Pennsylvania State Education Association

Milestone Agreement Between T/E Teachers and School District: Is it a ‘Salary Freeze’ or a ‘Pay Waiver’. . . Does it Really Matter What We Call It?

There was a milestone agreement between the T/E teachers and the school district last night.  I am not sure whether we call the TEEA-TESD agreement a salary ‘freeze’ or a ‘pay waiver’ but, . . . if both sides are happy, does it really matter what we call it?

The school board members presented the details of the new teacher union offer.  The offer from Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) was read and the discussion opened for public questions. The board voted on the proposal and the agreement won unanimous support from the school board.  

To read a copy of the TEEA-TESD agreement, click here.  If I understand the agreement, here are the important points:

  • The teachers will have their salaries frozen for the first 6 months of the 2011-12 school year based on their final paycheck of the 2010-11 school year.
  • For the second 6 months of the 2011-12 school year, the teachers salaries will ‘unfreeze’ and they will advance.
  • With this agreement, the T/E school district agrees there will be no involuntary furloughing or involuntary demotion of teachers for 2011-12.
  • This agreement is a one-time cost savings for the 2011-12 school year only and is not precedent setting.  The agreement does not extend the current contract and negotiations for the next contract will be on schedule.

I asked Pete DePiano, union president of TEEA for his thoughts on the TEEA-TESD agreement.  He writes,

“I am so proud of the membership of TEEA for stepping up with this offer during these difficult times. Likewise, I am happy that the Board was able to accept. A special note of gratitude must be extended to Mrs. Cruickshank, for we were in constant communication behind the scenes for a VERY long time working on this – even prior to the Corbett announcement. It was that continued line of open dialogue that made this all possible. We are looking forward to a wonderful conclusion of the school year as we continue to serve the greatest students in the greatest district in the Commonwealth of PA.”

Pete DePiano
President, TEEA

______________________________________________________

Ray Clarke attended last night’s school board meeting and at my request kindly shares his thoughts below.

Re the Earned Income Tax Study Group, I want to personally thank Kevin Mahoney for suggesting that the group members be apolitical.  The school board members made it clear that no one from the school board would be on the study group and I applaud their efforts in making the selection process open and transparent!

Important developments at tonight’s School Board meeting
  1. The Board voted to accept an offer from the TEEA to defer next year’s contracted pay increase for six months with no change to the contract termination date. After six months, salaries will increase to the contracted 2011/12 levels, with step and level movement. There will be no furloughs or demotions during 2011/12, and 2012 retirees will be protected. This is expected to save the District $917,000 in 2011/12. The five year model, which assumes no salary increase in the next contract, claimed that these savings versus the previous projection continue into the out years – although I remain puzzled about that, since the matrix and distribution in place at 6/30/2012 is unchanged under the offer. It may be important to understand expectations on this going into the next contract negotiations.
  2. The impact on next year’s budget is fairly clear, though. The board approved a budget that has a 3.8% property tax increase and a $2.2 million draw down of the fund balance, with an additional $1.9 million possible in the event of specific contingencies. There was no appetite for an Activity Fee for next year, and very different philosophies from all Board members that spoke. Only Kevin Buraks voted against an amendment to remove it from the preliminary budget. Worth looking at the tape to review the issues.
  3. The Board defined the process for obtaining citizen input on the pros and cons of an EIT, through a Tax Study Group. They will select 9 residents for the Group based on information to be requested in a May 16th mailing to residents. Work to be completed by October, for a November decision by the Board whether to move the process forward towards an April 2012 referendum. Important difference from the 2006 effort: the group’s role is not to present a recommendation, but to help educate the Board and the public. The Board is looking for representation from across T/E, and wants the group to be apolitical. All meetings to be open to the public; not sure if that’s very conducive to a deep dive into the economics, but maybe that’s not the purpose.
  4. Per Dr Brake’s legislative report, there seems to be some likelihood that the Legislature will reverse or limit the Governor’s proposed capricious Social Security reimbursement cut, so that may help TESD’s budget (at best, by $1 million). It also seems probable that the local ability to increase taxes beyond the Act 1 limit will not be completely eliminated, retaining at least the possibility of PSERS and special education Exceptions.
A final pet peeve: once again this year the gaming rebate was used in the context of an offset to the property tax increase. If the rebate was increasing by $171 that would be true, but in fact it’s just the same ~$180 it has been for every year since 2008/9. At least it wasn’t Dr Waters this time, but rather Dr Brake, who I thought might know better.
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Looking to T/E Teachers for ‘Shared Sacrifice’ – Pay Increase Waiver not Salary Freeze

School districts across the state are scrambling to plug projected budget gaps stemming from deep cuts in state funding and TESD is no different. The use of “shared sacrifice” has become a common and oft-repeated phrase in today’s political discourse. As school district budget deadlines loom, we are see that teachers (fairly or unfairly) are finding themselves of in the limelight on this topic.  In my view, we do need to boldly address our deficit crisis, but we need to do it in a way that is fair.

