TENIG

T/E School District institutes 7-minute clock-in and clock-out rule for aides and paras & progressive discipline for violation

A bit of background —

On February 4, I received a copy of a memo dated January 31, 2014 from Sue Tiede, Director of TESD Personnel.  Tiede’s letter went to ‘All Employees paid on an Hourly Basis’ (aides/paras) with the subject line, ‘Attendance & Punctuality’.  Although I was told that ‘all aides and paras’ received the letter, that was not accurate – some of the aides and paras did not receive the letter until this week, 10+ days later.  On Wednesday, February 12, aides and paras across the District were called individually into the principal offices of their respective schools to read Tiede’s letter. Before discussing the contents of Tiede’s letter, I have a problem with lack of District cohesive communication.

Memo to T/E aides and paras –

The focus of Tiede’s memo is the District’s establishment of a 7-minute period of clocking-in and clocking-out for hourly employees.  These employees are only permitted to clock-in within a 7-minute period before their scheduled start time and within a 7-minute period after your scheduled end time.  If scheduled to start work at 7AM, employees can only clock-in between 6:53AM – 7AM. If scheduled to end your workday at 3:30PM, employees can only clock-out between 3:30PM-3:37PM.

Having set the guidelines for the 7-minute clock-in and clock-out period in her memo, Tiede then details the progressive discipline measures for violation. A three level discipline approach, aides and paras receive a verbal warning and written notice for their first offense.  An employee receiving a second violation receives a written warning in theur personnel file with threat of suspension or discharge if another violation occurs. If an employees is cited for a third violation of the 7-minute rule, they are subject to suspension without pay and possible termination.

I find the contents and tone of Tiede’s letter demeaning and threatening to the District hourly employees.  District aides, paras and substitute teachers currently do not have District provided health coverage.  TESD aides, paras and substitute teachers do not have the benefit of organized union protection as do other District employees — the  teachers (TEEA) and members of  TENIG.

What is driving this letter of intimidation from the District?  In my opinion, the answer is Affordable Care Act and a way for the administration to make certain that hourly employees not go over the 30-hour limit that requires employee covered health coverage.  By instituting this policy of progressive discipline, the District is not considering the safety of flight risk children and special needs children. Did the District explain this new 7-minute policy to the parents of these children?  There will be situations occur where aides and paras are required to choose between remaining with a child or risking disciplinary action by not clocking-out within the 7-minute window.  The use of time clocks for our District educators is nothing more than a different category of factory worker.

Was this 7-minute District policy and corresponding disciplinary action vetted by the School Board members? Was their discussion about the ramifications of this policy for special education students and their parents?  Is this just another approach by the District to outsource the aides and paras – meaning, intimidate and threatened these employees to the point that they just leave.

Last spring, we saw the backlash from the public over the School Board’s attempt to outsource the aides and paras rather than comply with the Affordable Care Act — is this letter to District’s hourly workers, and its contents, a precursor to round two this spring? As previously mentioned on Community Matters, the School Board has repeatedly delayed any further public discussion of the ACA compliance issues — meeting after meeting.  Perhaps part of the back-story to the Board’s continuing resistance to discuss the associated ACA compliance issues is related to Sue Tiede’s letter to the aides and paras.

I encourage you to read the letter below, draw your own conclusions and welcome your comments on Community Matters..  Please share the information with District parents, particularly those parents (and their children) who rely on the services of these targeted District employees.  On the offside chance that School Board members are unaware of Sue Tiede’s letter to the aides and paras, I will email them a copy of this post.

 

TESD Suspension

 

 

 

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TESD Employee & Resident Debbie Watson speaks out about District morale issues

On May 16, I wrote, “TE School District … Intimidation to Silence” on Community Matters.  From the outside, the school district is the image of excellence by any standard, with its impressive test scores, accomplished, high-achieving students, supportive parents and caring teachers.  After receiving many emails and phone calls from teachers, aides, custodians, kitchen workers, etc., it was apparent that those inside the District described an atmosphere far differently, “a place of fear and intimidation, a place where our District employees, fearing retribution do not feel they have a voice.”   The article received many comments, including from former and current District employees, who could take cover behind their anonymity on Community Matters. Many TE employees believe that they would risk losing their jobs by questioning decisions of the administration or by voicing concerns.

Other than bringing awareness to the morale problem, there was no indication that anything is changing or that anyone on the School Board actually listened.  Emails in May to the School District and the school board president received no response. On May 31, I followed up with another Community Matters post on this topic, “Harassment, intimidation and bullying have no place in our schools …”  I wrote, “With the level of discontent, negativity and lack of respect that many District employees are indicating, I simply do not understand why the School Board does not investigate and find answers.” Employees are the District’s most valuable assets and they need to know that their contributions are valued and respected.

