outsourcing aides

Sometimes Do Overs are possible …T/E School District Union Votes to Save Aides from Outsourcing!

What is the saying about no do-overs in life?  For approximately 25 non-instructional aides in the TE School District, they learned yesterday that do-overs are possible!

To the surprise of many, you may recall on April 30, members of the Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group (TENIG) voted against including the small group of “non-instructional” TESD aides into their union.  The bid to create a subset group within the TENIG union for the District’s non-instructional aides failed with a vote of 23-21. Although there are approximately 170+ TENIG employees, only 44 members attended the meeting to vote.

In the aftermath of the April 30 vote, some members of TENIG rallied behind their fellow District employees and mounted a campaign for another vote; a vote that would include absentee votes. The collective bargaining rules require a simple majority — a vote of fifty percent plus one of the votes cast.  The election results are in and the TENIG vote count to include the 20+ District aides is 53 Yes – 13 No.  The results indicate an overwhelming majority of the TENIG union members want their fellow District employees!

With the District’s deadline of May 15 (tomorrow) to outsource the full-time aides and paraeducators to CCRES, this news for the non-instructional aides could not come at a better time.  The saga of the District’s full-time aides and paraeducators and the threat of outsourcing have gone on for the last two years.

Faced with offering health care benefits to all District employees under Affordable Care Act or paying penalties for non-compliance, the School Board had made the decision earlier this year to outsource. The 73 full-time aides and paraeducators were given the option of either working for the outsourcing company to keep their full-time hours or reducing their hours to part-time (27.5 hr. and below) and remain a District employee.  The District employees had until May 15 to make their decision.

Although the outsourcing of the District’s full-time aides and paraeducators would have avoided the cost of providing health care and PSERS, the Board’s plan has a new wrinkle.  The current 3-year TENIG contract (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017) provides for health care benefits for all employees working 25 hours or more per week and as District employees, they receive PSERS.  Approximately 25 of the District’s non-instructional aides destined for outsourcing now will have a new home in the TENIG and enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining group, which includes health care!

Although some steps remain in the process to formally add the non-instructional aides in to TENIG, the hard work has been done.  Congratulations to John Brooks, TENIG president and to the many TENIG members, who supported their fellow District employees, appreciated their value and fought to save their District jobs!

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TENIG Union votes against includingTE School District’s non-instructional aides — Why??

To the surprise of many, members of the Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group (TENIG) took a vote yesterday on whether to accept approximately 20 ‘non-instructional’ TESD aides into their union.  Falling close on the heels of Monday’s TESD meeting where the School Board voted to outsource the full-time jobs of 73 aides to CCRES (Chester County Regional Education Services), TENIG offer was seen by these aides as a lifeline to save some of the District jobs.

The bid to create a subset group within the TENIG union for the District’s non-instructional aides failed with a vote of 23-21. Although there are approximately 170+ TENIG employees, only 44 members attended the meeting to vote.  The collective bargaining rules require a simple majority — a vote of fifty percent plus one of the votes cast. With 44 TENIG members voting, the target number was 23 votes.  Unfortunately, for the small group of non-instructional aides, the 23 votes were against accepting them as new TENIG members.

If you recall, the TENIG collective bargaining members battled themselves against District outsourcing during the last couple of contract negotiation rounds. The current 3-year TENIG contract (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017) was settled under the threat of outsource vendor bids by the School Board.  To avoid outsourcing, the current TENIG contract required the custodians to accept a 2% salary reduction and give back one week of vacation. The other TENIG members (security, kitchen, maintenance and cafeteria) all received a 4% salary reduction but their vacation benefits remained intact.  For year 2 and 3 of the 3-year contract, TENIG employees received a freeze on their salary.

Ultimately, the TENIG contract saved the District $400K in healthcare, $207K with employee salary reduction and $207K with the custodian vacation giveback – a total savings of $719K to the District.

Under the current contract, the TENIG employees did not have to worry about outsourcing for the duration of their 3-year contract, which runs for another two years, until June 30, 2017.  So the question is, why did the TENIG members vote against their fellow employees yesterday?  After the Board’s vote at the Monday’s School Board meeting, the TENIG vote only added insult to injury to this small group of District employees.