Last night’s TESD Finance Committee meeting had a very different tone than the last school board meeting. As the school board and administration discussed the few remaining available budget strategies, I had a sense that the school board was digging in its heels, expecting a ‘pay increase waiver’ versus a ‘salary freeze’, which the teachers union previously offered.  Although the T/E teachers union (TEEA) states the value of their salary freeze offer is $2.5 million, the school board counters that the freeze does nothing more than extend the teacher contract by a year and ultimately costs the district more money.  Encouraging the teachers union in the path of shared sacrifice, the school board prefers the teachers consider a pay increase waiver which, if I understand correctly, requires opening their current contract.

Credit needs to be extended to TEEA for their offer of a salary freeze to the school district. For some teachers, they believe that by offering a salary freeze, they are sharing the sacrifice. Let’s remember that Gov. Corbett suggested that teacher unions offer a salary freeze to their school districts to help with budget deficits. (I don’t recall his using the words, ‘pay increase waiver’.)  Yes, there is a budget crisis in school districts across the state; but I admit that I have difficulty with the breaking of a contract, which was negotiated in good faith by the teachers.  If contracts mean nothing then should we all go home and break our car purchase contract, our mortgage contract, and every other contract we signed in good faith where we expect both parties to be honorable.   What about ‘negotiating’ after the contract is fulfilled . . . ?

Looking at discussion from the other side, the school board is struggling with the remaining budget shortfall.  So . . . what do they do?  In their minds, they believe that the teachers should help with a ‘pay increase waiver’ (shared sacrifice) which according to their calculations could net $3 million.  At the meeting I had a sense that the school board is listening to the public and are interested in keeping the process transparent.  They offered that they have heard from TENIG, the non-instructional union, and are reviewing the offer.  Keeping the community ‘in the loop’ will prove a win-win for the school board, the teachers, and ultimately the taxpayers.

Setting aside the timeline debate of the April 14th TEEA teacher union offer letter of a salary freeze, and the rejection of the offer by the school board, last night the Finance Committee presented their side of the argument in favor of a pay increase waiver.  According to their analysis, the school district budget projection for 2011-12 is as follows:

  • Budget Projection as of May 2, 2011:      $3,170,509
  • Budget Projection (TEEA and TENIG Pay Increase Waiver:   $170,510
  • Budget Projection (TEEA Proposal Letter):         $946,122
  • Budget Projection (Custodial Outsourcing):        $2,370,438

Following the Finance Meeting, I asked Pete DePiano, president of the teachers union for his thoughts.  Here is his response,

“The 450+ members of the Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association will stay true to their integrity in attempting to come up with a final cost savings offer for the district’s consideration.” 
 
Pete DePiano
President, TEEA

DePiano’s response tells us that the teachers are continuing to work on possible solutions to help with the budget crisis. Open and honest communication between the teachers union and the school board will aid greatly in the ongoing budget discussions. I want to believe that both sides can work together for the sake of the kids and the community.

Ray Clarke kindly offers his comments on the Finance Committee meeting below:

  • The TEEA proposal is judged to be worse on a 5-year time horizon than the status quo, because the projected $2.05 million of savings in 2011/12 is offset by salaries in the following years that are $0.5 million higher than they would otherwise be, due to two years of step movement rather than one. The higher salaries also trigger proportionate benefit cost increases, but there appear to be no fundamental differences between benefit programs, premium contributions, etc. in either scenario.
  • The salary “waiver” has the greatest impact on the district because the saving occurs every year. Although the model was presented without tax increases, it looks to me that, under this scenario, very modest increases in taxes (property or EIT) and gradual use of the “PSERS stabilization” fund balance could allow the district to fund the retirement fund beyond the five-year time horizon.
  • The Board did appeal again to the community to make their voice heard with legislators regarding the PSERS problem, and our frequent academic economist commenter also reminded us once again of the fundamentally bankrupt public pension plans. A couple of data points: the recent “fix” assumes an 8% investment return, and provides retiring career teachers with my estimate of an equivalent $1.25 million annuity. Just to keep this simple, here are the options:

