No School for Students in Methacton School District – Teacher Strike Continues

Teachers in the Methacton School District have been working without a contract since January.   A stalemate in the bargain process led to the strike Monday by the teachers as authorized by its union, Methacton Education Association (MEA).

There are 5,000 students enrolled in the Methacton School District. The union represents 403 teachers and professional staff.

Issues being negotiated include salary, benefits, class size, teacher-student ratio and team teaching.  The talks broke down when the two sides failed to come to an agreement on how much teachers should pay for their health insurance.  The teachers argue that their salaries are in the lower range of salaries and the school district is expecting them to pay for health care as if they were in the upper range.

The teachers are using a pay freeze and delayed salary increases in the previous two four-year contracts, as examples of concessions from teachers that allowed the district to improve their finances dramatically and are unwilling to see this happen again.

The MEA released the following statement prior to striking:

The Methacton Education Association (MEA) is disappointed to announce that they were unable to reach an agreement with the School Board after the two sides bargained all afternoon and into the early evening on Sunday to avoid the potential of a work stoppage scheduled to start tomorrow.

The School Board’s position of dramatically increasing the employee’s share of the healthcare premium while not adequately increasing salaries is unacceptable to the Association. MEA was willing to increase premium share by over 23% in 3 years but that was not sufficient to the District.

In the end, MEA had 30 minutes to consider the final proposal of the Board and was more than willing to bargain later than the arbitrary 8PM deadline.

The strike will commence tomorrow at 7:30AM. MEA is willing to bargain with the District throughout the work stoppage.

It is unclear when the teachers will return to the classrooms. Pennsylvania State Department of Education rules will prevent the work stoppage from going past 15 days.  A state mediator is now involved to coordinate the exchange of proposals between parties.

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12 Comments

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  1. A “Significant Digit” from FiveThirtyEight this morning:

    “$18,764
    Average annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health insurance coverage, according to the 2017 edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employee health benefits. Workers paid, on average, $5,714 of that. Premiums were up 3 percent compared to 2016.”

    $5,714 = 30% of $18,764.

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  2. TEACHERS STRIKE ENDS: After 3 days of strike, tonight (Wednesday) the Methacton teachers and the Methacton School District agreed to enter into non-binding arbitration.

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    Parent Reply:

    What is non binding arbitration?

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    Deena Ardem Reply:

    From what I understand, this doesn’t mean the strike is over indefinitely. If no tentative agreement comes out of the arbitration, they could strike again.

    I heard the response was mixed as expected- some stopping by with food and well wishes and others driving by screaming and cursing at those picketing.

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  3. The union flexed its muscles at the expense of the parents and students. The union could have entered into non-binding arbitration without a strike. It’s yet to be seen whether the strike helped to gather support from the community or turned the community against them.

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  4. Thanks Ray. Your comments put it in perspective.

    Health care cost will continue to increase as there are no truly good plans out there that employees or employers can afford. The big insurance companies are not in business to lose money. Blue Cross, seemingly the public school plan to administer TE benefits is never challenged or, if challenged does not offer affordable plans

    Can TESD (Art) get the broker to shop plans and give employees more cost options? For example, a higher deductible with a lower premium? Check Aetna?

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  5. Hi Keith,
    Irregardless of community support, isn’t there only so much money in the budget to pay employees and their benefits unless additional tax or revenue appears?
    Do you think HSA accounts or higher deductibles could help decrease health care premiums?
    Methacton teachers seemed upset about their potential raise of $1000 was being wiped out by the average health care premium increase of $1004. Are the bonuses calculated in the contract as well to predict a more accurate budget.
    One final question, can TE move the a14 million surplus back over to the operating budget? I believe the board has that power even if some of the surplus was dedicated to a line item in the rainy day fund.
    It also seems to me that a 5 year contract like Radnor did would help plan a long term reasonable budget.
    New Jersey has tight budgets per law giving them higher accountability and no time to go through these costly contract negotiations.

