teacher contract negotiations

T/E Teachers Union Turns on the Transparency Lights in Contract Negotiations

The teachers union in T/E school district, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA), provided an update on the negotiation process late last night.  The basis for the union’s email was to deliver what the community members have been asking for from TEEA and the school board — transparency.

This latest press release from TEEA is comprehensive … and offers us ‘personal and up close’ information from the union’s perspective on the contract negotiation process.  (Something that many of us have asked for, but told was not possible during the ongoing contract negotiations).  With this latest communication, TEEA is laying the gauntlet down, providing us with documents that range from copies of their initial contract proposal, the District’s response to an explanation of the grievances.

On April 25, I wrote a post titled, ‘Seeking Transparency in TESD Teacher Contract Negotiations’ in which I called for transparency in the negotiations, suggesting that both sides ‘open the door’ and let the sunlight shine in.  Because of the secrecy surrounding the negotiations, even the discussion on Community Matters has turned to conjecture; a world of ‘he said, she said’, which is never good.  Some will suggest that this latest attempt on the part of TEEA to be more transparent and inform the public is nothing more than a ‘tactic’ to win favorable support from the parents, students and taxpayers.   I will respectfully disagree.

Regardless if you agree or disagree with the contents of the teacher’s proposal, clearly TEEA now sees the merits of the community hearing the facts.  To date, misinformation was perpetuated and the line between fact and fiction blurred, with the public left to fill in the gaps between the partial or half-truths from either side.  The teachers’ contract accounts for a significant part of the District’s budget and strongly influences the financial ‘bottom line’.

To read TEEA’s latest press release, ‘T/E Teachers, Counselors, and Nurses Offer Opinion on the Negotiation Process’, click here.

Click here to read the teacher’s union initial proposal dated January 9, which TEEA believed to be a starting point for discussion.  Their offer contained a one-year salary freeze for all teachers, second year freeze for those at master level.  According to the union, they also ‘made repeated verbal commitments to discuss changes to healthcare benefits’.

The School Board rejected the teacher’s initial proposal on February 9.  Click here to read the District’s 113-page counter-offer to TEEA.  According to TEEA, this is the only offer to date made by the Board. If you recall, several teachers had commented on Community Matters regarding the District’s offer, claiming that family health coverage was not included in the District’s offer.  Many readers questioned whether the elimination of family health coverage was in the counter-proposal; suggesting that unless the public saw it ‘in writing’, the information may not be accurate.

We can now read the District’s counter-proposal and it appears clear to me that option for teachers to insure their spouses and/or children is indeed eliminated, as is dental and vision coverage.  I do not see how it can be interpreted differently – there appears this offer has no option for teachers to have family health insurance coverage through their employment in TESD.  In addition, to be clear, the District’s counter-proposal includes no option for the teachers ‘to buy’ health insurance for their families.

In their latest press release, TEEA goes on to detail other areas the District counter-proposal seeks to eliminate or reduce, some of which could be viewed as reasonable given the economic climate and the severity of the budget situation – example, reducing the teacher’s stipend rates on mentor programs and homebound instruction. The District in their counter-offer seeks to freeze teacher salaries indefinitely – given the economics, although not satisfactory, the school board probably feels they have little option.

TEEA revised their initial proposal (click here) and presented it to the District on February 29.  The District responded that they were unwilling to discuss the health care benefits.  According to TEEA, it was shortly afterward that the ‘demotions of professional staff for economic reasons’ became a viable budget strategy option. As a result, the public has watched the circus-like atmosphere that now ensues at school board and finance committee meetings which has included students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.  Additionally, the last couple of meetings have included the District releasing information that TEEA has filed two grievances, leaving some of us with questions.  The union addresses the grievance issue in a FAQ, click here to read.

As I have repeatedly stated in other posts, making the teacher contract negotiation process transparent for the public would help the community understand how our children will be taught and how our tax dollars will be invested.  The relationship between teachers and school administrators is an important element in what shapes this school district.  There is no better way to understand this relationship than to observe the contract negotiation process.  However, based on the way this process has worked to date, to suggest that the current relationship between the teachers, administrators and school board is ‘strained’ would be quite an understatement!