This campaign season has had many school board candidates using buzzwords like ‘communication’, ‘morale’ and ‘trust’ on their campaign websites, voter literature and during the League of Women Voters forum.  All school board candidates, with the possible exception of Kevin Buraks, recognize there are District issues related to communication and employee morale that need addressing.  Mr. Buraks stated in the LWV forum that the employees must be satisfied because otherwise they would leave the District.

I received the following email from District employee (and TESD resident), Debbie Watson.  No longer in the shadows of anonymity, Debbie is an insider speaking out about the morale in the schools and recent hiring trends of the District.  It is with Debbie’s permission that this letter appears on Community Matters.  Debbie is courageous, her words powerful and I applaud her for speaking out and making a difference! 

Hi Pattye,

I’m writing to you today about a disturbing statement I heard from another T/E employee.  I found the remark ironic as our school board and administration keeps touting their transparency, openness and willingness to communicate with the public.

It appears that the new trend is going to be only to hire people to fill open school district positions if they are outsiders (that is they do not reside in T/E School District).  In this person’s words, “Dan has put the word out that new hires will NOT be District taxpayers. We do not want them going home and talking to their neighbors about what is going on in the schools.”  REALLY????

It seems to already be happening. They replaced the Food and Nutrition Services Director with someone who came in from Twin Valley School District even though we had qualified people inside the District who applied for the job. He in turn hired a neighbor of his to be the Cafeteria Manager at Valley Forge Elementary. This manager does not have Food Service certification from Chester County, and he told the girls that he has never worked a kitchen before!

The morale was already very low in the schools and it is getting worse. The District passes over qualified T/E employees and hires less experienced outsiders for the job. We had several people (with Chester County certification) already working in the District that applied for the job (I didn’t bother, as I’ve been “blacklisted”), one was from my kitchen (Beaumont Elementary). One of the reasons given for her not getting the job was that she “didn’t have the experience required.” Another woman (from Devon Elementary) was told that she lacked managerial experience (she was a manager for Aramark for YEARS) And he does???

If the District cared about its employees, they would give us a chance to advance. The Union was contacted and their response was that the bottom line is that the District can hire whomever they want regardless of experience. This just isn’t fair to the hard-working T/E employees. We’ve already seen how awful our union is with the TENIG contract that just came about. I don’t know why people continue to pay their dues and give the union their money for nothing in return. Art McDonnell sat in on the interviews so he knows the lack of qualifications as well.

I’ve been with the District almost 10 years and am a ‘general kitchen worker’. I was a ‘Greeter’ for 5 years, took a year off, then came back, and moved to the kitchen.  Before that, I was a stay-at-home mom and was a PTO president at Devon Elementary School.  Basically, I have been in the schools for 25 years. (Also grew up here and went to T/E schools).

I’ve finally had enough and gave the District my notice a couple of weeks ago. I had actually decided during the summer that I was leaving but it got too close to the start of school and I didn’t want to leave my kitchen shorthanded at the beginning of the year as it’s too hectic. My last day of work is November 15th. I can’t continue to work for an administration that treats people the way they do!

Mr. Buraks was correct in his statement that if someone had a morale problem in the District that they would just leave — he’s right and I am (leaving). Sad thing is that I LOVED my job. I just don’t want to do it anymore.  I wrote a short resignation letter and didn’t blast them (advice was given to not “burn any bridges”) much as I wanted to! I know that you (and Neal and Ray) stay on top of things and wanted you to be aware of what’s really going on inside the schools.

Sincerely,

Debbie Watson

Investing in the District’s best talent and promoting from within the TENIG union is good for employee morale.  TE employees, like Debbie Watson, are frustrated when a position is given to someone from the outside, especially when the person is not as experienced or qualified as an existing District employee.  What kind of message does this send to the our employees?

How sad that the District is losing Debbie Watson, a dedicated, long-serving employee. As long as the leadership and administration choose to put a sunshine spin on the District’s morale issue for the public’s sake, nothing is going to change.   Can the School Board agree that employee morale in the Tredyffrin Easttown Scholol District is an important issue and a critical topic worth discussing.   School board candidates, are you listening?

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Four weeks and counting until Election Day

Election Day 2013 is 4 weeks from tomorrow, Tuesday, November 5.  If you are not registered, today is the last day to register to vote in the Municipal Election.  Applications from Pennsylvanians registering for the first time, those changing their address or changing their party affiliation must be postmarked or delivered to Chester County’s board of elections by the close of business today, October 7.  Chester County’s board of elections is located at Government Services Center, 601 Westtown Rd., Suite 150, West Chester, PA 19380. Their phone number: 610-344-6410. Office hours: 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM.