 1. Reduce the liability by undoing the multiplier increase for all, not just new hires (the decrease needs a change in the state constitution, unlike the increase…)

2. Increase taxes:
a) statewide  (Marcellus gas, personal income, corporate income, etc.), or
b) locally (property, income)

3. Redirect spending from somewhere else. Like where? Pick your poison! What would Dinniman and Kampf propose?

  • There was a very unsatisfying discussion of a possible Activity Fee, punting it along to next week’s board meeting. Needless complications about different bases for charging. The bottom line: salaries and transportation for (non-mandated) extra-curricular activities cost the district $1.14 million a year. 80-85% of students participate in at least one. Nobody is making any argument that these activities are not totally worthwhile. A universal charge could be simply administered. So the issue is straightforward: do these continue to be funded by all taxpayers, or do families with high school and maybe middle school students bear a little more of the cost? Hopefully the full Board can have a discussion along these lines next week.
  • The timeline for an EIT study seems very compressed. The Board is considering appointing a study group; they need to get on that right away. If an EIT makes enough sense to put to a referendum, there’s a November 16th deadline for notifying the townships of that intent.
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Senator Dinniman to Hold Public Rally for Education – April 27th

Note that there has been a date change for the Education Rally — Senator Dinniman will hold rally on April 27, 7 PM on the Chester County courthouse steps.  Although some of the readers on Community Matters have suggested that Sen. Dinniman public rally is nothing more than a politician seeking the limelight.  Personally, I think it is refreshing to have an elected officials willing to get involved and represent those that elected him. 

 This past fall marked Sen. Dinniman’s retirement from teaching at West Chester University, having served as a professor for 30 years.  Regardless of your personal political sway, it is obvious that Sen. Dinniman is someone who supports education, the students and their families.  Doing nothing more than complaining about Corbett’s proposed public education cuts is not going to get Harrisburg to listen . . .but the voices of many cause them to listen! Write or call your state officials. I support making your voice count and plan to attend this rally!  Below is the latest press release from Sen. Dinniman.

Dinniman to Hold Rally for Education on April 27th – Public Rally Set for 7 PM on the Steps of the Chester County Courthouse

WEST CHESTER (April 11) – State Senator Andy Dinniman announced today that he will hold a rally for residents opposed to Governor Corbett’s proposed budget cuts to education on Wednesday, April 27 at 7 p.m. on the steps of the Chester County Courthouse (corner of High and Market Streets) in West Chester.

“Governor Corbett’s significant and widespread cuts to education will be disastrous for students at all levels and even more devastating in the years to come,” Dinniman said. “We know that cuts to basic and early education mean increased local property taxes, larger class sizes and less individualized attention and specialized programs. We know that cuts to higher education mean significantly increased tuition and fees, greater student borrowing and debt and more people on the unemployment rolls.”

Governor Corbett recently proposed a $27.3 billion budget that calls for cutting education funding across the board, including the following:

  • A $550 million cut to funding for public elementary, middle and high schools, including an $8 million cut from the Coatesville Area School District, a $2.5 million cut from the West Chester Area School District, and a $2.9 million cut from the Downingtown Area School District.
  • A $260 million cut to funding for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and early childhood education programs.
  • A 50 percent cut to funding for state colleges and universities, including a $26 million cut for West Chester University, a $182 million cut for Penn State and $100 million cut for Pitt.

“We know that by investing in education, we are investing in our future and that is precisely what is at stake here. These cuts will set Pennsylvania back decades and undermine all of our efforts for long-term economic growth and prosperity,” Dinniman said. “That is why I want everyone – current students and their families, teachers and school employees, college professors and university staff members, high school seniors and prospective students – to come out on April 27 and make their voices heard. We need to stand together and ensure that our message is loud and clear.”

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In a Show of Union Solidarity – Pennsylvania Teachers Unions Joining Forces with AFL-CIO

We have watched the Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker and his battles with state employees over legislation to take away collective bargaining rights. Walker’s actions  hit a cord across the country; public employees are drawing the battleground in Ohio, Florida, from coast to coast.  Now we see it in Pennsylvania.

