Chester Upland Fiscal Distress

Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin

Tredyffrin Easttown School District contract negotiation process with the teachers union, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) is officially underway. The current 4-year collective bargaining agreement expires June 2012.  (Click here for current contract).

With a cooperative tone, both sides have issued their preliminary statements – the school board recognizing the quality and standard of the District’s teachers but reinforcing the severity of our economic times.  And the teachers union proudly applauding the school district as one of the best in the state and stating their desire to work together through the contract negotiations.  The TEEA however did voice concern that no school board director was part of the negotiating team.

Representing the school district for the teacher contract negotiations:

  • Dan Waters, TESD superintendent
  • Sue Tiede, TESD human resources director
  • Art McDonnell, TESD business manager
  • Jeffrey Sultanik, Fox Rothchild, Blue Bell*

* Sultanik’s law practice focuses on personnel and labor relations for municipal and school districts. He chairs his firm’s Education Law Group, which has provided legal services to more than 90 school districts throughout PA.  During his tenure as former president of the PA School Board Solicitors Association, Sultanik presented legislative testimony before the PA Senate Education Committee, May 2009.  Click here to read a copy of his testimony, ‘Public Hearing on Teacher’s Strikes in Pennsylvania and the Impact on Public Education’. 

Currently at the helm of the school district’s teacher union is TEEA president Laura Whittaker, a Conestoga HS social studies teacher.  Representing TEEA in the contract negotiations is Ruthann Waldie, a UniServe representative from the PA State Education Association.  Other members of the teacher negotiating team have not yet been announced.

As an aside, Waldie represented the Unionville Chadds Ford School District teachers union in their recent and very long (challenging) teacher contract negotiations. If you recall, the state intervened and assigned an outside arbitrator in the UCFSD negotiations.  Although the arbitrator was brought in to bring both sides together, there was a feeling from the UCFSD teachers union (a feeling that was shared by Waldie) that the arbitrator did not fairly represent the teacher’s side.  I share this information, to point out that neither Sultanik nor Waldie are novices to school district negotiations.

With two ‘A players’ (Sultanik and Waldie) in the school district/teacher union negotiating world representing the opposing sides, we’ll have to wait and see if the TESD contract process may put their skill and experience to a test.

Looking beyond T/E school district boundaries, did you see the suggestion of one Philadelphia City Council member to help fund the Philadelphia city school system?  With a larger than expected budget shortfall (nearly $80 million in the red!), Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown obviously supports the theory that difficult times require creative solutions.  Her proposed legislature would keep the city bars open an additional hour, until 3 AM.  This extra hour of liquor tax revenue would net the schools an extra $5 million.  I’m all for the ‘thinking outside the box’ ideas but somehow the use of  liquor and schools in the same sentence just seems wrong – isn’t there a better way?

Chester Upland School District has become the poster child for failing school districts in the state.  CUSD announced to the state in December that they would be out-of-money by early January and therefore, unable to meet their payroll, utilities, etc.  With the announcement, brought an offer from the CUSD teachers to work without pay, at least temporarily.  At the ninth hour, the federal court intervened, issuing a short reprieve and an order for the state to advance $3.2 million to the district. Although the state money has continued to keep the doors open and the teachers on the job, this band-aid solution was only worth a few weeks.

Come the beginning of February, Chester Upland School District will have used up their advance and once again, be out of money – CUSD needs approximately $20 million to finish out the school year. Gosh, don’t the kids in CUSD deserve to know that their schools will be open until the end of the year?

Finally, click here for a draft legislative proposal that several PA state legislators have recently made public.  Marked confidential, the draft proposal document is titled “Chester Upland Fiscal Distress” and dated November 4, 2011.  Interesting to note that this draft proposal was written prior to CUSD’s request to the state for financial help.  The proposal calls for the state to take over school districts in financial distress (starting with Chester Upland) and run the school district with the use of an oversight board – a ‘Special Board of Control’.

This special board would have the legal authority to cancel teacher contracts, turn district schools into charter schools, reassign or suspend staff and to close schools. To be clear, this is only a draft proposal and no formal legislation has yet been introduced – however, this draft would suggest that the ‘handwriting is the wall’  for the introduction of this, or similar legislation.

Looks like Chester Upland School District could become the model for all distressed school districts across the state. It is probably a fair assumption that how the state decides to handle the financial crisis in CUSD will be duplicated in every other failing school district in Pennsylvania.

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