Laura Whittaker

Outcome of TE School Board Meeting more suited for black roses than white ribbons!

Much like the last TE School Board meeting on May 13, the audience was filled with residents and staff, including aides, paraeducators, paraprofessionals, teachers and TENIG members … the outcome of the evening more suited for black roses than white ribbons!

The same 9-0 Board vote to cut the weekly hours of aides and paras to part-time, 27.5 hours could have taken place in the first 5 minutes of the meeting, rather than dragging the vote out until 10:30 PM.  To those of us who attended, we all now know that the minds of the school board members were made up before the meeting ever started.

During the first public comment period of the night, TESD resident Neal Colligan delivered a statement that included the timeline of activity surrounding the decision on the District’s aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals.  The ever-changing status of this group of District employees began six weeks ago with the outsourcing of their jobs to STS.  When STS pulled its proposal, the District turned to another outsourcing company CCRES.  Its unclear what happened with the CCRES outsourcing plan – that plan disappeared without explanation.  In its place, the employees were notified about 10 days ago, that their hours would be cut to part-time.

Colligan stated, “No one has seen a vote on any of these decisions.  The community, the employees who live in our community and the members of the public who have taken an interest in this issue ask for that vote tonight.”  He asked that the Board listen to the residents before taking the vote.

Often we hear residents complain about a local issue but when you suggest they speak up at a public hearing the answer most likely is this:  “Why bother, no one listens.”  Nothing truer could have been said about last night’s school board meeting! After a series of meetings, phone conversations and emails with many of the District aides and paras, it was clear they feared retribution if they spoke publically.  Believing that the Board needed to hear their testimonials, I collected personal statements to read.  With the 5 min. limit imposed for individual resident comments, I was only able to get through two letters.  I appealed for audience volunteers and residents lined up to read aloud the letters into the  meeting testimony.

The thoughtfully written personal statements are with an insight that only comes with years of experience in the school district.  Although personally affected by the decision to reduce their hours to part-time, the overriding concern of aides and paraprofessionals in their statements, is for the education, safety and well-being of our District’s children.

Click here to read full text of personal statements written the TE School Board.  Below are excerpted quotes:

  –  There is no substitute, when working with all children and especially kids with needs, for consistency, continuity, trust and relationship.

–  The aides and paras have been treated as puppets and the Administration and School Board are the Puppet Masters.

–  The loss of hours, I fear, will cause unnecessary turnover of staff with detrimental effects on school programs and the students of the district.

–  We go the extra mile because many of us had our own children go through TE and we are proud of the TE tradition.  You cannot pay for that.  Many of the aides were originally volunteers at their schools, putting in many hours making TE schools what they are.

–  What does affect me is seeing our school district begin a race to the bottom under the care of this school board.  The beginning of the “Walmart-ization” of our district as one speaker called it at a recent meeting.

–  There is a saying in organizational psychology, “If you want to know what is important to leaders don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.”  What do you think your end run around the ACA says about how important the aides are to this school board?

–  The school board doesn’t care about us and they never will.

–  The relationship and bond between the aides and the children will be shattered with a revolving door of strangers in their lives. Beyond the nightmare of scheduling problems with all the part-time workers, are you prepared for the security risks that will come with brining all these new people into the schools?

–  If something bad happens as a result of your actions towards the aides and paraprofessionals of TE, it’s going to be your fault and no one else’s – you will have to live with the consequences.

In addition to the anonymous testimonials read for the record, several brave employees delivered their own written statements to the School Board, which contained similar sentiments.  Audience members who volunteered to read the personal statements, added their own messages of support for the aides, and encouragement to the Board to do the right thing.  On behalf of the TESD teachers, Laura Whittaker, president of the teachers union, delivered an impassioned plea to save the hours of the aides and paras, describing their important contribution to the District’s children and their families.

Following-up on her comments presented at last week’s Finance Committee meeting, TESD resident Joanne Sonn, sought and received guidance from the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington DC advocacy group with expertise in healthcare law.  Sonn presented a letter (click here to read) to the Board from Dania Palanker, Senior Counsel at the Women’s Law Center. The letter puts forth the assertion that under current laws a self‐insured plan  (to which TESD switched in 2011) can be in compliance with nondiscriminatory testing regulations while still offering a separate group of 30‐40 hr. /week workers a lesser valued plan.  As a result of Palanker’s information, Sonn respectfully requested the Board to reconsider its plans to avoid Affordable Care Act compliance by reducing the hours of District employees to part-time status.

The legal opinion of Palanker was dismissed by the District’s solicitor Ken Roos and the benefit expert from his firm, attorney Rhonda Grubbs.  They remained constant in their advice to the Board … claiming that the only way to avoid the ‘possible’ penalties of the ACA was to reduce employee hours to under 30 hours per week.  It was stated and re-stated by some Board members that the District could not afford the cost of healthcare for the lowest paid District employees nor could we afford the cost of possible associated penalties for ACA non-compliance.

