teacher negotiations

Taxpayers deserve to know the bargaining framework in TE teacher negotiations

At the August school board meeting, the public learned at the District has entered into contract discussions with the teachers.  We were told that there was agreement on both sides not to discuss the negotiation.  Neither the ‘agreement’ not its specifics was made public.  Resident Neal Colligan contacted the District with a right-to-know request — hoping to find out more about the agreement and the bargaining framework for the teacher negotiations.  Neal sent me the following for Community Matters:

Pattye,

I wanted to let you know that I filed a Right to Know (RTK) request with the School District on August 27, 2013, specifically:

I would like a copy of any and all agreements related to the Early Bird TEEA contract negotiations particularly related to the “ground rules” for the Early Bird talks.  I understand that this will not include any employer or employee contract offers, that is and should remain confidential.

Again, thanks to Ray Clarke and his reporting on the T/ESB Board meeting.  I could tell he was trying to accurately portray the Board’s announcement of the Early Bird negotiations and the specific phrases he used led me to believe they may have been part of a written document.

Rather than grant or deny this request, I received a 30 day delay based on: Legal review required to determine whether record is a public record.  This was quite an odd response.  Possibly my follow-up communication to the Open Records officer will help make my thinking on their response more clear:

Thank you for your timely response to my request.  You’ve indicated that the document(s) that I requested do indeed exist which is a great start and not something that I had known for sure.  As they do exist, I am even more anxious to see them in the public domain.  While I understand the potential need for legal review “to determine whether record is a public record; I do have an opinion as to the timing of that review which you have indicated will take 30 days (September 27, 2013).  Certainly documents of this nature were constructed with legal review/input; meaning that the inside or outside legal team is already familiar with the nature and content of the documents.  The delay here is only to determine if the documents in question are of public record.  As they do not contain any actual negotiating points between the parties, I would think the determination of “public record” would be a quick call.  To be fair, I am not an attorney so I do not offer this as a legal opinion but only one of common sense.  30 days seems awfully long for this review.

This contract which is being negotiated under a gag order is of paramount importance to the members of our community…it is the largest publicly funded workforce in our townships.  Results of this contract will have a profound impact on taxing policy for years.  The Board has stated its intention “To keep the public informed of the progress as it moves forward”.  My request is simply to inform the public of the parameters involved in the formation of the “process that has been agreed to by the Board and each union” (both quotes form the 8/26/13 ActionLine posted on your website).  Please consider expediting my request.  In recent years, this Board’s actions related to (lack of) transparency have been brought into question several times on critical issues important to our citizens.  The Board’s rhetoric is one of openness but there is an opinion among many taxpayers that this Board is not as open in communicating with the community as they have promised.  Let’s turn the page on the past and start a process of inclusion with the citizens who are interested in these issues of local importance. 

To date, I’ve received no follow-up communication from the District.  A review of the District policy concerning Public Access to School District Records does allow for a maximum delay of up to 30 days for information requests.  That’s what I was given but it doesn’t seem necessary in this case for the reasons I’ve cited above.  I’ve also written to the members of the Board seeking their assistance in expediting this request.

Maybe your readers would have interest in this and you have my permission to print this if you see fit.

For the record, the District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell is the Open Records Officer — McDonnell is the one that responds to resident’s right-to-know requests.  As follow-up, I note that Neal has contacted members of the school board in an attempt to expedite the right-to-know request.  I am assuming that Board members have not responded to him.

I don’t understand why the agreement setting the negotiation ground rules between the District and the teachers union is not considered a public document.  The negotiating ground rules were established and apparently both sides agreed — so why shouldn’t the public know the rules. We all want the negotiation situation to be productive but the community deserves transparency.  The negotiating parties should provide the bargaining framework for the taxpayers.

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School Board Members to Join T/E Contract Negotiating Team

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

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

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

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A Review of Radnor Twp School District’s Teachers Contract … Will the Results Help T/E Teachers?

The following Community Matters post, “Signed, Sealed and Delivered … Radnor Twp School District & Teachers Union Ink 3-year Contract with Salary Increase … Is there handwriting on the wall for T/E Teachers?”  is from March 23, 2011.

A year ago, the Radnor Township School District signed a 3-year contract with their teachers union( RTEA) that was surprising, given the economic situation of the times.  Fast forward to 2012, and T/E is in the midst of their own contract negotiations.  This post and the attached comments from a year ago, make for an interesting commentary to compare and contrast where we are in our own teacher negotiation process.  Can we learn anything from the decisions of our neighboring school district?

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“Signed, Sealed and Delivered … Radnor Twp School District & Teachers Union Ink 3-year Contract with Salary Increase … Is there handwriting on the wall for T/E Teachers?”
~ Community Matters, March 23, 2011

It is now official, Radnor Township School District and the teachers union, Radnor Township Education Association (RTEA) have voted to approve three-year contract, September 1, 2010 – August 31, 2013. Below are some of the highlights of the contract.

Salary Highlights:
Salary freeze September 1, 2010 – March 3, 2011 (6 months)

Year One Salary:

  • No step movement
  • Average pay increase after freeze: 1.57%
  • Top salary step remains at current level
  • Average lump-sum payment for top salary step: $749

Year Two Salary:

  • RTEA members move to next step
  • Average pay increase: 3.26%
  • Top salary step remains at current level
  • Average lump-sum payment for top salary step: $1,206

Year Three Salary:

  • RTEA members move to next step
  • Modest increase to top salary step
  • Average pay increase: 2.66%

Health Benefits Highlights:

  • RTEA members agreed to significant increase in the cost of health insurance
  • Stating March 4, 2011, teachers move from fixed contribution to a percentage-based contribution
  • Year One – salary contribution 0.75% – 1.5%
  • Year Two – health care plan changes from Blue Cross to lesser premium-cost plan, with increase co-pays doctor and hospital visits (salary contribution 0.85% – 1.5%)
  • Year Three – salary contribution 0.95% – 1.65%

Retirement Option:

  • Eligible teachers will receive a one-time retirement payment from $25K – $50K (depending on number of retirees). The retirement option is in effect for limited time to allow district to reduce payroll.

OK, so looking at the contract inked between the Radnor Township School District and RTEA, is the handwriting on the wall for T/E School District?  So much for Gov. Corbett’s recommendation for a one-year freeze . . .  Radnor’s teacher union only agreed to a 6-month freeze.  However, after the 6-month salary freeze, the teacher union pulled off 7.5% salary increase for the following 2 ½ years of the contract.

Remember, if a teacher qualifies for a step increase, his or her salary increase would actually be higher than the average yearly salary increase. Radnor’s teachers contract is remarkable given today’s economy and budget shortfalls!

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