Were the actions of TENIG employees just paranoia or a real fear of repercussion from the District? There is no doubt that some of the TENIG members were fearful of retaliation and either did not show up for yesterday’s vote or voted against the inclusion of the non-instructional aides into their collective bargaining unit.

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Victory for Government Transparency: Citizen wins Open Records Case against TE School District

Neal Colligan wins in Colligan v. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District case!

Between November 2014 and February 2015, School Board president Kris Graham called five special Executive Sessions to discuss the Affordable Care Act and the outsourcing of the District’s aides and paraeducators. These meetings were held out of the light of the public eye and without benefit of public deliberation. The meetings were not a harmless error but rather, a deliberate attempt to be secretive.

In early 2015, the Board continued to discuss outsourcing of 73 full-times aides and paras as a budget strategy. Then in a surprise move at the February 3, 2015 TESD meeting, the Board approved a resolution to change their employment status.

Citing on-going transparency concerns in School Board deliberations, a small group of citizens (Neal Colligan, Ray Clarke, Peggy Layden, Barbara Jackson, Jerry Henige and myself) sent a certified letter to the Board, appealing to them to reopen the outsourcing discussion and allow public commentary.

In a response on behalf of the School Board, the District Solicitor Ken Roos of Wisler Pearlstine claimed that no Sunshine Act violation had occurred and that the Board was in full compliance with public discussion. Beyond Roos’ dismissive and trivializing response, it remained clear to many, that the District had not provided adequate notice to the public regarding the proposed policy changes nor specific reasons for each of the five Executive Session discussions of the Affordable Care Act.

Advocating for government transparency, Neal Colligan filed a Right to Know request with the District for TESD records related to the secret Executive Sessions.  The RTK request was denied, with the District Solicitor stating that the records pertained to “labor relations strategy and predecisional deliberations” of the District.

On March 28, 2015, Colligan filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, Colligan v. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, Docket No.: AP 2015-0442. News came yesterday from Harrisburg that Roos had lost the case for the District.  PA Office of Open Records (OOR) attorney Jill Wolfe notified Neal (and Roos, Supt. Dan Waters and TESD Open Records officer Art McDonnell) of the Final Determination. In the Colligan v. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District case, Neal’s appeal was granted and the District is required to provide all requested Affordable Care Act records from the secret Executive Sessions within 30 days.   (Click here to read the OOR Final Determination).

In their legal analysis of the case, the OOR cited SWB Yankees LLC v Wintermantel, 45 A.3d1029, 1041 (PA 2012), “the objective of the Right to Know Law … is to empower citizens by affording them access to information concerning the activities of their government.”  The analysis further offered that in Bowling v. Office of Open Records, 990 A.d813,824 (Pa.Commw.Ct20140) the open-government law is “designed to promote access to official government information in order to prohibit secrets, scrutinize the actions of public officials and make public officials accountable for their actions.”

Touting the secret meetings as legal, the School Board hid behind the legal advice of the solicitor by holding secret meetings on the Affordable Care Act and deliberations regarding the future of the aides and paraeducators.  Believing that that they were within their rights to hold such meetings, Board member and attorney Kevin Buraks responded to residents at TESD meeting that although this [secret meetings] wasn’t normally how the Board operated, they did so because it was a “strategic decision”. According to the Final Determination of the OOR, the information discussed at the “secret” meetings was not “secret” after all.

I have learned that subsequent to the Board’s February vote to change the employment status of the aides and paras, that School Board president Kris Graham barred her fellow school board member Liz Mercogliano from attending any of the five secret ACA meetings. This information is very troubling; Liz is an elected official and has the same rights as the other eight members. How could the District solicitor and other Board members sanction this behavior and not speak out?

It just is enormously frustrating that citizens can’t access records that are open and have to fight for records that the School Board should have provided. How much taxpayer money has been spent on fighting public records requests? The School Board should encourage public participation in the democratic process by minimizing secrecy in public affairs.  Addressing public questions shows us that you have nothing to hide and that as elected officials, that you support transparency and open government.