With the release of this information from the teachers union, I believe that TEEA is attempting to shine light and bring transparency to the contract negotiation process. However, for the transparency process to be successful, requires open dialogue from both sides.

Is it possible that the District and TEEA can put the needs of the students and families first and at the same time, honor the public investment of taxpayers?  Can both sides be more open about the negotiation process – talk truths to each other and to the public?

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With $32 Million in Fund Balance, How Can TESD Consider Demotion?

Here’s the question for the day:

Why is it that Tredyffrin Easttown School District has the largest fund balance in the state ($32 million) and is the only school district giving serious discussion to ‘demotion of professional staff’ to fund the $1.5 million budget deficit?

There are those that suggest that the idea of demotion is not a serious consideration but simply a contract-negotiating tactic to use against the teachers union.  If I understand the tactic, the school district keeps the teacher demotion idea afloat in hopes that the teachers union (TEEA) will offer reduction in health care benefits in exchange for no demotion.  Looking at the calendar, here is what I do not understand — The School Board has to vote on the 2012-13 budget at the June 11th school board meeting but … the teachers’ contract does not expire until June 30th.  Presumably, based on the calendar, our school board members will need to make the demotion decision prior to knowing the contents of TEEA’s contract offer.

I don’t claim to know what ‘magic’ amount our school district should have in reserve, but it would appear that with $32 million of taxpayer dollars, the District could afford to use $1.5 million to fund the budget gap.  As I said in a comment on Community Matters, Haverford School District voted to use $1.3 million from their fund balance to fund next year’s budget gap – but unlike TESD, they only had $2.6 million on which to draw!  Their school board decided to take 50 percent of their reserves to fund the budget shortfall.  The Haverford School Board choose this approach to funding the gap versus demotion of teachers.  I know, I know, some will say that TESD is being fiscally responsible by preserving the $32 million fund balance, and yes, I realize that the District’s pension obligation grows significantly in the years to come, but still … ?

Regardless of motives, is the ‘demotion talk’ from the School Board, the right direction the discussion should be going? According to the agenda for Monday’s Finance Committee, the two big ticket items that still remain as budget strategies are $640K for demotion of professional staff for economic reasons and $345K for increasing class size one at each level.  My guess is that there will be a decision at this meeting whether or not to recommend these strategies to the entire School Board.

The Finance Committee agenda defines demotion as a “reassignment to a position which has less authority, prestige or salary.” (PA School Code).  “Demotions are permitted by the School Code for economic necessity.  Seniority provisions do not apply to demotions for economic necessity.  The right to demote employees is an inherent management right and does not need to be bargained.  The TEEA contract is silent on demotion.”  Under ‘considerations’ of demotion, the agenda lists “retention of existing trained staff could become more challenging, and (2) “Introduces a competitive disadvantage to the recruitment and hiring process.”

This afternoon, I received the latest communication from TEEA – titled, “Demotions Will Harm T/E Students, Community; Residents Asked To Share Voice”.  Although some reading Community Matters may suggest that demotion of professional staff is nothing more than a negotiating ploy on the part of the union, it certainly appears that the teachers are taking  the demotion strategy seriously, stating in their latest press release “ … any minimal and short-term economic benefits produced will be offset by greater and more serious long-term costs. If the Board decides to follow through on teacher demotions, we ask—what is the true price? How will these demotions affect our students, our schools, and the T/E community?…”  TEEA echoes my question in regards to other school districts, declaring that “… T/E is currently the only district in the Main Line area considering teacher demotion as a cost-effective strategy…”  I have spoken with several District teachers and they are concerned and consider ‘demotion’ a serious District strategy, not just a negotiating ploy.  It will be very curious to see if the Finance Committee is met with a similar audience of teachers, parents, students, taxpayers were at the last school board meeting.