The proposed $1 billion budget cut to public education by Gov. Tom Corbett has driven three teachers unions in the Lehigh Valley area to organize.  Because of school district budget deficits and state funding cuts, hundreds of teacher jobs are on the chopping block in the Lehigh Valley . . . the teacher unions are fighting back.  In a show of solidarity, 3,500 teachers in the Allentown, Bethlehem Area and Easton Area school districts have voted to unite with union members from the Lehigh Valley Labor Council and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. The teachers are joining forces with their brothers and sisters in the manufacturing, building and service unions to fight Harrisburg.  The AFL-CIO membership in Pennsylvania has 900,000 union workers. Together, the unions believe they need to take a stand for the working middle class family in Pennsylvania.

With organized labor getting behind the teachers, one could guess that means additional financial support to help fight Harrisburg. Union members believing that Corbett’s budget is an attempt to balance the budgets on the backs of the working class, these 1.1 million voices are saying ‘no’ to the Governor and his proposed budget cuts for public education.  

Exactly what these ‘voices’ have in mind for Harrisburg is yet to be seen. And I wonder if the TESD teachers will decide on a similar path to the Lehigh Valley teachers as the school board works to balance the district budget and as the calendar moves closer to contract negotiations.

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State Rep Kampf Supports Teacher Furloughing for Economic Reasons

In today’s Main Line Media News, Alan Thomas writes an article on our state representative, ‘Warren Kampf thinks he knows how to get the Pennsylvania Family back on track”. Thomas was able to get our state rep to offer some remarks on various topics.

On House Bill 855, teacher furloughing . . .

We learn that Kampf supports the bill that would permit the furloughing of teachers for economic reasons.  Current legislation only permits school districts to lay off teachers only if enrollment declines, districts consolidate or if a program is eliminated.

The proposed legislation, House Bill 855 would permit ‘economic’ as a reason to furlough teachers. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the state’s largest teacher union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) are at odds over this proposed legislation.  Among some, there is fear this proposed legislation could be open the door to teacher layoffs.  House Bill 855 would allow furloughs to occur without regard for an employee’s seniority and experience.

According to Kamp, TESD is able to “reduce by 15 [the number of teachers] by going from five to six [teaching] periods a day.  However, the law prevents furloughing.”  Kampf supports the furlough legislation and thinks that it may pass before school budgets are due.

On the State’s pension problem . . .

Kampf’s solution is to “go to a defined-contribution plan for new hires, a percentage of payroll for employees, but that’s the end of it for the taxpayer . . . “

On taxing natural-gas production . . .

Kampf is OK with taxing natural gas production, as long as it is a low tax at the well-head, citing substantial revenue as the reason.

Kampf makes an interesting remark at the end of the article, referencing the taxing of the natural gas production — “The governor campaigned on no tax. My prediction – not going to happen.”   Apparently, Kampf believes that Corbett is going to have to reverse his campaign promise and tax the companies conducting the drilling.  Could taxing those companies involved in national gas production have an effect on job growth in those areas?  I don’t have an answer, just asking the question . . .

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Just In . . . State Teacher Union Encourages Local PSEA Members to Consider One-Year Pay Freeze

Seemingly to show support for the severity of the state’s economic situation, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is encouraging its local teacher union members to consider Gov. Corbett’s request for a one-year pay freeze in the following press release. 

Could this be the answer to school district problems?  Whether it is the possibility of furlough and school voucher legislation or the current anti-union sentiment that is sweeping the country, I think we should view this as a positive message from PSEA.  Do we know how much revenue would be saved by with a one-year pay freeze in TESD?

PSEA President responds to Governor’s call for a one-year pay freeze

PSEA President Jim Testerman released a March 16 statement responding to Gov. Tom Corbett’s call for school employees to consider a one-year pay freeze.

Testerman released the following statement:

“The education professionals in the Pennsylvania State Education Association have been willing to be good public partners and tackle tough issues before, and we’re willing to do it again.

“We hope to prevent a $1 billion cut in state education funding, but we also realize that tough economic times have hit many of our public school districts.

“We have serious concerns about some of Gov. Corbett’s proposals, but we want to do our part to ensure that our students’ education does not suffer as a result of the worst recession since the Depression.