Through his Right-to-Know request and his open records appeal, Neal Colligan asked for transparency and easily accessible information that should be public information.  He was not looking to unearth government secrets … simply asking for public information.  After receiving the Final Determination from the Office of Open Records, Neal emailed the Board, which read in part:

The real question is what will happen now … You could elect to finally provide the public with the information used in your Executive Meeting discussions regarding the fate of the Para’s and Aides in the District.  This would be the right thing to do in your continuing efforts to be a transparent government organization.  You had your Solicitor argue the matter to the Open Records Committee and they decided you/he did not meet the burden of proof that these records should continue to be shielded from the public.  I encourage you to direct the appropriate parties to take action and release these records immediately …. and not after another 30 days.

If you do not make the choice above, you can continue to fight this citizen of the community by appealing the OOR decision to the Court of Common Pleas.  By choosing this path, you will continue to spend the taxpayer’s money in a continued effort to keep your Executive Session meetings regarding the paras and sides secret from the very community you were elected to serve.

How much taxpayer money has already been expended on legal maneuverings?  Do you want to continue this fight against the engaged citizens of your community by entering into the next level of legal action?  Who is in charge here/who is calling the shots?  We all await your reply.

As Neal says, we do await the Board’s response.  The outsourcing threat for the District’s aides and paraeducators has been omnipresent since 2013. Aides and paraeducators are the only group of District employees not covered by health insurance (and the only group of employees without collective bargaining status). Unfortunately, they have become the pawns of the School Board, the administration and the District solicitor causing some of us to question decisions of the Board’s leadership.  The Board voted in February to outsource full-time aides and paras yet no vendor selection as been made.  A decision is expected on Monday, April 27, 7:30 PM TE School Board meeting at Conestoga High School.

Will the Colligan v. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District outcome have an effect on the Board’s decisions regarding the District’s aides and paras? Was the School Board’s avoidance of ACA compliance and outsourcing of the District’s aides and paraeducators worth the price of an Open Records Law violation? Residents may never know the actual cost of the Board’s secret meetings or the District’s legal costs to keep public information from the public.

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TESD: Here Comes the Sunshine Act and It’s Alright

After researching the issue and speaking with experts, a nonpartisan group of six residents (Ray Clarke, Neal Colligan, Jerry Henige, Barb Jackson, Peggy Layden and myself) believed the School Board deliberations at the TESD February 3, 2015 board meeting violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act. On February 13, 2105 via Certified Mail, a thoughtfully written letter was sent to the School Board members (President Kris Graham, VP Doug Carlson, Virginia Lastner, Scott Dorsey, Karen Cruickshank, Kevin Buraks, Liz Mercogliano, Jim Bruce and Pete Motel) stating our specific concerns regarding their process. (Click here to read February 13 letter to School Board).

As residents, we believed that with quick action at the next TE School Board meeting on February 23, the Board could remedy the process and maintain the trust of the community in the integrity of the District’s governance.

I received the following response from the School Board (via the District Solicitor Ken Roos), in an email Friday afternoon:

Dear Ms. Benson,

As District Solicitor, I respond on behalf of the School Board to the allegations of non-compliance with the Sunshine Act by the School Board contained in the letter you forwarded below. Please forward this response to the other signers of the letter.

At all times, the Board carefully considered its obligations under the Sunshine Act prior to each executive session and Board information meeting conducted with respect to the issue of benefits for District employees in light of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At no time was the Sunshine Act violated. Moreover, the February 3, 2015 Board vote on this fully disclosed agenda item occurred after a lengthy public presentation, public Board discussion and public comment in full compliance with the Sunshine Act.

Kenneth A. Roos
Solicitor, Tredyffrin/Easttown School District

Although the reply is not surprising, I disagree and find it inadequate and dismissive as a response to the well-researched points that were raised in our letter of February 13 to members of the TE School Board.