So … in the end, the Board took a vote (9-0) to decrease the hours of aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals to 27.5 hours a week.  The vote also represented a decision not to listen to the residents, parents, aides and paras, teachers or the senior counsel of the National Women’s Law Center. Instead, all school board members chose to follow the opinion of the District solicitor.  Sadly, the takeaway from the Board’s action is that if you live in this community and feel that, you are not being listened to or acknowledged, you are probably right.

The Board’s claims that the District cannot afford healthcare for the lowest paid and/or the possible financial risks for ACA noncompliance may work for some residents.  However, these claims of fiscal responsibility ring false when we learn that the District, for another year in a row, has uncovered a multi-million budget surplus. Or that the Board can afford to give bonuses to administrators and raises to the District solicitor and his attorneys … or that the Board can stand behind a 10-year $50 million ‘dream’ facilities  plan to be paid for by taxpayers for years to come.  Beyond our yearly tax increases, we have a school board who chooses to go after revenue from nonprofit organizations and seeks to charge taxpayers for the use of tennis courts.

The most troubling aspect of the school board meeting was the Board’s total disregard for the residents and their message.  Our ‘collective’ votes elected these people to listen to us; but based on last night, it was obvious that what the community wants is not part of the Board’s agenda.  Residents need to learn to vote for representatives that will listen and serve us instead of only pandering to us during election time.

To review … Of the nine currently serving school board members, Anne Crowley and Betsy Fadem, are not seeking re-election, their terms end December 31, 2013.  Kevin Buraks and Rich Brake are seeking re-election and their names will appear on the November ballot.  Buraks and Brake’s opponents, Pete Connors and Scott Dorsey, respectfully, support the District staff and spoke out last night against the Board’s decision to cut the hours of aides and paraeducators.  In addition, Connors questioned the proposed budget expenditures and surplus and to his credit, Dorsey asked for (and received) an apology from school board member Pete Motel for his behavior toward resident Joanne Sonn at the Finance Committee meeting.

—————————————————————————

Note:  With the 10:30 PM vote to decrease the aides and paras to 27.5 hours, over half of the audience got up and walked out, including myself.  For those that remained, it is my understanding that Rich Brake delivered a lengthy personal statement and presumably the 2013-14 budget was passed.  This was the first time I have ever left a public meeting before it ended but somehow there seemed little reason to stay.  For those that did stay, please fill us in on what we missed.

Rising healthcare costs … the explanation for outsourcing strategies?

Economic times and tight school budgets have school districts scrambling to find ways to cut costs, and the ‘outsourcing’ chopping block continues as a major target.   Proclaiming cost-savings for cash strapped schools is the driver behind school district outsourcing decisions – and there appears to be an outside company available for virtually every classified service.

There’s nothing wrong with researching the outsourcing idea; otherwise how will the School Board know if they are getting the best services at the best prices.  That said, I do object that the notification letter from the District was mailed to TENIG without any mention at a School Board meeting.  It struck me odd that the president of the teachers union rather than the president of the School Board disclosed this information. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful that TEEA president Laura Whittaker brought the public up to speed on the outsourcing process.  But I don’t think it should be her job to keep ‘us’ in the loop.  It’s important that the public be in the loop during the Board’s ‘discovery’ process as it relates to the outsourcing bids, but also to important that the Board list to resident input on the topic.

The fact is that all the school districts are in a tough situation and that some form of outsourcing has become an avenue for some districts to save money.  Over in Pennsbury School District, members of their support staff, PESPA (Pennsbury Educational Support Professional Association) have taken their cause to the community.  With prominently displayed yellow lawn signs, PESPA are delivering strong words to their School Board, ‘STOP Pennsbury from Outsourcing’.  Well-organized, the union is fighting back through a website dedicated to outsourcing, www.pennsburystudentcare.org which includes an online petition with over 1200 signatures.

According Bucks Local News, Pennsbury’s business manager  Dan Rogers (equivalent to our Art McDonnell) is claiming that they could save about $21 million over the next 5 years by outsourcing custodial services, maintenance workers, paraprofessionals, IT support technicians and instructional aides. An additional $4 million could be added through the sale of buses and equipment. PESPA represents about 600 support staff members – they continue to work under the terms of their old contract, which expired in 2011. Fascinating to note that the chief negotiator for the Pennsbury school board is Jeffrey Sultanik (remember he was the negotiator for T/E School Board with our teachers union).

Sultanik is quoted at a School Board meeting saying, “ …the only way the Board would not consider subcontracting is if the union is willing to make significant salary and benefit concessions.”