“As part of his budget proposal, the governor requested that education employees accept a one-year pay freeze. The governor stated that this decision is ‘determined at a local level and arrived at by contract and collective bargaining.’ As president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, I concur.

“I encourage PSEA members to seriously consider this request.

“Today, I sent a letter to the presidents of all PSEA locals.  I encouraged them to enter into discussions with their school boards about a pay freeze or other cost-saving measures to maintain class sizes and academic programs.  In some communities our members have recently agreed to economic concessions to maintain class sizes and academic programs. Their contribution must also be recognized.

“Such cooperation can help to preserve the academic gains made in Pennsylvania’s public schools over the last decade.

“Our scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress, the ‘Nation’s Report Card,’ are among the country’s best.  Our students showed progress in all academic subjects and grade levels.  And seven of 10 graduates are going on to higher education.

“We need public partners to join us in our effort to advocate for our public schools.  PSEA calls on parents, caregivers, and community leaders to ask legislators to prevent the cuts to school funding.  A pay freeze alone will not be enough to preserve the programs our students need to succeed in the future.

“Despite the difficult economy, we must remember that students only get one chance at a quality education.  Pennsylvanians must not permit this recession to rob our children of the opportunity public education provides to prepare them for a better future.

“Pennsylvania’s schools are among the best in the nation.  PSEA remains steadfast in its commitment to provide a quality education to the 1.8 million children who attend our public schools.”

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Some Pennsylvania School Districts Look at Early Retirement Incentive Plans to Help Budget Deficits . . . Could this be a less-painful option?

It is interesting to note how other school districts are exploring different options internally to reduce expenses. 

Apparently, Tredyffrin Easttown School District joins the ranks of Bucks County’s Morrisville School District to consider outsourcing custodial services in addition to an early retirement plan to its teachers.

According to a recent article in www.phillyBurbs.com  Morrisville School District’s school board suggests that these measures are required due to “out of control spending due to increases in salaries, benefits and pensions.”

Although Morrisville School District is ‘only’ facing a $2.5 million deficit, they are facing some of the same problems as TESD.  This district is offering a special ‘early retirement incentive plan’ to teachers as a way to reduce costs.  Teachers have until March 31 to decide whether to take this option.

Has TESD considered some form of an early retirement incentive plan for teachers?  It is possible that I missed this discussion in school district.  For those that have followed the school district closely, any information on this topic is appreciated. As school districts across the state are struggling to balance their budget deficits, I find it of interest to look at options that other school districts have explored.

Looking beyond Morrisville School District, I wondered if other school districts were exploring an early retirement incentive option as a cost-saving measure.  Middletown Area School District (MASD) in Dauphine County, www.raiderweb.org  (10 miles from Harrisburg) is also offering a retirement incentive plan to teachers in an effort to reduce their gaping deficit. For those teachers that qualify, they have until March 21 to decide on this option.

The MASD early retirement incentive is available to full-time employees covered by the teacher union collective bargaining agreement who have at least 30 years of district service by June 30, 2011 and incur no more than one additional year of service under the state employees retirement system (PSER) after retiring from the district. Employees 55 or older with 20 years of service by June 30 also can retire under the same conditions.

Benefits of MASD’s retirement incentive include a $20K one-time contribution into employees’ 403(b) accounts that won’t be included when computing their annual salaries for retirement benefits.  Health care benefits under terms of their current teacher union contract which expires June 30, 2012 will also be made available if a “sufficient number” of eligible employees retire under the incentive.

Could an early retirement incentive plan be a ‘less-painful’ way of reductions of costs for school districts in budget crisis?  In Morrisville School District and Middletown Area School District, their 2011-12 budgets will be ‘tweeked’ based on how many teachers take advantage of the retirement incentive. These kind of early retirement incentive plans  are similar to models often seen in private industry for employees.  Understandably, it is too late to enact an early retirement incentive plan for the 2011-12 school district budget in TESD, but what about for the following year’s budget? 

 Any discussion of an early retirement incentive plan would take cooperation between school districts and teacher unions.  However, with talk swirling in Harrisburg of teacher furlough legislation, I would think the conversation of early retirement incentive plans would be a conversation that teacher union leaders might welcome.