My observations —

  • It’s unfortunate that these five separate Affordable Care Act discussions were held in private, out of the light of the public eye and the benefit of public deliberation.
  • It’s unfortunate that deliberation regarding an employment policy change for 73 full-time District employees occurred in private and that a resolution simply appeared at the end of the meeting with no advertisement or notification.
  • It’s unfortunate that the misleading ‘ACA Update’ listing on the meeting agenda is referenced [in the above response] as a “fully disclosed agenda item”.
  • It’s unfortunate that 73 dedicated full-time District employees are notified of the School Board’s policy change and outsource decision via a 10:30 PM email following the meeting.
  • It’s unfortunate that the public’s participation is not valued in important policy decisions.

There is no doubt that members of the school board have received many emails and phone calls from residents since the February 3 School Board meeting and my guess is that virtually none of these contacts was in support of their actions.

I cannot imagine that the actions of the TE School Board were not a violation of the Sunshine Law, but I can guarantee that it is a violation of the public trust.

After forwarding the solicitor’s email to the other letter signers, they were asked if they wanted to include their reactions to the District’s response in this post. Here are those responses:

From Ray Clarke:
I am disappointed to receive this denial of a crystal-clear case of a Sunshine Law violation by the individuals on the School Board. However, I suppose it would be a rare lawyer that would advise acknowledging guilt before the proceedings have begun. I am more disappointed that there is no sign that the Board plans to do the right thing and address the community’s widespread concern, in Monday’s meeting or at any other time. Residents have been deliberately shut out of a matter of widespread concern and need to make their feelings clear to the Board.

From Barb Jackson:
Ken Roos is the solicitor in the Lower Merion School District as well as the TE School District. I understand that the Radnor School District has recently hired him. It is well documented that Lower Merion residents are frustrated and angry about transparency issues in their district. I am disappointed that when confronted with legitimate questions about transparency and open communication from community members, the board turns to the solicitor Ken Roos to write this letter, instead of making every attempt possible to be open and transparent and invite community participation and input.

From Neal Colligan:
Really surprised they sent such a short and dismissing response. Our challenge to the Sunshine Act centers on the 5 Exec Meetings concerning this topic…not covered by the list of items allowed in Exec Session. This response does not defend the reason for these meetings only that “the Board considered … at no time did they violate…”. Our challenge to the process in deciding this issue was well thought-out, supported by experts we consulted and well written. The response was a simple quickly written e-mail. The two communications say volumes in their structure.

This is a legal response saying the Board met the minimum technical standards of the Act. Until proven otherwise, it’s a plausible defense. That said, it’s hard for me to think that all members of this elected body agree with the handling of this issue. I’m hopeful at least one member objects to the process in light of the public challenge … whether it can be proved right or wrong. I’m surprised but not shocked … possibly someone elected to represent the community will address the process employed here by stepping out from behind the Solicitor. We’ll see.

I’ve made an Open Records Request asking for the details of these Exec. Sessions not previously disclosed in public communications. We’ll see what that brings. Maybe the process was a full vetting of all alternatives in a thoughtful and complete presentation over several meetings … maybe not. Maybe the decision had been made a long time ago regarding these employees and the ACA and the Exec. Sessions were based on creating a tightly scripted response and explanation to be given at the end of a long public meeting with questionable (although technically compliant) notice to the community. Likely, we may never know … I’ll share what I receive when/if I get a response to my request.

IMPORTANT: The next School Board Meeting is this Monday, February 23 at 7:30 PM, Conestoga High Schools. This is an important issue — please plan to attend the meeting and have your voice heard.

You can email your concerns/questions regarding this issue directly to the TE School Board at schoolboard@tesd.net

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TE School District Avoids ACA Compliance Issue – Reduces Hours and Outsources Aides and Paras

We learned at last night’s school board meeting, that the TE School Board’s way around the Affordable Care Act compliance issue is to reduce employee hours. The ACA does not require the District to provide health insurance to those employees working less than 30 hours a week – so the District’s answer to the Federal law is simple … cut hours of the lowest paid employees.

The District’s quick and dirty solution to avoid ACA compliance issues for 73 full-time District aides and paraeducators is to give them two options – either the full-time employee agrees to work part-time (27 ½ hrs. or less) or they will see their District job outsourced, effective July 1.