For the record, I absolutely believe that members of TEEA understand that their health care benefits cannot remain at the same level and, further I think that their contract offer will be reflective of that understanding. On the topic of health care benefits, I do have a question that maybe someone can answer.  The administration is not part of TEEA but I have never heard their health care benefits discussed.  Do they have the same insurance plan as the teachers?  And if so, will the administrators health care benefits change when presumably, the teacher’s plan changes?  Anyone know the answer?

I found the following comment for Community Matters apropos to this post.   Rather than see the comment, I think the commenter’s sentiments are reflective of what many in the community are feeling:

From bluedog1776:

I would rather procrastinate with using a small amount of reserve money than decimate our teaching staff.

I would rather use a small amount of reserve fund money than lay off our most experienced teachers.

I would rather use the taxpayer’s money: THE RESERVE FUND, than ask our non-profits to chip in.

I would rather use some of the reserve fund than cavalierly dismiss employees who have worked for the District for many, many years.

I would rather do what Haverford School District is doing or what our School District has done in the past, which is to use some of the Reserve Fund, some tax increases, and some employee give backs, than make a rash ridiculous decision that is really about destroying the teacher’s union than about great fiscal principles.

The same five people on this blog hash over the same tired arguments over and over again. Would love to hear from more people. But I guess they are reluctant to contribute because they just don’t have the same level of experience/knowledge/brilliance as you.

The problem with many of the postings on this blog is the groupthink that persists. It would be interesting to have a real debate with real analysis.

The District has done a heckuva job (great job Sultanik PR firm) convincing most of the public that they don’t have a nickel in the bank. If we had a real newspaper asking real questions; if we had more community members come out and ask more questions; the truth would come out.

It is an absolutely unbelievable that a District with $32 million in the bank has convinced the public that we are Chester Upland. Since when? It is demeaning to this community that the powers that be have made TE out to be broke and near bankruptcy. Since when?

The board has done a good job cutting expenses, and the teachers need to pay more for health care; but we should NOT destroy this school district because we have a few people who want to take an ideological stand on not using the fund balance.

I don’t want my property values to plummet because TE schools go down the tubes as we cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.

I watched the school board meeting on TV and saw the woman at the end who revealed that it is not that the school district CAN’T use the fund balance; they have CHOSEN not to use the fund balance by passing a policy to put it in a lock box.

UNLOCK THE BOX! Stop this nonsense! Stop attacking the teachers! Work with the teachers!

I agree with Pattye. I elected YOU school board members, to represent me. DO YOUR JOB! Get to the table. Settle this contract. Stop making the teachers the enemy.

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Demotion & Class Size Remain as T/E Budget Strategies … Teacher Union Weighs In

Opening a door that most school districts would prefer to keep closed.

Teacher contract negotiations have traditionally been cloaked in secrecy. In my perfect world of transparency, school districts would open the teacher contract talks to the public. Letting the sunlight shine on the negotiations, parents, taxpayers and employees would benefit by seeing the open dialogue around our district’s priorities. Open negotiations would hold the District and TEEA (Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association) accountable for how they are dealing with the contract negotiations. I know, I know, not possible . . . it will never happen.

Those involved in teacher contract negotiations would probably claim that critical issues such as teacher pay, benefits, and overall responsibilities should fall within the client-lawyer privilege of privacy. I am sure that those at the ‘negotiating table’ would say that the talks should be private in order to foster a more open and frank discussion among the participants. In the case of TESD, this seems twisted logic at best. Why do I say this? Reason … There is no representation by the T/E school board at the negotiation table. As a result, it is a bit like ‘whisper down the lane’.

The information and updates that the school board receives are not through first hand attendance at the meetings, but rather from the four members of the negotiating team. Three members of the team are employees of the District (Superintendent Dan Waters, Director of Personnel Sue Tiede and Business Manager Art McDonnell) and the fourth member of the team is professional negotiator, attorney Jeffrey Sultanik.

