Pete DePiano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete DePiano
President, TEEA

______________________________________________________

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

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

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

Struggling to understand the offer that was made by the teachers union, TEEA to the T/E School Board, I sent an email to Pete DePiano, asking for clarification. Below is my email and DePiano’s official response. I accept that because the offer was rejected by the school board, the original offer is now somewhat a moot point.

We understand that other school districts across Pennsylvania are struggling with similar budget shortfalls as the T/E School District and we read of other school boards accepting ‘salary freeze’ offers from their teachers.  The confusion over the definition of salary freeze and pay increase waiver has led many in the public to question why the T/E school board did not accept TEEA’s offer. If nothing else, the continued dialogue on Community Matters is helping us to better understand the nuances that exist in the discussion.

It certainly is not (nor has it ever been) my attempt to create any additional friction between the teachers and the school board.  I, like many in the community, am struggling to understand the school district budget, the strategies to fund the budget shortfall and what role the teacher’s contract may play in those discussions.  I want there to exist a good working relationship between TEEA and TESD . . .  feeling that if the communication between these two groups remains open and honest, the outcome will be all the better for the kids (and the taxpayers).

My email to Pete DePiano, TEEA president:

There continues to be misunderstanding of TEEA’s salary freeze offer. Although I asked you to clarify the salary freeze offer and I thought that I understood, maybe I’m the one who is confused. Here’s a very simple scenario and please tell me if my understanding is correct:

You have a 3-year contract with 3 steps:
Year 1: Step 1
Year 2: Step 2
Year 3: Step 3
Teachers accept a pay freeze for Year 3

As a result:
Year 1: Step 1
Year 2: Step 2
Year 3: Step 2
Year 4: Step 3

Under the ‘pay freeze’, teachers receive the pay raise that they were to receive in Year 3 in Year 4. The 3-year contract is extended to 4 years. The teachers receive 3 steps (raises) in 4 years. Is this correct interpretation – please comment. I want the public (and myself) to fully understand what TEEA offered to TESD.

Response from Pete DePiano, TEEA president:

“Thank you for the opportunity to clarify:

The offer [though a moot point now] was a step freeze for one year, then a continuation of the final year in 2012-13. There was NEVER any suggestion of a “double” step move.

Your example of step 1, step 2, step 2, step 3 is the correct interpretation.”

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T/E Teacher’s Salary Freeze Offer . . . Headlines on the Debate Continue in Main Line Suburban newspaper

This week’s edition of the Main Line Suburban, www.mainlinemedianews.com features the following news story by Alan Thomas.  Thomas attended the T/E Finance Committee meeting on Monday night and weighs in on the confusion surrounding the teachers offer of a ‘salary freeze’ for next year versus the school boards requested ‘pay increase waiver’. 

If you take the time to read the many comments posted on Community Matters over the last few days, it is apparent that confusion remains over what the teachers union is offering to the school district in savings next year as compared to what the school board thinks that the teachers are offering.  I am hopeful that there will be further clarification in the next day or so on the offer.  Right now, I feel that we are comparing ‘apples to oranges’ when we look at the teacher offer and without some clarification, I don’t see how we get on the same page.

T/E budget workshop discusses teachers’ pay-freeze offer, board’s rejection and sports/activity fees
By Alan Thomas
Main Line Media News
Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board’s finance committee held Budget Workshop II Monday night to discuss sports and activities fees. The committee put more time and effort, it seemed, into explaining how a pay waiver is different from a pay freeze, perhaps in light of the disclosure that the Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association had communicated an offer to accept a one-year pay freeze in a letter dated April 15. It was an offer that the board later rejected but apparently had not disclosed to the public in a timely fashion.

The committee’s if not the board’s explanation of the letter may have come as the result of an April 29 Community Matters blog entry titled “T/E Teachers Union Offers Salary Freeze … TESD Rejects Offer, Wants Pay-Increase Waiver” in which blogger Pattye Benson told her readers that “there was an ‘offer’ from the teachers’ union and a ‘rejection’ from the school district … there is confusion between a salary ‘freeze’ and a salary ‘waiver’ … [and] the school board intends to clarify those distinctions.”

Community Matters is part of Main Line Media News’ Community Media Lab at www.mainlinemedianews.com .

The apparent lack of transparency was explained by board member Deborah Bookstaber as a matter in which “the board didn’t mention the letter [previously] because there was no time to discuss it.” Her explanation answered TEEA president Peter DiPiano, who had addressed the committee to ask for a clarification about when an executive session, during which time the letter might have been discussed, had been held.

Committee chair Kevin Mahoney later explained the difference between the two pay-related terms: with a pay waiver in place, there would be “no increase [in salary] next year, no extension for either [TEEA or TENIG] of the contracts, [and that the TEEA freeze offer was a] pay freeze” with raises deferred while step progression for the union members would continue to the time when the postponed raises would be resumed. The pay waiver being proposed by the board would effectively end the teachers’ contract and erase the final year’s raises and teachers’ vertical movement on the district salary scale.