Bucks County’s Quakertown School District support staff, Quakertown Education Support Professionals Association (QESPA) fighting back against the privatizing threat of 100 custodians and cafeteria workers. Armed with 1,500 signed petitions from community residents, QUESPA members want their Board to know that taxpayers do not the high quality of services provided to the children to be given away to an outside private company that will bring strangers into the schools.  QUESPA’s current contract expires the end of June but Board is underway in their solicitation of proposals from private outside vendors – believing that it could help save money on food and retirement benefits.

In southern Chester County, the driving force behind Brandywine Heights Area School Board’s decision to authorize an RFP to outsource paraprofessionals is the Affordable Health Act that will take effect in 2014.  Currently, in the Brandywine Heights district, the paraprofessionals work 6 days a week, 30 hours a week and are considered part-time.  However, under the Affordable Health Act, all workers who work 30 hours or more are eligible for benefits.

Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) is slightly ahead of  TESD in the process.  Having already sent RFPs out for outsourcing custodial staff, they are now reviewing the bid received from Servicemaster, a worldwide provider of custodial services.  According to data provided, outsourcing of custodial services would save KCSD approximately $400K in 2014, with higher projected savings in years ahead.  KCSD is set to make a decision this month on privatizing custodial services and are planning a similar review of outsourcing proposals of instructional and teaching assistant staff in the next few months.

I thank Keith Knauss, School Board director for Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) for supplying the following background information for discussion:

” … As background, in 2009-10 TE had 312 full-time support personnel and 78 part-time support personnel. That’s the most recent year available from PA Department of Education.

Those 312 full time support personnel are entitled to salary and benefits defined in the current TENIG contract.
http://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/42/TENIG09july.pdf

Let’s examine the district’s cost to employ a hypothetical 10 month, 190 day, 8 hour per day, Clerk Typist for this year and next.

2012-13 2013-14
Salary $31,981 $33,410 $21.04 to $21.98 per hr (4.5%)
FICA @7.62% $1,218 $1,273 7.62% half reimbursed by the state
PSERS $1,976 $2,835 12.36% to 16.97% half reimbursed by the state
Healthcare $18,700 $20,196 est. family coverage, 8% inflation
Holidays, Sick Leave $3,703 $3,868 10 paid holidays, 10 sick days, 2 personal days
Total $57,579 $61,582
% incr 7.0%

There are two factors that might lead school directors to investigate outsourcing.

First, the cost increase from this year to next is estimated to be 7%.  This a problem when the district’s revenue is constrained by the Act 1 Index that is estimated to be 2.2% next year.

Second, the cost of benefits is far higher than in the private sector.  The PSERS retirement plan and associated cost has been under discussion several times in this blog.  What hasn’t been discussed is the cost of healthcare.    According to the Kaiser Foundation, the national average family plan costs $15,745.  The employer pays $11,429, the employee pays $4,316.  This is compared to TESD where the family plan is estimated to be $19,000.  The TESD pays $18,700, the support staff employee pays $300.  The district’s cost of healthcare for support employees is estimated to be $7,000 above the national average.
http://ehbs.kff.org/pdf/2012/8345.pdf

As always, I try to be thorough and accurate.  I have purposely not advocated for any solution or made any determination as to what is fair.  Constructive criticism is welcome….”

Thank you Keith for this information.  Accepting that the District’s ‘hands are tied’ re PSERS costs (at least for the short-term), clearly the focus needs to be redirected towards healthcare costs, where the opportunity for change does exist.  I have been vocal in my support of TENIG, but as was the case with the teacher contract negotiations, healthcare costs are negatively affecting the budget bottom line.  The teachers provided healthcare concessions in their latest contract and I am hopeful that given the opportunity, the TENIG members may do likewise.

Where’s the Fairness? T/E Administrators Receive Bonuses But Outsourcing Remains Possibility for TENIG Employees

Laura Whittaker, President of T/E teachers union (TEEA) delivered a status update and message of support at Monday’s school board meeting for members of TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group) based on the District’s possible outsourcing.  (TENIG members include the custodians, maintenance workers, kitchen staff and secretaries.) Whittaker disclosed that members of TENIG’s bargaining union have received notice of their potential layoffs from the District.

The School Board is required to give TENIG a written notice of their intention to issue an RFP to seek outsourcing bids at least 120-days in advance.  If you recall, when faced with a similar situation in the previous year, TENIG came back to the Board with a ‘give-back’ arrangement — employees took a 10% pay cut and waived their contracted raises for this year. In addition to saving the District considerable money, TENIG’s offer ultimately saved their jobs from outsourcing.

I do find it curious that the TEEA president is the one offering the public updates on TENIG and the District’s possible outsourcing rather than the School Board providing this information.  Why?

I have heard outsourcing savings to the District estimated at $1 Million – $1.5 Million but I am not sure where these numbers come from — to my knowledge, past outsourcing bids were never released to the public.  Without the details of the bids, how does one substantiate the accuracy of possible cost-saving benefits.