I don’t know how the rest of the taxpayers feel about the ‘no seat at the table’ by an elected school board member issue, but I stand by my original view. The school directors were elected by, and are responsible to, the people of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District. I do not think it is fair to the taxpayers and the teacher contract process that there is not at least one school board member participating directly on the negotiation team.

Based on the many comments received in regards to the teacher contract negotiations and budget strategies, I reached out to TEEA president Laura Whittaker. Stating in my email to Ms. Whittaker, that ‘my intention was not to in any way jeopardize or breach the teacher/school district negotiating process’, I asked her several questions. Does TEEA believe that any of the District’s budget strategies currently being discussed (class size, demotion of professional staff, $50 activities fee, etc.) could have a potential negative effect on the quality of the District’s educational program. I also asked if members of TEEA were the decision makers in regards to the TESD 2012-13 budget, what solutions would the teachers offer that could bridge the current financial crisis in the District.

Understanding the limitations posed by the teacher contract negotiations, Ms. Whittaker proved the following statement for Community Matters and I thank her. Reading Ms. Whittaker’s statement, I was reminded again that if the contract talks were held in public, the taxpayers would know what the the teachers are offering; including changes to their health care plan that would save the District money.

“Because of the ground rules established in the negotiations process, I am limited in my ability to share specific aspects of our proposal and negotiations with you.

You have asked what solutions we offer. We are willing to discuss alternative approaches to health care coverage and funding as a means for the District to save money. Additionally, although we are not able to release the details of our salary proposal, we are confident in stating that our salary requests are modest and reasonable.

We have many concerns about the District’s proposal to demote our most experienced, educated teachers. Of course, we are fundamentally concerned about the negative impact that it will have on the educational program and the well-being of our membership. However, if the School Board chooses to implement demotions and the hiring of part time staff becomes the norm, they must realize that T/E will become an undesirable place for the most qualified educators to pursue a career. Simply stated, T/E has been able to attract the best and the brightest to teach its children. How will the District be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest if we are currently choosing to replace our own best and most educated teachers with part-time employees?

With regard to class size, studies have concluded that increased class sizes have a negative impact on student performance. Individual support and attention will most certainly suffer if class sizes are larger. Regarding the proposed $50 participation fee, we have no official position. As far as other budget strategies are concerned, demotions and increases in class size, are (to our knowledge) the only two major strategies being considered by the Board.

The members of TEEA remain committed to achieving a mutually beneficial settlement with the District.”

Thank you for providing this opportunity.

Sincerely,
Laura Whittaker
President, TEEA

If you are reading today’s post on Community Matters and have an interest in our school district, I hope that you will plan to attend the school board meeting tonight at 7:30 PM.

On the subject of demotion, other area school districts are keeping a close eye on TESD. The teachers union in Radnor School District has notified their members of tonight’s TESD meeting and suggested their members attend.  At Conestoga HS, the demotion issue has caused concern among students and they are organizing support for their teachers.

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T/E School District and Teacher Union Contract Negotiation Honeymoon Period Over

The contract negotiations between the T/E School District and the T/E Teachers Union (TEEA) started in early January.  What is the saying about the ‘calm before the storm’ – I had been thinking that the teacher contract negotiations must have been going well as everything was quiet.

In a Community Matters post, Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin, dated January 28, 2012, I wrote the following:

“ … With a cooperative tone, both sides have issued their preliminary statements – the school board recognizing the quality and standard of the District’s teachers but reinforcing the severity of our economic times.  And the teachers union proudly applauding the school district as one of the best in the state and stating their desire to work together through the contract negotiations…”

This week in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District would suggest that I might have spoken too quickly.  First, the T/E School Board publicly stated in a contract negotiation update on the school district’s website that ‘TEEA Negotiator Refuses to Discuss Healthcare Options”.  The school district’s negotiator, Jeffrey Sultanik claims that TEEA “does not want any changes to the existing plan or premium share increases for the employee”.  Sultanik suggests that the negotiator for the teachers union, Ruthann Waldie, refuses to budge on the healthcare issue.  The school board has made it clear from the start that the teacher contract needs to focus on reducing healthcare costs.  Having attended a number of finance committee meetings of the school district, the teacher’s benefits are routinely discussed, especially healthcare.