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“Don’t Read my Lips; Read my Budget” . . . so said Gov. Corbett at today’s Budget Address

 Gov. Tom Corbett delivered his budget speech at midday to a joint assembly of the House and Senate, suggesting “Don’t read my lips; read my budget.” For a full text of his speech, click here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/50290282/Corbett-Budget-Speech

In his opening remarks, Corbett’s presented an overview of his budget including  “ . . The substance of this budget is built on four core principles: Fiscal discipline, limited government, free enterprise and reform. . . ”  Corbett’s fiscal year 2011-12 budget totals $27.3 billion, but no new taxes.

There has been much discussion concerning the economic woes facing school districts across the state.  In his budget address, the Governor supports letting the taxpayers decide . . .

” . . . Now, we all know that there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to education funding: The property tax. Too often we have seen school boards raise property taxes to avoid hard and necessary choices. It’s human nature. When you’re spending someone else’s money it’s easier to say yes than no. I believe any new property tax increases beyond inflation should be put on the ballot. If school boards can’t say no, maybe the taxpayers will. Let’s listen to the taxpayers on this one. . . “

The governor takes on the teacher unions with teacher furlough remarks,

” . . . At the same time we need to give school boards some breathing room. There are too many mandates that tie the hands of local school boards. This administration is committed to curbing these mandates, including one that violates every law of economics: the inability to furlough employees when there isn’t the money to pay them. It puts the entire enterprise of public education at risk. . . “

Specifically, how did the Department of Education fair in Corbett’s budget? A quick review indicates that education will receive an expected major cut in funding. The proposed cuts to education include a 10 percent cut in basic education (K-12), which is a loss of $550 million across the state.  The budget also eliminates all $260 million in grants that are being given this year to school districts to invest in learning, including pre-K, full-day kindergarten and class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade.

In his speech, Corbett asked public school officials to consider pay freezes; calculating that each year of this cost-saving measure would save school districts $400 million.  Corbett said that he was returning the state education funding to the pre-stimulus funding level.

Addressing the state workers, unions, pensions and collective bargaining, Corbett’s approach was direct –

” . . . In Pennsylvania, we will be looking for salary roll backs and freezes from state employees as well as asking them to increase their contributions for healthcare benefits. We also need to start the conversation about the necessary repairs to our public retirement system.

I want to be clear about this to our union leaders. Collective bargaining doesn’t mean some ill-defined middle ground. It means finding the spot where things work. In this case it is going to have to work to the good of the taxpayer or it’s not going to work at all. Let’s find that place and meet there. Let’s keep things working. Neither side need lose for the taxpayers to win. We need to act on our financial challenges now, before they act on us. . . “

Although Corbett did not use the word, ‘voucher’ in his budget address, he was specific about his desire for school choice . . .

” . . . Pennsylvania needs to re-think how best to educate our children. We simply can’t work within a  broken system. We need to change the whole system. We need a new set of priorities: child, parent, and teacher – and in that order. What we have now in too many places are schools that don’t work. Families are trapped in failing schools, or schools that are a bad fit. We need to develop a system of portable education funding; something a student can take with him or her to the school that best fits their needs. One size does not fit all. But as it now stands, not all get to choose. Let’s give them school choice. . . “

During his budget address, the Governor referred to the ‘Budget Dashboard’ available online.  The dashboard is on the state website, is user-friendly and provides an easy access for information of individual state agencies.  Here is a link to that reference:

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/imageserver/budget2011/GBD_2011.html

If you are interested, here is a link to the entire budget — all 1,182 pages.  If you decide up upload the file, remember this is very large file and suggest patience.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/50277977/2011-12-Budget-Document

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Teachers’ Unions Set ‘Blocking School Vouchers’ as Priority

Two sides to every coin . . . supporters call school vouchers a right; a matter of choice.  Opponents believe that the proposed voucher program is unconstitutional and will further erode the state’s lowest-performing schools.

The teacher union opposition to school vouchers became clearer this week when representatives from the two major unions brought their case to the state’s House Education Committee.  Representatives from Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania (AFT-PA) told the Education Committee that the teacher unions were focusing on two major priorities for 2011 – budgetary assistance and blocking the proposed school voucher legislation.

Pennsylvania is loosing federal stimulus money, which will create a shortfall of $1 billion in education funding.  According to Gov. Corbett, the state is facing a $4 billion deficit in next year’s budget so education-spending cuts are expected. If you recall, Corbett and Democratic state senator Anthony Williams of Philadelphia (one of school voucher bill SB1 originators) supported school vouchers in their individual campaigns last year.  At this point, we do not know how steep the cuts in education spending will be and no one may know for sure until Corbett unveils his preliminary budget, which is expected to be delivered sometime in March.