Under the leadership of School Board President Kris Graham, the School Board approved the following resolution:

Aides and paras resolution

The Board vote to approve the resolution was 7 – 1.  Republicans Kris Graham, Jim Bruce, Virginia Lastner, Doug Carlson, Peter Motel and Democrats Karen Cruickshank and Kevin Buraks voted in favor of the resolution. Democrat Scott Dorsey opposed the resolution and Republican Liz Mercogliano was recused from voting because her daughter is a part-time aide in the District.  In addition to not voting, Mercogliano was not permitted to comment or ask any questions regarding the Affordable Care Act. Voting is one thing but it is unclear why District solicitor Ken Roos would not permit Mercogliano to ask questions regarding the Affordable Care Act.

The full-time District aides and paras did not receive notice that last night’s school board meeting would include a decision regarding their employment future. Nor was there any attempt to seek public comment or discussion on the ACA compliance issue.  Buried on page 4 of the meeting agenda was the seemingly innocuous ‘ACA Update’.  Other than school board directors and some administrators who would know that ‘ACA Update’ was actually code for outsource the District’s aides and paraeducators.  To be clear, the resolution did not appear in the online agenda materials or on the District website (it was only available to those attending the meeting).

The 73 full-time District aides and paraeducators learned their fate following the Board meeting, through a 10:30 PM email from Personnel Director Jeanne Pocalyko. The aides and the paras must make a decision by May 1 – they can opt to stay a District employee as a part-timer (with reduced hours) or their job is outsourced to an unnamed vendor.  No details about the selection process of a vendor – will the District solicit vendors through an RFP or has the unnamed vendor actually already been decided?

A key component in the computation of PSERS (retirement benefits) is the final average salary of the employee, which is calculated based on an average of earnings during their last three years of employment.  So … say one of these full-time District aides was 57 yrs. old and had planned to retire at age 60. Under the conditions of continued District employment, he or she has a substantial reduction in salary from full-time to part-time status. Because the PSERS calculation of retirement benefits is based on these final three years of employment – with earnings reduced by the District, the employee will see their retirement benefits reduced at time of retirement as a result.

Are there legalities with this resolution – the Board’s decision will affect the future retirement benefits of 73 District employees. Many of the District aides and paras have served the District’s children and their families for years; is this the way the Board rewards their loyalty?

Let’s review – the District can afford administrator bonuses, raises and a Cadillac health plan to the highest paid District employees but rather than provide insurance to the lowest paid employees, the School Board elects to cut the hours of 73 aides and paras, thus reducing their future retirement benefits.**

Ms. Graham’s term on the school board ends in 2015 but she plans to seek reelection.  Will her leadership in the outsourcing of aides and paras influence her endorsement by the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee?  More importantly, will Graham’s decision to outsource influence voters in November.  The terms of Jim Bruce, Liz Mercogliano and Pete Motel also end in 2015. I know that Bruce will not seek re-election but not certain of the plans of Motel and Mercogliano.

____________________________

** According to the PA state retirement system website, the formula for establishing retirement benefits states, “Your final average salary is the highest amount you earned during any “three non-overlapping periods of four consecutive calendar quarters. For most employees, it is the average of your last three years’ salary.”  

The key is that typically the highest paid three years would occur at the end of one’s career.  In the case of the TESD aides and the paraeducators who will go from full-time to part-time hours should they choose to stay employed in the District, their pension will be based on a prior 3-year period.

For further information regarding Pennsylvania state pension, visit the website: http://sers.pa.gov/members-pension-formula.aspx

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Obamacare Delay — Hours Restored for TE School District Employees for 2013-14 School Year!

Exciting news today for the TE School District aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals — their hours have been fully restored for the 2013-14 school year!  This is wonderful news for the affected employees who faced major cuts to their hours — in some cases, as much as twenty-five percent. The restoration of hours of the aides and paras to their previous level is win-win news for the students, their parents and the community!

According to an announcement on the District website this morning (see below), the District solicitor has confirmed that delay of the Affordable Care Act implementation for another year.  Based on this notice, it is interesting that the policy-making decision to restore the employee hours comes from the office of the District solicitor, Ken Roos to the administration. As a result, the District has suspended the June 17 school board decision to reduce the hours of aides and paras to 27.5 hours or below.  This may only be a one-year reprive for the affected employees, and they could find them in the same position a year from now, however … so much can happen in a year.   For examples, the Federal government could change implementation requirements for ACA, specifically as it relates to part-time workers.