If the Board only looks at the bottom line, perhaps there is cost-savings.  However, there are other issues to consider. As the President of TEEA, Laura Whittaker so aptly stated last night, “T/E is not about numbers and budgets.  It is the people who make this District what it is.” Many of the TENIG members are local residents with a personal connection to the District – many graduated from Conestoga and/or have children in T/E schools. Can outsourcing provide the same level of productivity and quality of job performance as the current employees?  I am of the opinion that privatizing these services will not mean “better labor,” but will negatively affect the lives of long-time employees and their families.

I worry that safety of the children may be compromised by outsourcing.  Who is responsible for the background checks – will custodial companies that come cheap more likely to compromise safety?  Background checks are expensive and a cost factor to private companies – can the District be certain that an outsourced company will actually do background checks on employees. If the District’s custodial services are privatized to save some money, what’s the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’ is going to apply. Privatizing may mean less reliable employees in the schools, at a greater cost, over whom the District will have no direct control.

As the Board once again looks at outsourcing of TENIG jobs to save the District money, I am reminded how quickly, they approved (7-2) administrator raises last month. If you recall, the administrator bonuses were buried in a consent agenda at the January 28 School Board meeting.  No public discussion was permitted until after the consent agenda vote was taken.

What about fairness?  I am aware that the District administrators had not received raises in 3 years, but I still find it curious that not one word was mentioned about the District’s economic situation, prior to the approval of the consent agenda in January (giving bonuses to the administrators).  Please understand that I am not comparing the work of District administrators to that of TENIG workers, but … I am struggling with the issue of fairness.  The highest paid in the District, the administrators, are rewarded with bonuses (without any discussion) yet the lowest paid TENIG employees, who took a 10% pay cut and waived their raises to save the District money, are facing potential layoffs.  Again, I ask, where’s the fairness in this picture?

———————————————————————————————————–

Note:  There is a scheduled School Board Budget Workshop I Meeting for Monday, March 4, 7:30 PM.  I hope that the Board will be more forthcoming in regards to the outsourcing potential and what cost-savings can be expected. I would also like to hear from TENIG President Dave Fillipo on behalf of the TENIG employees in regards to the possible layoffs.

School Board Members to Join T/E Contract Negotiating Team

Last night’s School Board meeting represented a distinct shift in attitude from the School Board directors in regards to the teacher negotiations.  Since the District named their negotiating team last January (Dan Waters, Sue Tiede, Art McDonnell and professional negotiator attorney Jeffrey Sultanik), I have been very vocal in my concern that there was no school board director serving on the negotiating team.  I was of the opinion that the residents of TESD elected the school board members to serve them and at least one of them needed to sit at the negotiating table.

Without representation by a school board director, the reporting process had the appearance of a ‘whisper down the lane’.  I understand that Sultanik was hired to negotiate at the direction of the School Board, but I think that the Board’s public appearance of ‘hands-off’ to the process, may have added to the strife with the teachers.  The information and the updates that the school board receives were not by firsthand attendance at the meetings, the flow of information was from one of the four members of the negotiating team.  I am not suggesting that the District intentionally mislead the public through its updates, but I was of the opinion that without a seat at the table, it was possible that subtle nuances that occur in a meeting could be missed in the translation.

But here is some good news for anyone that shares my concerns with the negotiation process.  At the end of last night’s meeting, Board president Karen Cruickshank gave a brief update on the status of the teacher contract talks.  She explained the District has made another offer to the teachers and offered hope that a resolution could be forthcoming.  Not certain what is contained in the latest offer but there was something else … Cruickshank announced that going forward, school board directors would have a seat at the negotiating table.   Karen Cruickshank, Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks and Betsy Fadem will join the negotiating team at all future meetings with the teachers union.  I believe that this was the right decision for the District, the residents and for the teachers! The last few months have been contentious between the two sides, but I think this latest decision represents an encouraging sign.

Given Our Economic Times, How Can T/E Afford A Real Estate Purchase?

Here we are nine days and counting until school starts, in the midst of contentious teacher contract negotiations and parents in the District hoping that school starts on time.  Residents have repeatedly been told that T/E School District cannot afford the demands of the teachers … escalating health care and pension costs.  With decreasing revenues and rising costs, in June we witnessed, as tough decisions were required to balance the District budget.