When the school districts’ negotiating team was named (Dan Waters, Sue Tiede and Art McDonnell in addition to Jeffrey Sultanik), I shared TEEA’s concern that there was no school board director serving on the negotiating team.  The residents of TESD elected the school board members to serve them and at least one of them should be ‘at the negotiating table’.  One of the school board directors, Kevin Buraks, is an attorney who specializes in the collection of unpaid real estate taxes in municipalities and school districts in Pennsylvania.  Certainly, given his background, Buraks would have been qualified at the very least to participate as a contract negotiation ‘observer’.  As far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong) no prior contract negotiations in T/E school district ever occurred absent school board directors.

Soon after the school district posted the contract negotiations update on their website, TEEA fired back with a response that suggested the school district’s update is “a collection of factual inaccuracies, misinformation, mischaracterizations and personal attacks”.  The response from the teacher’s union suggests a willingness and desire to negotiate issues … but at the bargaining table, not through press releases and websites, as the path that TEEA believes the school district has chosen.

Because there is no representation by the school board at the negotiation table, it is a bit like ‘whisper down the lane’.  The information and updates that the school board receives are not through first hand attendance at the meetings, it is from one of the four members of the negotiating team.  That’s not to suggest that the school district is intentionally misleading the public through its updates, but I would suggest that some of the nuances that occur in a meeting can be missed in the translation.

According to TEEA, the teachers union has presented a comprehensive set of proposals to the school district and are willing to discuss “the district’s finances, staffing levels, school calendar, health insurance, wages and all other important issues …”

As a taxpayer in this school district, I want to know that the contract negotiation updates are completely accurate … can the school board members provide that reassurance to the public.  On the other hand, having attended a number of school district finance committee meetings, I also know that the current teacher healthcare benefits exceed much of what most of the residents of this school district receive themselves.

We are fortunate to live in one of the best school districts in the state and preserving that school system should be a priority to the residents, school district and the teachers.  The new teacher’s contract needs to be line with our current economic reality. However, the negotiation process should be accomplished with a spirit of collaboration.

According to TEEA and the school district, there is no next negotiation session scheduled.  I make a motion to move the contract negotiation process forward; do I hear a second?

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Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin

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

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

Representing the school district for the teacher contract negotiations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Community Matters … A Year in Review (Part 2)

It was interesting to read through my Community Matters posts of 2011 and the hundreds of comments but choosing which ones to include in my ‘Year in Review’ was difficult.

Certain topics, including the school district and the primary and general election, were much discussed.  For a second year in a row, the sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club saw much attention on Community Matters. Land development and the struggles between the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors for ‘control’ over future projects will be interesting to watch in 2012.

Absent a crystal ball, my guess is that the T/E School District’s upcoming teacher contract negotiations and the State House 157 race will lead discussions in 2012.  I am hopeful that our local economy will move forward in a positive way — maybe the new year will see a tenant for Genuardi’s in Chesterbrook.  I have heard that a high-end gym may be in the offering.  And Nudy’s will soon be filling the empty Jake’s space in Paoli Village Shoppes.

Below are my picks for the most interesting Community Matters posts of 2011, in chronological order. Here’s wishing you a wonderful 2012 … may we all enjoy good health and happiness in the new year!

1. Should Teachers Be Consulted in School Budget Discussion?  January 14, 2011

Do School Board, administration, parents and taxpayers give adequate attention to the opinions of the teachers during budget discussions. As TESD teacher negotiations are to begin shortly, this Community Matters post and its comments are timely to read again.