    Will teachers get paid for strike days?
    Upon a final contract won’t all teachers get back pay to make them whole? It seems like a re run every few years.

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    Keith Knauss Reply:

    [I]sn’t there only so much money in the budget to pay employees and their benefits unless additional tax or revenue appears?
    Yes, real estate tax revenues ( the majority of revenues) are capped by the Act 1 Index which is around 2.4%

    Are the bonuses calculated in the contract as well to predict a more accurate budget?
    Each district does budgeting for contracts differently, but it’s almost certain that bonuses are included.

    [C]an TE move the $14 million surplus back over to the operating budget?
    Yes, the board can spend that money any way they see fit. However, be aware that the $14M is “one-time” money and shouldn’t be used for recurring expenditures (salaries).

    Will teachers get paid for strike days?
    No, the teachers don’t get paid for the 3 strike days, but they, most likely, will be employed for 3 replacement days either by extending the school year or by making 3 vacation days into school days. So, it’s unlikely that the teachers will suffer any financial penalty for their labor action.

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  6. School district healthcare is an interesting topic. The cost for family coverage last year at Unionville was around $20K. The employee paid $2,500 (12.5%), the taxpayers paid $17,500. Halve that cost for single coverage. This is typical for most school districts. The typical employee cost share in the private sector is around 25% so district provided healthcare is a bargain. How can a district save money?

    1) Self Insure Buying policies from the typical healthcare provider (e.g. BC/BS) is more expensive because their pool of applicants is less health on average. TE is already self insured so there in no saving to be had for TE.

    2) Shift Costs Cost shifting can occur either by raising the employee share percentage or by offering policies with higher deductibles or co-pays. This, of course, is not popular with the union as evidenced by Methacton’s objection to the 17% employee premium share.

    3) A Surcharge for Bad Behavior or a Savings for Good Behavior A surcharge can be added for smokers or a savings for visits to an exercise facility.

    4) Force Working Spouses off the District Plan The district provided plan is so inexpensive that it makes financial sense for working spouses to drop coverage at their employer and sign up for district provided healthcare. The savings can be large. Suppose there are 200 spouses removed for the district’s plan at a savings of $8,750 each for a total of $1.75M.

    5) Pay an Employee to Move to Their Spouse’s Plan A district can offer a sizable incentive (typically $2K to $4K) for an employee to drop out of the district’s plan and enroll in his/her spouse’s plan.

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    Ray Clarke Reply:

    These are excellent ideas. A couple of notes:

    1) Shifting costs by increasing the employee share can have a number of downstream benefits be enhancing the value to the employee of other options such as a cheaper plan, discouraging spouse enrollment and encouraging movement to a spouse plan.

    2) The Kaiser data I reported at the beginning of this thread shows that a typical employee pays 30% of the premium cost of employer plans. That may include both private and public sector workers, I don’t know; it must be at least 30% in the private sector, one would think.

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  7. One way money when it is a known contract year:
    I find it a bit reckless to send the 14 million one way if it is known
    Teachers contract year. Didn’t the money come out of the daily budget to move it over to the rainy day fund? Isn’t there a healthy fund balance?
    If the 14 mil stayed in operating budget(although it must zero out), it could be used for salaries and benefits.

    If there was a shortage in the fund balance then it makes sense to put it in fund balance. Is there a line item to save funds for contracts? Was there a shortage of monies in fund balance this year? Or was it the public school accounting method to zero out in June? If so where? Retirements? Pensions?

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  8. Employees can do an incremental premium share percentage increase over next few years to see if health care plateaus out.
    Being the best and cheapest health plan of course partners jump on it.

    I heard Chester County only insures the employee.
    A District could pay for two adults and multiple dependents which would cost the same for the employee whether there were 2-10 dependents.
    Art can share plan usage and the TESD broker’s analysis proving the self insure/IBC is optimal.

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