During the discussion on the Fact Finder’s report at the August 20 special School Board meeting, school board members weighed in on why they could not vote in favor of the report.   Karen Cruickshank, Board president, commented in part,

“… The public knows how hard the Board has worked to balance the budget over the past 3 years.  We have explored ways to increase revenues.  We’ll be charging students an activity fee for the first time this year. We have raised taxes 2 years in a row to the Act 1 limit with allowable exceptions to referendum. We have cut $10 million from our budget, or one tenth. We have held administrators, aides and paras at zero raises over the last 3 years. The members of TENIG agreed to a 4.5% cut last year. The custodial staff has agreed to waive both the 4.5% increase for next year and has given back an additional 10% of current salary. The numbers still don’t balance. It is the responsibility of the Board to balance the budget. The Board has no control over large increases in state mandated pension obligations put in place by the legislature in 2001. The District has also suffered significant financial losses through commercial and residential real estate reassessments and tax appeals. These reassessments and appeals have resulted in the likely loss of $1.5 million this year. These factors together have wreaked havoc on what was once a stable T/E budget…”

For the most part, I think that residents are starting to recognize the economic problems facing the District and the importance of School Board members to make responsible and sound fiduciary decisions. It is because of this, that frankly I was astounded to see a specific item listed under the ‘Consent Agreement’ on the agenda for the School Board meeting, Monday, August 27. According to the agenda, a ‘Consent Agenda’ requires Board action but “… it is unnecessary to hold discussion on these items. With the consent of all members, they are therefore grouped and approval is given in one motion.”  

There are probably 15 or 20 consent agenda items listed on Monday’s agenda, ranging from approving minutes, and acceptance of gifts to ‘purchase property’.  All of these consent items are lumped together and then rather than going through them item by item, approved by the School Board in one motion.  The purchase property item caught my attention but I had to read to page 45 of the agenda’s supplement materials to find the following:

Consent VII, E, 3:Purchase of Property

“That the Board of School Directors authorizes the Superintendent to execute, and the Board Secretary to attest, and deliver to the record owner of property designated as Tax Parcel No. 43-10L-2 [which is property adjoining the District’s property], the Agreement of Sale in the form attached to the resolution…….”

The agreement of sale that follows further identifies the property as 892 Old Lancaster Avenue, the seller as the Estate of Arthur Fennimore, and the price as $265K.  The date of sale is left blank.  On Saturday morning, I stopped by the property to take a photo and spoke with the grandson of Mr. Fennimore.  He and his brothers were cleaning out the house in advance of the purchase by TESD.  Mr. Fennimore was 97 when he passed away and was the original owner of the house. According to the grandson, closing between the Estate and TESD is expected by the end of the week.

I have attended most, if not all, of the 2012 School Board meetings and have absolutely no recall on the discussion to purchase additional real estate property, …  especially given the agonizing budget decisions, the possibility of demotion and the contract negotiations with the teachers.  Therefore, I don’t think that I missed the discussion about purchasing additional real estate.

This past Friday there was a Facilities Committee meeting and although I did not attend, according to the agenda there was no discussion about the upcoming purchase of the Fennimore property. To be clear, in the past, there have been on/off discussions about the maintenance building and the need to expand the storage facility.  In fact, there are existing architectural plans —  but as far as I knew, the project was ‘on hold’ for obvious economic reasons.

The Fennimore house is the last remaining property between the current maintenance building and T/E Middle School on Old Lancaster Rd. – the District previously purchased all other properties.  So … I guess from an overall planning standpoint, the acquisition of this property makes sense.  However, given the District’s current economic climate and the unsettled teachers’ contract, it would seem that the topic to ‘purchase’ would still require some discussion, not just buried with 20 other consent items.  Unfortunately, the word that immediately comes to mind … transparency, or rather ‘lack thereof’.

Based on my conversation with Mr. Fennimore’s grandson, the estate has a deal with the school district and that closing and settlement will occur later this week. Given that there appears that there will be no discussion about the School Board’s decision to purchase the property, here are my questions …

How did they arrive at the price for the property?  The sale price is listed as $265K.  My friend Ray Clarke did the research and determined that the assessed value is $129,500.  According to Ray, if we “… multiply $129,500 by the current Chester County Common Level Ratio of 1.70, you get $220,150.”  Subtract $220,150 from $265K, and you have to ask, why is the School District paying a $45K premium for this property.  Regardless of future development plans, for the time being, the District will need to tear down the house, which means an additional expense.  Another question — is the maintenance-storage facility project still on the back burner or does the Fennimore house purchase have the timetable moved up on the construction project?

Some may suggest that a $265K real estate purchase in the T/E School District is a ‘bargain’ and a ‘smart’ move for the District in these depressed economic times.  But the bottom line for me, is $265K really such a bargain for a property assessed at $130K?  And what about the public – do we deserve an explanation about the purchase?  What is the plan for the acquisition? And if there is a plan, how much will that plan cost? 

I have the questions, but it doesn’t look like there will be much in the way of answers.