2. Another Store Closing in Tredyffrin . . . A Suggestion for a Business Task Force February 3, 2011

Eleven months ago, I proposed a “township business task force … a volunteer group of local retired executives, small business owners, and corporate representatives.  The group would meet monthly with a mission to spearhead ways to improve existing relationships and provide assistance and a resource for township businesses.  This important support group for the business community could provide regular updates and suggestions to the Board of Supervisors.”  We know that my suggestion was approved by the BOS, an advisory group set up but . . . nearly a year later, where does it stand?  There have been a few stores and restaurants open (Big Lots, Mealey’s, McKenzie’s) but closings and empty stores are everywhere … Genuardi’s, Syms, Jake’s).

3. Looking at Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, is the ‘Handwriting on the Wall’ for T/E? February 22, 2011

A comparative analysis between Unionville-Chadds Ford and T/E School Districts  encouraged 62 comments. Both of these school districts are top performing and enjoy similar academic performances.   The teacher contract negotiation process in UCF was lengthy and time-consuming – teachers worked for over a year without a contract as both sides battled over the benefit package (specifically health care).  Even an independent arbitrator was challenged over the UCF teacher contract process.  Is this the handwriting on the wall for T/E?

4. Labor Dispute Between TEEA Teacher Union & T/E School District . . . Claiming Unfair Labor Practices re Online Course Programming  March 11, 2011

Another very heated school district debate on Community Matters was the dispute over online E-learning in T/E.  The teacher’s union took the stance that the school district was offering courses online to students that could be taught by teachers.  They claimed that the work of instruction and assessing students taking online courses is no different from work performed by teachers in the classroom.  The school district argued that the E-learning courses fall outside the scope of teacher bargaining.

5. Berwyn Banter . . . Ray Hoffman’s Remarks on Homosexuality Evoke Strong Response from Local Residents  April 2, 2011

Ray Hoffman’s Banter column in the Main Line Media news of March 24, 2011 evoked strong response from many residents.  In his column, he had referenced his moral outrage over the Catholic Church and priests involved in the child sex scandal. In my opinion, Hoffman stepped ‘over the line’ when he suggested in his column that pedophilia and homosexuality are synonymous; and “the work of evil incarnate and therefore unforgivable”.  Although one can describe pedophiles that prey on innocent children as evil and their behavior unforgivable, how could Hoffman impose that same standard in his description of homosexuals?  To grow up gay in America, faced with intolerance and persecution can prove an enormous challenge for today’s youth, which made Hoffman’s words all the more painful to read.

6. The Use of Community Matters on Campaign Ad without Permission . . . Illegal or just Disrespectful?  May 11, 2011

The use of anonymous comments from Community Matters on political campaign literature without my permission was a very difficult time for me – and in hindsight, I came very close to closing down Community Matters as a result.  I had discussions with several attorneys over the matter and quickly arrived at the conclusion that the use of Community Matters by the TTDEMS (without my permission) was not illegal.  However, were their actions unethical and disrespectful?   These same people had supported me the year before as “one of their own” supervisor candidates – I just could not understand how  some of them could disrespect and hurt me in this way.  What’s the saying … all’s fair in politics?

7. Unofficial Results from Chester County Indicate Duffy Won by 40 Votes in Tredyffrin’s Special Election . . . Reports of Malfunctioning Voting Machines Add a Twist May 18, 2011

This was one for the history books.  Molly Duffy was declared the winner in the special election by 40 votes.  Reports of malfunctioning voting machines turned out to be correct.  A hand-count of the election ballots a week later found 61 uncounted ballots; as a result Mike Heaberg was named supervisor to fill the vacancy left by Warren Kampf.

8. What’s the meaning of ‘Good Government’? Does it Mean Something Different in Tredyffrin?  June 21, 2011

The Board of Supervisors continues delay tactics over the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk land development project. The supervisors decided that rather than honoring their vote of a few months earlier to leave the land development authority in the hands of the Planning Commission, they presented a new township land development process giving the supervisors more oversight.  The issue should not be about sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club but rather a 6-year old signed land development contract between the club and the township and why it is not enforced.