District business manager Art McDonnell used several graphics to show that, over five years, the waiver plan would save the district a lot more money, around $15 million by 2015-16, assuming that salaries remained flat until then.

All non-union district employees are not getting raises. Only TEEA and TENIG, the non-instructional employees union whose contract runs a year beyond the teachers’, would be affected by either a pay waiver or a freeze.

Board president Karen Cruickshank also explained to the audience that “Mr. DiPiano has been in conversation with us. We will talk with the union and find something that works.”

And board member Richard Brake further clarified the point, addressing McDonnell, that “no advancement on the salary scale is the majority of the difference [between the waiver and the freeze].”

A community member, stressing state legislators’ part in the present overall school-budget crisis, wanted to remind people that Chester County’s Home and School Associations are sponsoring a legislator discussion and question-and-answer session concerning the current critical issues involving public education Thursday, May 5, 7-9 p.m. at West Chester East High School, 450 Ellis Lane, West Chester.

During other related discussion about the agenda, the earned income tax appeared briefly again, with the board loosely agreeing to make it a part of budget discussions for 2011-12. Any EIT must be approved by a ballot referendum.

Other community members’ comments ranged from a plea for “no more cuts or changes [in educational programs]” to an observation that “there is no way to remedy the pension situation.”

In the end the committee agreed to plug a middle-of-the-road sports and/or activity fee “place-holder” worth $70,000 into the budget process in order to pass the committee-approved budget to the next regular board meeting May 9 with the general fund designated as the solution to closing the more than $3-million gap. That and more can still change of course as the budget continues on its way to final approval June 28.

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T/E Teachers Union Offers Salary Freeze . . . TESD Rejects Offer, Wants Pay Increase Waiver

Tredyffrin Easttown School District is struggling with the budget crisis much as other school districts across the state and the country.  Serious budget issues escalated last month with Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget, which contained massive cuts to public education funding. 

School districts nationwide are looking for ways to balance their budgets in the face of looming deficits. Often budget discussions focus on teacher unions, which quickly turn into a debate about whether they have given too much or not enough at a time when school dollars are scarce.  There are those that vilify teacher unions as the cause of escalating school district budgets, claiming that their pensions, health care coverage and guaranteed salary raises have increased the property taxes of those who pay the teacher salaries.  Counter to this attitude are public school teachers and their supporters who claim that politicians are looking to balance budgets on their backs.

School districts and the teachers unions are vying to make their individual cases to the public.  As budget discussions become more heated, often times the divide increases between the two sides. School district officials are looking to balance their budgets and teacher union leaders struggle to protect the rights of their workers. There are always two sides to a story but there is a very important third party, whose rights are often overlooked in the debate . . . the taxpayer.

“ . . . It is well understood that this school district [TESD] like so many in this country is facing a financial crisis.  It would appear that this is the time for all of us to work together instead of against each other.  As a good first step, I would propose that the information disseminated be supported.  Unfortunately, when situations reach a crisis level within an organization (whether it is the school district, local government, corporations, etc) rumor mills explode and before you know it, things are out of control.”  Community Matters, January 18, 2010

I wrote these words 15 months ago in the post, ‘Is the Teacher Union aiding in the Fact vs. Fiction Component of the TESD Budget Crisis” and they are just as important today.

I believe in the value of transparency and availability of information from government to the public.  To understand a situation and to make an informed decision requires knowing the truth.  As I said in January 2010, “. . . when situations reach a crisis level . . . rumor mills explode and before you know it, things are out of control.”  Nothing could be closer to the truth. 

Residents in the T/E School District were told by the T/E School Board that letters (dated April 6, 2011) had gone to the two district unions, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association, TEEA the teachers union and Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group, TENIG.  According to the school board, the letters could not be made public for legal reasons. It is my understanding that the school board letters contained a request to both unions for a pay increase waiver for next year.  If you recall, Gov. Corbett had suggested that teachers unions in Pennsylvania encourage their members to take a salary ‘freeze’ for next year to help their budget shortfalls. Several residents have contacted me and some have spoken up at the school board meetings to ask about the TESD letters, and if there has been a response from either union.  With hands apparently tied legally, our school board was not able to provide much detail.  I was told last week that members of TENIG were considering some kind of ‘give-back’ offer to the district and were to vote yesterday on their offer.

Until earlier this week, I assumed that the teachers union was not considering any type of ‘give-back’ offer or concession. My impression from attending district budget, finance and school board meetings was certainly that no response (or offer) had been received by the district.  During the course of this week however, I have had phone calls and emails from numerous sources suggesting that a salary freeze offer was made to the T/E School Board but that the offer was rejected.  To clarify, these sources of information were not TEEA union leadership. 

