What a difference a week makes! At last Monday’s September 23rd T/E School Board meeting, several TESD residents including Peggy Layden, Neal Colligan and Scott Dorsey questioned the Board about the status of the TENIG negotiations. The public was told by Board President Kevin Buraks that contract discussions were moving along and that the Board would report on the process when there was information to report. And Betsy Fadem volunteered that once the responses from the TENIG RFP were received (and reviewed) there would be public discussion in January. The current TENIG contract as well as the TEEA (teacher) contract run through June 30, 2014. When questioned on public communication and transparency issues, Buraks was very specific that the public would be informed of the process although it was not clear how much notice there would be for public review of any proposed contracts.
Buraks (and Fadem) responses to residents was counter to the rumblings that some of us had heard regarding the ‘early bird’ contract discussions. Nonetheless, because there was an overt attempt by several Board members to suppress any resident complaints on lack of transparency or public discussion, it was my expectation that the Board leadership would make certain that the public was kept informed.
This evening I had a phone call from Mary Minicozzi, the TENIG president. (She agreed that her name could be used and that the information was public). Mary wanted me to hear the TENIG contract details directly from her so that the facts would be correct. According to Mary, TENIG presented a contract proposal to the school board 2 weeks ago and that sometime since that point (she was not certain of the exact date), the Board ‘voted’ to accept the proposal. At today’s TENIG meeting, members voted to ratify with 83 members accepting the contract and 5 members rejecting the contract.
This news surprised the heck out of me because at last week’s TESD meeting, President Buraks and Betsy Fadem were talking about keeping the public informed on the progress of negotiations - had they already accepted the TENIG contract offer?
The vendor bids were not due back to the District until October 11 so how could the Board know what the expected savings to the District would be. How would TENIG know how much they needed to ‘give back’? Was this not the point of sending the RFPs out to the vendors? In addition, this reasoning lined up with Betsy Fadem’s remark that the discussion would take place in January 2014 (allowing for adequate review of the vendor bids and public input). According to Mary, there were a number of vendors lined up to provide bids to the District – 13 vendors for janitorial, 3 vendors for security, 8 vendors for maintenance, 3 vendors for secretarial and 5 vendors for the cafeteria. Presumably, now the vendors will be immediately notified that the District has cancelled the RFP and has settled the contract.
The good news is that the 3-year TENIG contract, July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017, has no outsourcing of TENIG employees and no discussion of outsourcing to occur during the length of the contract. Any new employees hired will be part of the District (and TENIG) – those positions will not be outsourced. However, there will be wage restructuring for all new TENIG hires, equating to an average of $3/hr. less than current employees in that position.
All TENIG employees received a 4-1/2% raise for the final year of their current contract (which is July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014). In the new 3-year contract, the custodians will receive a 2% salary reduction and additionally will give back 1 week of their vacation. (The rationale is that the District has to hire subs when the custodians are on vacation). The other members of TENIG (security, kitchen, maintenance, and cafeteria) will receive a 4% salary reduction in the new contract but their vacation benefit remains intact.
On the benefit side, Mary explained that TENIG currently receives the best healthcare benefits of all District employees – paying an average of $300/yr. for a family health insurance plan. Under the new contract, TENIG member’s health insurance will be on par with TEEA (teachers) members. In the new contract, the TENIG employees will contribute approximately 6% for their health care benefits. For year 2 and 3 of the 3-year contract, TENIG employees receive a freeze on their salary.
As an incentive for current employees to leave the District, there is an interesting caveat in the new contract. If any TENIG employee with 15 or more years of District service, voluntarily resigns prior to end of the first year of the contract (by June 30, 2015), they will receive a buyout bonus of 15% of their salary, up to $7K. The idea is to replace some of the higher-paid District employees with new lesser-paid employees, thus decreasing overhead budget costs.
So, how much is the new 3-year TENIG contract saving the District? The contract savings includes $400K from the healthcare benefit component, $207K with the employee salary reduction and $207K from the custodian 1-week vacation giveback for a grand total savings of $719K to the District.
Although Mary stated that the Board had voted to accept the TENIG proposed 3-year contract and that the TENIG membership ratified the contract, I believe that the contract still has to be officially ‘voted on’ in public, doesn’t it? According to Mary, the Board will sign the contract at a special Board meeting that will be held in conjunction with the Finance Committee meeting. Looking at the upcoming District meetings, the Finance Committee is scheduled for Monday, October 14 – which interestingly is Columbus Day. (The offices in Tredyffrin Twp are closed on Columbus Day, but I guess not for TESD).
I want to be clear about something – I am pleased for the TENIG employees; glad they will not be outsourced and that they will not have to worry about outsourcing for the duration of their 3-year contract. However, last week’s School Board meeting has me troubled. After several residents asked for greater public input and communication, the public was assured that the Board was transparent, and that contract updates would be provided, and that simultaneously to early bird negotiations with TENIG that the Board would also review the results from the RFP. With agreement from the Board and TENIG on the new contract, there will be no vendor bids.