9. America’s Best High Schools But Where is Conestoga High School?  July 23, 2011

It was very surprising to learn that Conestoga High School was missing from Newsweek’s list of best high schools in America.  Regardless of whether you give any credence to school rankings, what did it say that every other public high school in the area was on the list but not Conestoga.  We learned subsequently that someone in the TESD administration had ‘dropped the ball’ and somehow the paperwork was not returned by the deadline.  Although I am still not clear exactly what happened, I am fairly confident that this same mistake will not occur again.

10. Tea Party Agenda by State Rep Warren Kampf; so claims Former State Rep Paul Drucker August 27, 2011

In an op-ed article in Main Line Media News, former State Rep Paul Drucker had some harsh words for some of the choices made by current State Rep Warren Kampf.  Drucker accused Kampf of following a ‘tea party agenda’ and pointed out the state’s education cuts, the lack of taxing on Marcellus Shale drilling and the state’s decreased funding of social services.  I questioned the timing of the editorial and  asked Drucker if he was considering a  re-match against Kampf for the 157 district in 2012.  At the time I did not receive a definitive answer … wonder if the idea remains a possibility?

11. Light Bulbs . . . Who’s Responsible? Township staff or PECO? October 12, 2011

This was became the starting point for light bulbs in Tredyffrin.  I discovered the problem with light bulbs in Chesterbrook has existed for 27 years since the light poles were installed.  I did a more ‘scientific’ count and found that there were 37 lights out between Duportail Rd.and Chesterbrook Blvd.  I know that the township staff, supervisors and PECO have now held meetings over the matter.  I regularly receive emails from residents who report that they are seeing ‘cherry-picker’ trucks with light bulbs being replaced.  I am hopeful that supervisor Richter will give a light bulb update at the next BOS meeting – plus here’s hoping for an update on the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalks too.

12. Why Must the Campaign Season be ‘Politics as Usual’ . . . Please, Can it be the Truth? October 26, 2011

One of the most highly commented posts (100+ comments) this was a discussion about the negative ads of election season.  Republican and Democratic parties both lowered their bars to slinging mud against each other.  The line became so blurred; it was hard to tell the truths from the lies.  False and misleading information about school board and supervisor candidates was delivered regularly and had many of us questioning the disappearance of honesty and decency in politics.

13. Election Day 2011 is over . . . Looks like much will remain the same!  November 9, 2011

The General Election results showed that all incumbents in the supervisor and school board races won.  It should be noted that in the east, it was a very close race between incumbent Paul Olson (R) and Tory Snyder (D).  In a nail-biter, Tory lost the race by only 13 votes, returning Olson to the Board of Supervisors for another term.  I am not sure but he may have the distinction of having being the longest-serving supervisor.  Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors will continue as an all-Republican board. Kristen Mayock’s election to the Board adds a third woman and it has been a while since we had that dynamic.  In an upset. Jeremy Blackburn (R) was unseated by Analisa Sondergaard (D) as District Judge.  Unlike Judge Blackburn, Sondergaard is an attorney who will now fill the seat as District Judge.

14. Police Chief Andy Chambers Tenders Resignation While on Suspension  December 20, 2011

The township has a cloak of mystery and drama as the year ends.  We learned of an anonymous letter sent to the township supervisors which contained two allegations against Police Chief Andy Chambers.  The first allegation, which the Chief admitted was true, involved him allowing his 16-year old son to drive a township police car.  While driving the car, the kid was involved in an accident but Chambers took full responsibility for costs of its repair.  The supervisors suspended Chambers for (1) allowing his son to drive the police cruiser and (2) his failure to tell the supervisors.  While on suspension, the Chief decided to retire on December 30 after 30 years of service.  The second allegation contained in the anonymous letter suggested that Chambers had used township time to work on personal business.  There was no mention of this allegation by the supervisors so it is not clear whether or not it was investigated or whether or not the allegation is true.  The public was not told the reasons for Police Chief Harkness’ departure from the Police Department, so my guess is there will be no further information on Police Chief Chambers.

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