Clearly confused but believing in the publics ‘right to know’, yesterday I contacted via email the members of the TESD school board and Pete DePiano, TEEA union president. The following email was sent to the School Board and DePiano asking for clarification:

Dear __________

I am in receipt of information that indicates, among other things, that there was an offer made from Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association teachers union for salary freezes for next year, in advance of the negotiations for the next contract.  According to several sources, the TESD school board rejected the teacher union’s salary freeze offer, citing that such an offer would only be acceptable if the current teacher’s contract were opened and renegotiated. 

I am working on an article on this topic and I am affording you the opportunity to comment on this matter.  If you wish to comment, I will need the information within 24 hours, by 10 AM Friday, April 29, 2011. 

Kind regards,
Pattye Benson

From the President of TEEA, I received the following email response:

On April 15, 2011, TEEA formally offered a salary schedule pay freeze to the T/E Board of School Directors.  The Board formally has responded to TEEA that they cannot accept the offer.  As the T/E School District prepares to finalize its budget for 2011-12, TEEA will continue to work diligently with its members behind the scenes to attempt to reach another cost savings offer.

Pete DePiano
TEEA President

In response to my request, I received the following response from T/E School Board President Karen Cruickshank:

Dear Pattye:

Many thanks for contacting the T/E School Board about a teacher offer in T/E.  As you know we are in a significant budget crisis, and have asked both of our unions in a sense of shared sacrifice to participate in a pay waiver.  At our Monday night Finance meeting we will provide a detailed presentation about why we can not accept a pay freeze but would welcome a pay waiver.  I would encourage you to attend the meeting so that you can see the entire presentation and ask any questions that you have of the board.

Many thanks for your commitment to providing information to our community. 

Most sincerely,
Karen Cruickshank
T/E School Board President

Karen Cruickshank sent a follow-up email:

Dear Pattye:

In regards to your request for information about union offers in the T/E School District, the TESD School Board does not negotiate in public.  We continue to remain in close communications with both of our unions.  

As I did say in my earlier e-mail there is confusion over the difference between a pay waiver and a pay freeze, and we will clearly point out the financial differences between them at our Monday night Finance Committee meeting.  The Board as always will be most happy to take questions from the community at the meeting.

Most sincerely,
Karen Cruickshank
T/E School Board President

Although we learn from these responses that there was an ‘offer’ from the teachers union and a ‘rejection’ from the school district, what did the offer letter and the rejection letter actually say . . . ? It is obvious there is confusion between a salary ‘freeze’ and a salary ‘waiver’ and it is noted from both of Cruikshank’s responses, that the school board intends to clarify those distinctions at TESD’s upcoming Finance Committee meeting on Monday night.

I did not receive copies of either the TEEA letter to T/E School Board or the letter from the T/E School Board to TEEA.  However, with a bit of research online I was able to track down both letters.  The letters are available online (and therefore public) and can be found at www.teeacher.org .

In addition to the TEEA and TESD letters, there is a note to the teachers from DePiano:

To all TEEA members:

Below are two letters. The first, dated April 15, 2011, is TEEA’s response to the TE School Board’s request that we waive the fourth year of our contract. It consists of a refusal to waive the contract and an offer to freeze the contract for one year and extend it.

The second, dated April 27, 2011, is the District’s response, a refusal to consider any agreement that involves extending our contract.

To clarify: A waiver would cancel the fourth year of our collectively bargained contract and put us into immediate negotiations for a new agreement. A freeze is essentially a one-year pause. We would work in 2011-2012 under the same provisions we have this year. We would then realize the negotiated final year of our contract in 2012-2013.

Yours in solidarity,

Pete DePiano, President TEEA

You will note that the TEEA offer letter dated April 15, 2011 to TESD states in part,

“ . . . In an attempt to prevent more painful cuts from having to occur (including program cuts, increases in class size, or an outsourcing of the custodial staff) yet also honor the contract that was negotiated in good faith, the Representative Council of TEEA has authorized a salary freeze proposal for the Board’s consideration.  This includes a salary step freeze for 2011-12 based on the current 2010-11 salary schedule, with the final year of the originally bargained contract realized in 2012-13, including step movement and salaries.  It provides PSERs clemency to staff that will be retiring next year, and maintains status quo on all other provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. . . . I estimate this proposal will generate over $2.5 million in savings for FY 2011-12. . . “

The T/E School District response of April 27, 2011 rejected the TEEA offer stating that their letter of April 6, 2011 called upon the unions to accept a

“. . . one-year pay increase waiver as their contribution to the shared sacrifice to support T/E students.  After June 30, 2011, a waiver indicates that there will be no movement vertically or horizontally on the matrix for the 2011-12 school year.  The settlement of the new bargaining agreement effective July 1, 2012 will direct the placement of staff on the salary matrix for future years.  A one-year pay increase waiver would waive contract raises for the two unions’ employees for the 2011-12 school year and would result in a cost savings of approximately $3,000,000. . . “

Again, as I said more than a year ago, “rumor mills explode” and there is only one way to correct misinformation and that is with the facts. 

The budget crisis facing the school district and our community should not be about ‘picking sides’ . . . it should be about providing transparency, factual information and letting the public draw their own conclusions.

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