With outsourcing of aides and paras off the table for a year and the restoration of their hours, the 2013-14 school year presents an opportunity for the District to fully understand the ACA insurance requirements for their employees.  Rather than reducing the hours of employees to avoid Federal compliance laws, perhaps alternatives can be explored to provide affordable health care to all District employees.  In an earlier post, I mentioned the idea of a citizens group to review Obamacare and the compliance requirements  during the 2013-14 school year.   As we have learned, the topic is confusing and needs further study — use the ACA transition period and learn more on the topic.  As more information becomes available from Washington,the Board will be better positioned to work towards compliance for the following year.

School Board Suspends June 17, 2013 Resolution to Limit Hours of Current Aides, Para-Educators and Paraprofessionals to 27.5 or Less

The hours for District aides and paraeducators will not be limited to 27.5 hours per week for the 2013-2014 school year as was previously announced. The District Solicitor has confirmed that the Treasury Department has delayed the implementation of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to the Board’s June 17 resolution directing the administration to schedule all District part-time employees, such as aides and paraeducators, for no more than 27.5 hours per week for the 2013-2014 school year to ensure that they meet the definition of part-time employees pursuant to the Affordable Care Act for the 2014-2015 school year. Pursuant to the Board’s subsequent July 8 resolution, the administration is now authorized to suspend the implementation of the Board’s June 17 resolution.
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Reminder: Special TE School Board Meeting Tonight

This is a reminder that the TE School Board will hold a special meeting tonight, Monday, July 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm in the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District Administration Offices at 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700 in Wayne, to discuss the Vanguard Assessment Appeal Resolution . Click here for agenda.

Beyond the resolution of the Vanguard appeal,  “Other Recommended Action” is listed on the agenda.  As we all now know, the Obama administration has just announced that it will delay Obamacare requirement for businesses (school districts) with more than 50 workers provide health insurance by one year.  The Treasury Department has announced that the administration will start enforcing the mandate in 2015, rather than January 1, 2014 in order “to give business more time to prepare.”

Based on the recent news from Washington, I am hopeful that our school board will join other school districts across the country and reconsider their earlier decision.  There is no longer any reason to decrease the hours of District employees from full-time to part-time for the 2013-14 year.   The Board members regularly state the importance of all employees to the District — tonight’s meeting will offer an opportunity for them to show us.  Here’s to reversing course and re-instituting the hours of the aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals.

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Obamacare healthcare compliance delayed a year — No need to cut the hours of TE employees!

Important Update:

Special School Board Meeting, Monday, July 9, 7 PM  Tredyffrin/Easttown School District Administration Offices at 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700, Wayne.

With Obamacare requirement for businesses with 50 or more employees delayed a year, Monday’s School Board meeting presents an opportunity for the  Board to reverse its earlier decision and restore the hours of all aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals.  The Board has repeatedly said that these employees matter … now it’s up them to show us by reinstating their hours.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

The Obama administration has just announced that it will delay Obamacare requirement that businesses (school districts) with more than 50 workers provide health insurance by one year.  The Treasury Department has announced that the administration will start enforcing the mandate in 2015, rather than January 1, 2014 in order “to give business more time to prepare.” 

Here’s hoping that the Tredyffrin Easttown School District will turn the ship around and make things right for the aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals.  Mark Mazur, assistant secretary for tax policy at the Treasury Department said in a statement, “During this 2014 transition period, we strongly encourage employers to maintain or expand health coverage.”  What does this mean to the TE School District? Answer:  There’s no longer any reason to decrease the hours of District employees from full-time to part-time for the 2013/14 school year!

The TE School Board is not scheduled to meet again until August, which is after the letters from the administration to the affected employees, are sent.  There needs to be an immediate brake put on this process of cutting hours of aides and paras in TE School District – the 2013-14 school year will not be affected by Obamacare healthcare requirement.  The School Board and the administration needs to do what is right for the employees and the children of this District.  They need to reverse course and reinstate the hours of all aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals.  Plus, they do not have to offer health insurance to these employees, at this point.  Everything can remain status quo, just make the affected employees whole by giving their hours back over 27.5 hours.