Although the school voucher bill will have several hearings in the state House during the next couple of months, Corbett’s budget address in March may see the proposed legislation moving forward.  As the proposed SB1 now stands, it would direct over $50 million to the neediest families in the lowest-performing schools in the state.  The estimated cost of the program is less than 1% of the current education subsidy. 

Besides the school voucher program, the other major education issue that must be addressed by the state is the funding of the Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS).  PSERS as currently designed is not sustainable and threatens to break the budget of school districts across the state.  Although the State Legislature recognized the significance of the PSERS funding problem last year, a long-term solution is needed.   

Anticipating a major battle ahead over the proposed school voucher legislation, the PSEA union, which represents 190,000+ teachers in Pennsylvania, has announced an 11% increase in dues for its members.

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Tredyffrin Easttown School Board Meeting . . . Notes from Ray Clarke

We are very fortunate to have Ray Clarke not only attending the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board meetings but so generously willing to share his notes and thoughts with all us.  Last night was no exception — and below are Ray’s notes from the meeting. 

I am curious about the IT upgrade proposal.  The School Board accepted the proposal from Teranet Consulting Services for Phase I – Part 1 of the IT upgrade, not to exceed $11,625.  According to the information on the TESD website, “The consulting services are to survey the network, develop a project plan and establish specs for support and services needed to implement the upgrades recommended by the administration.” 

Last week the 4 page proposal from Teranet Consulting Services was part of the agenda package but after last night’s school board meeting the proposal letter is no longer available online.  I wish the proposal letter from regarding Teranet was not removed, as I was trying to track down the company ‘Teranet’ and could not find it — only a company out of Chicago. No conspiracy theory on my part, . . . just trying to get further information on this consulting group.  If someone from the School Board is reading Community Matters, perhaps they could provide a link to the proposal or a copy of the proposal to me at tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com . Thank you.

Here are some items that caught my eye and ear in Monday’s School Board meeting.

1. The administration reported on proposed changes to the high school schedule and staffing, to implement a 42 period cap for students and to increase teaching classes for teachers. 

The cap would be subject to a few exceptions; for example, for co-curricular classes like orchestra and chorus that also meet outside the school day, and for academic support.  Much discussion by the Board of whether studio art classes should also be exempt, although these seem to be just like music classes which would be in the cap.  Reportedly the cap is highly favored by students.  The middle school “advisory period” has proved really popular.

Eliminating the “professional period” for teachers would bring the number of teaching periods for T/E in line with neighboring districts, at the expense of activities that teachers elect to undertake, like “office hours”, club oversight, mentoring, etc. 

Note that both these changes will in the long run bring financial benefit to the district, but only after the staff has reduced through attrition.

2. The high school musical will be Phantom of the Opera, for which the rights have just been released to schools.  If this comes close to matching the stunning Les Miserables production of five or so years ago, tickets will be hard to come by.  Big vocal and technical demands, though, especially for the radio-controlled boat….
 
3.  Under Education, there was discussion of increasing the Highway Safety class size to 60 – maybe not so bad – and teaching AP World History in 9th Grade – a big stretch, it seems to me.  Also the changes in World Languages look to be enabling deeper immersion in core languages like Spanish and French.  A good development.

4.  Under Facilities, the Board was presented with, and approved, only the first part of the consultant proposal for work on the data network upgrade.  To me, this constraint is a step in the right direction.  It would be nice to see an IT project that is actually driven by user/education requirements and a real business case rather than by the technical/facilities people!  We should watch future Facilities Committee meetings closely for the justification of the likely multi-million dollar expenditure.

5.  And the Committee to be watched most closely, of course, is the Finance Committee.  Kevin Mahoney previewed the December 13th meeting, which will set the stage for the Board’s big tax decision on January 3rd.  That next meeting will unveil near term projections including:

  • Updated PSERS costs from Harrisburg’s parting “gift” of HB2497, (a slight reduction over the expected increase for 2011/12 and much bigger benefit for the following few years, as discussed here previously)
  • New estimates for key budget variables (eg interest rates, price increases, compensation increases)
  • Presumably some guess at the attrition-enabled impact of the Education programs
  • Any other budget strategies

An important date for anyone concerned with tax increases.

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