Will T/E School District Open Without New Teachers Contract

Now that the 2nd vote on the Fact Finder report is behind us, it is my understanding that the school board and the teachers return to traditional method of negotiations.  As the clock ticks down the remaining days of summer vacation, can we assume that schools in T/E will open on schedule.  It is my understanding that until there is a new contract; the teachers will continue to work to the terms of their expired contract.

But how long can the T/E school district budget afford for the teachers to work to the old contract?   

The Neshaminy teachers and the school district have been locked in a vicious contract debate for 4+ years with neither side willing to budge – sticking points in the bitter contract dispute is healthcare and salary.  It is my understanding that the teachers want a 5% salary increase retroactively for the last 4 years.

As I wrote in January of this year, the teachers in the Neshaminy School District are the highest paid in the state but if we look at PSSA results, the Neshaminy School District doesn’t even make the top 50 in the state, coming in at number 245 among Pennsylvania’s 500 districts.  Over half of the Commonwealth’s school districts have outperformed Neshaminy on PSSA tests for the last 10 years.  Compare that to Tredyffrin Easttown School District and the ranking of third in the state.  If the highest paid teachers, working in a school district that underperforms 50% of all other school districts in the state, are willing to strike twice in 6 months … what does that mean for other districts with teacher contracts pending?

Lower Merion School District is in a similar situation to TESD.  Lower Merion’s teacher contract expired the end of June and the 1,300 union members are working ‘for now’ under the provisions of the old one.  With school scheduled to open on Tuesday in Lower Merion, the School District officials and the union are set to negotiate tonight to see if they can settle.

Most people who I have spoken with do not believe that our teachers will strike in TESD.   I am not sure what is to be gained by a teacher strike, aside from many aggravated parents.  Or is it possible that teachers can be pushed to a point where they feel this is their only option?

T/E School Board: 2nd Vote Not to Accept Fact Finders Report

Last night was both the Board of Supervisors meeting and the special meeting of the school district.  I attended the BOS meeting and Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting and kindly provided his personal notes of the meeting.  Although we should not be surprised that the school board rejected the fact finders report a second time, in speaking with Ray I am troubled by something that happened.  Now again — I was not there so if my interpretation is incorrect, someone please correct me.

It appears that there was a heated exchange between Sultanik (the negotiating attorney hired by TESD) and Laura Whittaker, the  teacher union president.  Apparently it is OK for Sultanik to make public claims against the union but Ms. Whittaker is not allowed to defend her position.  Why?  Because although Ms. Whittaker is a TESD teacher, she is not a T/E resident.   Regardless of which side you support (TESD or TEEA)  this does not seem fair.

I understand the economics of the school district, but that does not give Sultanik the right to disrespect the teachers and then offer no option for them to defend.   These people teach our children, are they not entitled to respect?  The school board has a policy that non-T/E residents are not permitted to comment at school board meetings and I appreciate that if there is long line of people waiting to comment, that it is fair that residents be permitted to speak first.  Regardless of the union, TENIG, TEEA, etc. I am of the opinion that the union president representing his/her members should be permitted to speak at school board meetings, without a ‘residency’ requirement.  I am not saying all the non-resident teachers, custodians, etc. just the presidents, should they be non-residents.

Again, I did not attend the meeting and would certainly appreciate the opinions of other who did attend.  Bottom line for me … I want both sides fairly represented but I don’t like the idea of public ‘dressing-down’ from  either.  Here are Ray’s notes:

The School Board took advantage of the forum offered by tonight’s Board meeting to present their side of the contract negotiations and to outline the details of their three year offer suggested at the last Board meeting.  Unfortunately, perhaps, they felt the need to rebut the TEEA week-end comment that “School board members have not met with us….” with Mr Sultanik recounting a minute by minute list of the emails between him and the union’s Ms Waldie, during which an offer to meet was repeatedly made, and which did in fact lead to a meeting of the parties on August 15th.  At that meeting the Board presented their proposal, to which – according to Sultanik – the TEEA has not officially responded.  There were shouts of “You lie!” or similar from the audience, but Ms Whittaker, not a district resident, was not permitted to speak.

Here’s the essence of the District proposal:

– Freeze matrix, step and column positions for 2 years.  One step and column movement halfway through Year 3

– One time $2,500 bonus for all teachers in Year 2 and one time $1,000 bonus for all teachers on the top step in Year 3

—  Sizable incentives that do not build in recurring expense (use of the fund balance!)

– 189 day calendar in Years 2 and 3, down from the current 191 days

—  Locking in the 2 furlough days (1% salary reduction) in the Fact Finder report

– Two health plans with family coverage with premium share rising from 9-10% to 11-12% in Year 3.  The individual dollar cost for the most expensive plan is projected at $1,743  to $2,531, compared to $1,020 under the current plan.  A $50,000-$60,000 copay pool in Years 2 and 3 if the higher cost healthcare plan can be dropped due to less than half the employees selecting that plan.

