the report.

Two major suggestions contained in the report – (1) a provision for each union member to receive a one-time, nonrecurring paying in lieu of a raise in year one and an increase in the final two years of the contract and (2) that union members move to a new, cost-saving healthcare plan, Keystone Direct, in the second year of the contract.  The U-CF school board sought to maintain quality care at a reduced rate and they suggested, “that the economic times are hard and that the teacher union has benefited greatly when times were good but they must now share in the sacrifice as the others.”  The teacher union rejected the independent report and recommendations.

The U-CF school board and teachers union finally reached an agreement in September 2011, sixteen months after the expiration of their contract.  I wrote of the agreement on September 13, 2011, and asked the question if there were any lessons for T/E as a result.  What did the U-CF school board and teachers union finally agree to – Terms included:

  • Year 1 (2010-11) no pay increase for 2010-11
  • Year 2 (2011-12) 1% increase on the pay schedule, step movement, prep level movement
  • Year 3 (2012-13) $300 in each cell on the matrix, $700 one-time bonus, step movement, prep level movement

One of the sticking points in the U-CF school board – teacher contract negotiations had been over healthcare benefits (sound familiar).  In the final U-CF agreement, the teachers contributed 7.5% in 2011-12 and 10% toward their healthcare costs.

Although the U-CF school district contract does not expire until June 2013, according to the Daily Local, their school board and teachers union members have been quietly meeting unofficially since January of this year, for preliminary contract talks without the expense of outside legal counsel.  According to U-CF school board member, Jeff Leister, the early talks were “an attempt to find common ground, achieve greater certainty about the future and to avoid a lengthy process later in the year.”  However, what’s the saying about the “best laid plans of mice and men” ?  Unfortunately, the school board and teachers union are too far apart at this point, and both sides decided to end the preliminary contract discussions.

Leiser did comment that going forward the school board would adhere to a three-tier approach –

  1. What is in the best interest of the students and the quality of education
  2. Is the agreement sustainable under Act 1
  3. Is the agreement consistent with current economic conditions, and what I fair to ask of residents financially.

In reviewing the U-CF school board agenda of May 21, I did note something of interest:

Demotion Resolutions (2)
1. Approve the Demotion Resolution for Employee No. 2797, as attached
2. Approve the Demotion Resolution for Employee No. 866, as attached

The discussion and approval of demotion resolutions may explain why the preliminary contract talks have ceased between the U-CF school board and teachers union.  Curious as to the contents of the demotion resolutions, I filed a right-to-know request with their open records officer.  (If I receive a response, I will certainly post it).

In the Souderton School District, their school board and teachers union were unable to resolve contract negotiations and were aided by a state mediator.  The mediator’s proposed bargaining agreement between the Souderton school board and teachers union was released – to read the overview, click here.  The school board and the teachers union accepted the recommendations of the state mediator and signed a 5-year contract.  The contact contains a salary freeze in the first 2 years; elimination of 2 “masters-plus” salary schedules; increased health care premium share; and reduced tuition reimbursement.  There is a 1.6% reduction in the teacher salary schedule in the first year; no “step and column” movement for the first two years; then a 1 percent salary schedule increase in the last year and a return to “step and column” starting in the third year.  It appears that significant concessions were required on behalf of the Souderton teachers union.

The Souderton school district budget of $107 million for 2012-13 includes a 3 percent real estate tax increase. The harsh reality of Souderton’s budget deficit required school board members to make some tough decisions to balance their budget, including eliminating middle school teaching positions, demotion of a language teacher, reducing the budgets of technology, facilities and supplies, increasing student parking and activity fees, etc.

Whether it is Souderton, Unionville-Chadds Ford or T/E, the reality of the economic crisis in Pennsylvania’s public school, is forcing school boards to make some very difficult budget decisions.  A state assigned mediator was required in the contract negotiations of Souderton and U-CF to push their contract impasse, I wonder if the same will happen in T/E?  Maybe having a hired professional negotiator will make the difference for TESD — I’m not sure if Souderton and U-CF took this approach.  It would hard for the taxpayers to pay Jeffrey Sultanik’s legal bill if in the end, the negotiations still require an independent arbitrator.

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