This situation presents a wonderful opportunity for the District to appoint a citizens group to review Obamacare and the compliance requirements  during the 2013/14 school year.   As we have learned, the topic is confusing and needs further study.  As Mazur stated, lets all use 2014 as a transition period and learn more on the topic.  As more information becomes available from Washington, I am certain that the School Board will be better positioned to work towards compliance for the following year.  

If the employees are as important to the District as the School Board members say, there should be an easy solution to this situation.  Let’s put the cut of hours of District employees ‘on hold’ until we have more answers.  Please School Board, join the community in doing the right thing!

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Clarification of TE School Board receipt of outsourcing alternative strategy

This post is offered as clarification regarding the ‘outsourcing alternative’ strategy that Neal Colligan prepared for the TE School Board’s consideration and the receipt of the document . On June 4, Neal sent the following email to the school board at the District email address (schoolboard@tesd.net ) with the outsourcing alternative document attached. (I was copied on the email).  As previously explained on Community Matters, the document represented the  collaborative effort between community members, District aides and paraeducators and, health care experts. (You can find a copy of the document at the end of this post).

As you know, a group of community members, along with many of the Paraeducators working in the district have been working on an alternative to the outsourcing strategy discussed at the May 13, 2013 Board Meeting.  Attached is the result of these efforts.  The many citizens of our community who have supported this initiative ask that the Board please seriously consider what we propose.  In essence, we urge you to comply with the letter of the Affordable Care Act and keep these several hundred jobs in the District.  We believe that this can be accomplished in a fiscally responsible and budget positive manner as you will see.

To be clear, we do NOT represent this employee group.  They, like us, are members of our community searching for solutions to a community issue.  Unlike those of us who have volunteered to help, they will be directly impacted by your decisions on this matter.  Their input was critical in considering the design of this strategy.  Many of these District employees are living in fear of workplace retribution for being a part of this effort.  As such, we will not attach their names to this conceptual plan.

Finally, it is a conceptual plan only.  As we did not possess all of the data necessary, we used estimates where necessary.  You will not be limited by this lack of information.  As in any conceptual plan, there will be issues to work out in the implementation process if you choose this alternative.  We believe that this concept can produce a viable alternative to your current strategy that is good for the District employees, taxpayers and the community at large.  As engaged members of the community, we are prepared to help in any way we can as you search for a solution to this issue.

Please accept this in the spirit it is intended…as an attempt to help.  Let me know when you receive as I can send this attachment in another format if necessary.

Neal Colligan

Rather than a response from the School Board to this email, a receipt from business manager Art McDonnell was sent to Neal.  It was unclear whether the Board received the information.  Because the outsourcing alternative document was to be publicly distributed on June 5, and because it was important that each Board member receive a copy in advance, I forwarded Neal’s email (with accompanying outsourcing strategy document) to each School Board’s personal email address (Neal was copied on the email) with the following message:

All –

I am re-sending Neal’s email and attached ‘Outsource Alternative’ on the outside possibility that you may not have received it.

Over the course of the last 3 weeks, we have met with many of the aides, paras and substitute teachers and I’m certain that as Board members, you share our interest in saving these District employees and their jobs.  It is impossible to fully measure the value that this group of employees brings to the District’s children and their families daily. Understanding the current economic requirements of the school district, I hope that you will give Neal’s plan the complete review that it deserves.  We both believe that the aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers are valuable assets to this community and their jobs need to be preserved, not outsourced.

Please let Neal or me know if there is anything we can do to help, as you review the various options.

Kind regards,

Pattye Benson

Following the re-sending of the email with the attached outsourcing alternative document, I received no notice of receipt from any Board member nor was there any response from the District.  As a result, it remained unclear if individual Board members had received the information.  A couple of days after sending the initial email, Neal did receive a personal email from Anne Crowley (no other Board member or myself were included on the email) stating that she would review the information he had sent regarding the alternative proposal. She went on to thank him for his “attendance, comments and thoughtful participation regarding school board issues.”