— The national average for premium share is 29%

   — There’s a tax provision that allows employees to deduct their premium share, reducing the net cost by their marginal tax rate

– A cap on tuition reimbursement of $150,000 in Years 2 and 3 (compared to $290,000 under the current MOU and $650,000 last year)

– Radnor and Lower Merion have introduced caps on tuition reimbursement

– Prescription copays as in the Fact Finder report

– Demotions allowed for economic reasons in Years 2 and 3

– Settlement of outstanding grievances, particularly re the CHS 6 period day

— If ruled in favor of the union would require the hiring of 12 additional FTE at a cost of $1.2 million a year

Sultanik stated that the deadline for a TEEA response is August 27th at 12 noon.  It’s not clear if that is a mandatory deadline per the law, but it could be, since the process is still under the aegis of the state arbitrator and law does require continuation of the negotiating process.

Art McDonnell presented two slides that provided the current status quo budget/3 year projection and the Fact Finder report.  As presented, the Fact Finder report reduced the Year 1 and 2 deficits by about $300,000, but the year 3 (and 4) deficits increased by the same amount.  He did not show how the latest Board proposal would stack up under the same model, but in response to my question there were general comments from the Board that the deficits would still not be eliminated under likely tax scenarios.  (I think that there may be enough data to model the impact ourselves, and with some time over the next couple of days I’ll take a shot at that, but it will be difficult to account for all the inter-relations of salary, PSERS, etc.)

Ann Crowley and Kris Graham explained their August 9th votes to accept the Fact Finder report largely on the basis of expediency and on the intangible impact of an unsettled contract on home values, teacher stress, need for students to continue to out-perform, and so on.  Mrs Graham thought there was now benefit to the teachers to get the 3 year deal and so changed her vote tonight, in order to get the parties back to the negotiating table.  Mrs Crowley abstained from voting in protest of the email litany recounted by Mr Sultanik.  Dr Motel reminded the audience that salaries for all other employees have been flat for three years, and at some point increases may need to be found.  President Cruickshank also noted this and the give backs from TENIG employees and separately custodians.   She noted that the Board has to balance the budget and recounted the last three years total of $10 million expense cuts, maximum tax increases and falling real estate assessments.  Remaining options are to cut kindergarten, transportation and extra-curriculars.  She made a plea for “two austere years to right the financial ship”.

The Board voted 8 to 0 with one abstention to reject the Fact Finder report.

The audience seemed to be largely teachers, with little public comment.  Andrea advocated rationalizing the healthcare benefit craziness by providing a defined contribution rather than a Blue Cross-specific defined benefit; another resident supported the Fact Finder report on the basis of retaining qualified teachers and supporting property prices.  ABC News was there, also.

T/E Teachers Union Appeals to School Board to Accept Fact Finder Report

President of Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA Laura Whittaker has released the following appeal in advance of Monday’s TESD vote on the Fact Finders report.  The statement urges the school board to vote to accept the report at the special meeting.  Whittaker claims that the school board has not moved from their original position of last February although TEEA has offered “significant financial sacrifices”.

The clock is ticking down to September 4, the first day of school.  If the school board does not vote to accept the Fact Finder’s report, is a teachers strike on the horizon … ?  

Board’s decision to reject impartial Fact Finder’s report further exposes its inflexibility

Tredyffrin-Easttown Education Association President Laura Whittaker is calling on the members of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District board to reverse their decision to reject an impartial Fact Finder’s report intended to settle the district’s expired contract with TEEA members.

In the fact-finding process, a neutral, third-party arbitrator reviewed the contract proposals of each side and made recommendations intended to settle the expired contract. The review took 40 days. Once the fact finder issued the report, each party had 10 days to accept or reject the fact finder’s recommendations.

The TESD board rejected the report at its August 9th meeting, and will vote again on the issue during its Monday, August 20, special school board meeting. The meeting starts at 8 p.m. in at the Tredyffrin-Easttown Administrative Offices.

TEEA members voted to accept the Fact Finder’s report even though it contained significant financial sacrifices on their behalf, including approximately $500,000 in lost wages, a reduction in health care benefits, and a loss of tuition reimbursement for professional development.

“School board members have not met with us, and they rejected the Fact Finder’s report without having moved from the original proposal they gave their negotiator in February.  They now have another opportunity to vote to settle this contract,” Whittaker said.

Whittaker urges all members of the T/E school community to turn out for Monday night’s school board meeting and make their voices heard. “Parents do not want their children’s education interrupted because of the school board’s stubborn inflexibility,” she said.

“If the board would be reasonable and accept the impartial Fact Finder’s report, it would assure that the school year can start on time and without disruption,” Whittaker said.

T/E Teachers Union Weighs in on Fact Finder’s Report

Last night I received the following press release from Laura Whittaker, president of teacher union Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA).