Do you know the candidates for the Board of Supervisor or the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board? What issues facing the township and school district are important to you – do the candidates share your concerns, your opinions? How likely are you to vote on November 5?

If you are a voter in Tredyffrin Township, you will have an opportunity to learn more about the Board of Supervisors candidates.  The League of Women Voters is holding a supervisor debate on Saturday, October 19, 2-4 PM at the Tredyffrin Township Building. There are three contested seats on the Board – two for supervisor-at-large and a district supervisor for the middle district.  Seeking one of the two at-large supervisor seats is incumbent Michelle Kichline (R), Trip Lukens (R), Murph Wysocki (D) and Mark Freed (D).  Current at-large supervisor E.J. Richter (R) is opposing Laurie Elliott (D) for the middle district seat.

In recent years, the League of Women Voters also has held a debate for the TE School Board candidates. Unfortunately, the volunteer organization will not hold a similar debate this year for the school board candidates.  This is an important time to know your candidates – what are their backgrounds and experience, where do they stand on issues, etc. etc.  So … why no debate for the school board candidates?  Do you know who the school board candidates are?

On the Tredyffrin side of the school district, we have Democrat incumbent Kevin Buraks being challenged by Republican Pete Connors in Region I.  In Region II, Scott Dorsey (D) opposes incumbent Rich Brake (R).

On the Easttown side of the school district, there are two seats available in Region III.  For personal reasons, neither Betsy Fadem (R) nor Anne Crowley (D) is seeking re-election.  I attend almost every school board meeting and I have not met any of the four candidates vying for the two open Region III seats.  The candidates are Republicans Doug Carlson and Virginia Lastner and Democrats Maryann Piccioni and Jean Kim.

School board candidates Pete Connors and Scott Dorsey have each stated that they want the opportunity to discuss school district issues and are interested in pursuing a debate forum with the other school board candidates — Neither knows why a debate was not scheduled as in prior years. Because of my discussion with Connors and Dorsey (and the interest from the public in learning about the school board candidates), several options are being explored.  However, with only 4 weeks remaining until Election Day 2013, it does not leave much time to organize a ‘meet your school board candidate’ forum.

If the past is any indication, the political war for control will rear its ugly head over the next 30 days with school board and supervisor candidates door knocking, campaign mail pieces hitting our houses and the robo-calls that invariably come at dinnertime.  Voters need a reason to go the polls on November 5 – they need to know the issues and which candidates support their views. Everyone should be interested in the election because the future of the township, the school district and the community are dependent upon strong, issue-focused leadership.  The issues are complex and the School Board (and the Board of Supervisors) must work as a team united (with the community) to find effective solutions.

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TE School Board & TENIG reach new 3-year contract deal — No outsourcing!

What a difference a week makes!  At last Monday’s September 23rd T/E School Board meeting, several TESD residents including Peggy Layden, Neal Colligan and Scott Dorsey questioned the Board about the status of the TENIG negotiations. The public was told by Board President Kevin Buraks that contract discussions were moving along and that the Board would report on the process when there was information to report.  And Betsy Fadem volunteered that once the responses from the TENIG RFP were received (and reviewed) there would be public discussion in January.  The current TENIG contract as well as the TEEA (teacher) contract run through June 30, 2014.   When questioned on public communication and transparency issues, Buraks was very specific that the public would be informed of the process although it was not clear how much notice there would be for public review of any proposed contracts.

Buraks (and Fadem) responses to residents was counter to the rumblings that some of us had heard regarding the ‘early bird’ contract discussions.  Nonetheless, because there was an overt attempt by several Board members to suppress any resident complaints on lack of transparency or public discussion, it was my expectation that the Board leadership would make certain that the public was kept informed.

This evening I had a phone call from Mary Minicozzi, the TENIG president. (She agreed that her name could be used and that the information was public).  Mary wanted me to hear the TENIG contract details directly from her so that the facts would be correct.  According to Mary, TENIG presented a contract proposal to the school board 2 weeks ago and that sometime since that point (she was not certain of the exact date), the Board ‘voted’ to accept the proposal.  At today’s TENIG meeting, members voted to ratify with 83 members accepting the contract and 5 members rejecting the contract.

This news surprised the heck out of me because at last week’s TESD meeting, President Buraks and Betsy Fadem were talking about keeping the public informed on the progress of negotiations – had they already accepted the TENIG contract offer?