Other than the private email from Anne Crowley to Neal, I am unaware of no other school board or District communication to Neil in regards to the outsourcing alternative document – official or otherwise. Neal received no Board ‘thank you’ for his efforts as was stated at the Finance Committee meeting.  And for the record, there was no response to my email (above) by any School Board member. I hope that this clarifies the matter and I apologize for any misunderstanding.

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Click here to read the outsourcing alternative strategy as provided by Neal Colligan.

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TE School District response to the Affordable Care Act — Reduce employee hours

Now that the dust begins to settle on yesterday’s announcement that the TE School District will not outsource jobs of aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers for the 2013/14 school year, residents and employees are again left with more questions than answers.

My initial reaction upon hearing the news that 260 District jobs were saved from outsourcing was enthusiastic;  but now in hindsight, I admit it was probably premature.  I was thrilled for this group of employees, believing that the School Board had finally recognized their value and commitment to the District’s children, in making the choice not to outsource.

However, after spending a few minutes reviewing Burak’s email to the employees in addition to phone calls and emails, the celebratory mood quickly changed. The statement reads that the “District will restructure the work hours” of the employee to comply with the Affordable Care Act and “does not result in new costs or penalties to the District”.

What we learn from Burak’s words is that the School Board’s way around the ACA compliance issue it to reduce employee hours. The ACA does not require the District to provide health insurance to those employees working less than 30 hours a week – so the District’s answer to the Federal law is simple… cut hours. TESD is the only school district in the area that does not provide health insurance for their employees – Great Valley, Radnor and Lower Merion school districts all offer healthcare coverage to all their employees.

Does the School Board want the community to feel good about what they are doing?  Is this an acceptable solution? Where is the plan for the future … the vision … leadership?

Keeping healthcare coverage out of the hands of the least paid and oh, by the way, we are reducing your hours to comply with Federal law.  This same Board gave the District administrators salary increases and bonuses and in less than 4 months is now cutting the hours of aides and paras.  But don’t forget the Board also gave this group of employees a 1% raise. If you are an employee making $10/hr., with your 1% raise you will now make $10.10/hr.  However, don’t get too excited District employee because we now must reduce your hours below 30 to avoid offering you health insurance.

Let’s review; the Board gives bonuses, raises and a Cadillac health plan to the highest paid District employees but provides no insurance coverage and cuts the hours of the least paid District employees.  Seems hardly fair or equitable.

I had a phone call last night from a District aide who works 37 hours a week and cannot afford for her hours to drop below 30 hours.  Her family’s health insurance is covered through her husband’s employer and they do not need coverage from the District.  Her question to me — would she still be able to work the 37 hours a week in the District because she does not need the health insurance from the District.  Of course, I could offer no definitive response.  What would she have to do, sign an agreement with the District saying she wouldn’t take the health insurance if they offered it to her?  This aide also wanted to know ‘when’ this matter would be resolved, what was the timeline for knowing if she would have 29 hours or 37 hours?  Again, I don’t know and School Board President Buraks offered no details, except to enjoy the summer and he’d see them in the Fall.

I recall previous suggestions about reducing the hours below 30 hours so that the District would not have to offer health care coverage and comply with the Affordable Care Act. Dan Waters response was immediately negative to that suggestion, stating that the kids would suffer with the reduction in hours.  Yet magically a month later, are we now to believe that the kids will no longer be in danger with a reduction in the hours of the aides and paras?

Beyond the personal effect on the employee in reduction of hours, how exactly does the District expect to make up the discrepancy and provide adequate coverage for the students?  Is the plan to hire additional part-time employees to make up the missing hours? If so, at what cost?

Addressing the District aides, paras and substitute teachers in his email, Buraks states, “… we greatly value and appreciate the contributions that you make to our students and staff every day.” – To that, I’d say that you certainly have an odd way of showing it!

Bottom line … there are many unanswered questions and the employees and the residents deserve answers.  Finance Committee meeting is Monday, June 10, 7 PM at Conestoga High School.  I hope that the Board and the administration is prepared to respond to the questions.

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