TEEA Votes to Accept Fact Finder’s Report, Asks for Community Support 

On Monday, August 6, the members of TEEA met to discuss and vote on the Fact Finder’s report. Acting as an independent third party, Fact Finder Mr. Timothy Brown carefully examined all of the issues in dispute as well as the District’s finances and revenue potential. By law, TEEA members were required to accept or reject the report in its entirety, and the membership voted to accept the report.

Under the provisions of the Fact Finder’s report, professional employees would be frozen at the current salary for a year and a half.  Association members also agreed to a choice between two less expensive health care plans as well as increases in premium sharing and prescription costs. The report linked no demotions of professional staff with a reduction in tuition reimbursement during the second year of the agreement, a provision that built upon the previously established Memorandum of Understanding which reduced tuition reimbursement in exchange for no demotions during the first year of the contract. Furthermore, the Fact Finder acknowledged the District’s desire for cost savings by allowing the District, in the second year of the contract, to furlough teachers for up to two full days with a corresponding salary reduction, a provision currently non-existent in any teacher contract in the state of Pennsylvania. TEEA estimates that the furlough days alone would cost TEEA members approximately $500,000 in lost wages.

“We are disappointed by the School Board’s choice to reject the report and stated efforts that they would like to continue bargaining,” TEEA President Laura Whittaker said. “By voting to accept the report, TEEA members have acknowledged the need for shared sacrifice. We believe that the report offers a fair and reasonable contract settlement. We urge members of the public to read the full Fact Finder’s report that is available on our website and ask the community to support acceptance of the Fact Finder’s report in order to reach a contract settlement so that we can all focus on the education of the children of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District.”  The School Board will take their second vote on the Fact Finder’s report on Monday, August 20 at 8 pm at the Tredyffrin-Easttown Administrative Offices at 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700 in Wayne.

T/E Fact Finders Report — TESD and TEEA at Odds on Salary and Health Care/Insurance

The Fact Finder’s report has now been released (click here to read).  In a quick review of the report, salary and health care/insurance appear to be the issues of major conflict between the school district and the teacher’s union.  I offer the following summary and my personal remarks, but encourage you to review the report and weigh in with your own opinion.  The public has 10 days to review the Fact Finder’s report and then the School Board votes again on Monday, August 20.

Salary

District (1) proposes that as of July 1, 2012 freezing teacher’s salaries at the 2011-12 contract year level; (2) proposes that as of July 1, 2013, freezing teacher’s salaries at the level at which they were at the conclusion of the 2011-12 contact year; and (3) proposes no column and step movement during the term of the Agreement.

Union proposes (1) that for the 2012-13 freezing salary at the 2011-12 contract year and (2) for the second year, 2013-14 year, there will be column and step movement throughout the salary schedule and that those bargaining unit members at the top of their respective columns will receive a payment of $1,000 off-scale bonus.

Recommendation:  (1) 2012-13 freeze salary at the 2011-12 contract level and (2) for 2013-14 year, freeze salary for the first one-half of the school year at the 2011-12 contract level and for the second half of the year, there will be column and step movement.  Those bargaining unit members at the top of their respective columns will receive a payment of $300 off-scale bonus.

Health Care/Insurance

District proposes to make available health benefit plan to full-time employees (including full-time Health Room nurses).  I do not see a coverage option for employee’s spouses and/or dependents (even if the employee pays the difference).

Union proposes a shift to Personal Choice C2 health plan, which would include an increase in copays for doctor’s office visits.  Union also agrees to increase its premium share from the current 5% to 7% of premium costs in year one of the Agreement and 8% of premium share in year two.

Recommendation: The Fact Finder report took real issue with the District in regards to health care, stating, “… considering the realities of its financial condition, and its educational and financial goals, there is absolutely no good reason why this School District would not offer more than single medical insurance coverage for its teachers. … There is no defensible reason for this School District – this School District that is one of the richest and best performing school districts in the state – to champion any proposal that would pressure and weaken the families of the teachers who serve the District’s families; removing medical insurance coverage from the children and families of teachers would do just that and I cannot recommend such.”  The Fact Finder believes that the District should offer health plan options for teacher’s spouse plus children and family options, suggesting that the District will pay 90 -95% of the premiums and employees 5 – 10% of the premium based on Year One or Year Two of contract.

I’m not certain that I correctly understand the recommendation about ‘who’ is paying for the spouses and/or children of employees.  To be clear, I totally disagree with the District on the subject of health care insurance – employees need to be able to have an option of insurance coverage for their spouses and/or families.  It does not appear that the District offers that option.  Although I am of the opinion that employees should have their individual insurance covered, perhaps the employees should be responsible for the additional costs of insuring their spouses and/or children. If I read the recommendation correctly, that does not appear to be an option.

Community Matters © 2015 Frontier Theme