The vendor bids were not due back to the District until October 11 so how could the Board know what the expected savings to the District would be.  How would TENIG know how much they needed to ‘give back’?  Was this not the point of sending the RFPs out to the vendors?  In addition, this reasoning lined up with Betsy Fadem’s remark that the discussion would take place in January 2014 (allowing for adequate review of the vendor bids and public input).  According to Mary, there were a number of vendors lined up to provide bids to the District – 13 vendors for janitorial, 3 vendors for security, 8 vendors for maintenance, 3 vendors for secretarial and 5 vendors for the cafeteria. Presumably, now the vendors will be immediately notified that the District has cancelled the RFP and has settled the contract.

The good news is that the 3-year TENIG contract, July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017, has no outsourcing of TENIG employees and no discussion of outsourcing to occur during the length of the contract.  Any new employees hired will be part of the District (and TENIG) – those positions will not be outsourced.  However, there will be wage restructuring for all new TENIG hires, equating to an average of $3/hr. less than current employees in that position.

All TENIG employees received a 4-1/2% raise for the final year of their current contract (which is July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014).  In the new 3-year contract, the custodians will receive a 2% salary reduction and additionally will give back 1 week of their vacation.  (The rationale is that the District has to hire subs when the custodians are on vacation).  The other members of TENIG (security, kitchen, maintenance, and cafeteria) will receive a 4% salary reduction in the new contract but their vacation benefit remains intact.

On the benefit side, Mary explained that TENIG currently receives the best healthcare benefits of all District employees – paying an average of $300/yr. for a family health insurance plan.  Under the new contract, TENIG member’s health insurance will be on par with TEEA (teachers) members.  In the new contract, the TENIG employees will contribute approximately 6% for their health care benefits.  For year 2 and 3 of the 3-year contract, TENIG employees receive a freeze on their salary.

As an incentive for current employees to leave the District, there is an interesting caveat in the new contract.  If any TENIG employee with 15 or more years of District service, voluntarily resigns prior to end of the first year of the contract (by June 30, 2015), they will receive a buyout bonus of 15% of their salary, up to $7K.  The idea is to replace some of the higher-paid District employees with new lesser-paid employees, thus decreasing overhead budget costs.

So, how much is the new 3-year TENIG contract saving the District?  The contract savings includes $400K from the healthcare benefit component, $207K with the employee salary reduction and $207K from the custodian 1-week vacation giveback for a grand total savings of $719K to the District.

Although Mary stated that the Board had voted to accept the TENIG proposed 3-year contract and that the TENIG membership ratified the contract, I believe that the contract still has to be officially ‘voted on’ in public, doesn’t it?  According to Mary, the Board will sign the contract at a special Board meeting that will be held in conjunction with the Finance Committee meeting.  Looking at the upcoming District meetings, the Finance Committee is scheduled for Monday, October 14 – which interestingly is Columbus Day.  (The offices in Tredyffrin Twp are closed on Columbus Day, but I guess not for TESD).

I want to be clear about something – I am pleased for the TENIG employees; glad they will not be outsourced and that they will not have to worry about outsourcing for the duration of their 3-year contract.  However, last week’s School Board meeting has me troubled. After several residents asked for greater public input and communication, the public was assured that the Board was transparent, and that contract updates would be provided, and that simultaneously to early bird negotiations with TENIG that the Board would also review the results from the RFP.  With agreement from the Board and TENIG on the new contract, there will be no vendor bids.

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TE School Board Meeting — A call for transparency and open communications

I attended last night’s School Board meeting and noted a common thread linking many of the resident’s comments.  The words may have been slightly differently from residents Neal Colligan, Scott Dorsey, Peggy Layden, Michelle Berger and myself, but the message to the School Board was the same.  We were all asking for transparency, public dialogue, open communication, etc. etc. between the Board, administration and the public.

In the first comment period, Neal Colligan asked the Board to detail the timeline and process for the TENIG and teacher contract negotiations.  He referenced the ‘early bird’ contract negotiations that are underway and asked that the public have adequate time to review any proposed contract.  The public understands that negotiations are private between the sides and we cannot be part of the process — however, once there is an agreement it would be appropriate that that there be adequate time for review.  Disappointingly, the Board did not offer much in the way of a response, except to say that the discussions with TENIG are ongoing.

At the August Board meeting it was announced that the RFP was going out shortly which would seek outsourcing bids for the TENIG contract.  (Both the TENIG contract and the teachers contract expire June 30, 2014.) It would seem to make practical sense for the Board (and TENIG) to have the cost analysis for outsourcing to use as a starting point to negotiate a contract.  How else would the District know what (if any) savings would occur through outsourcing without the ‘real’ numbers?  And for the TENIG members, how would they know ‘what’ they needed ‘to give’ back in salary and/or benefits if there was no comparative numbers from the outside? Last night it was entirely unclear if the RFP was sent out yet there’s rumblings of an agreement between the District and TENIG.  If  there is an agreement, it will be curious to see what TENIG members gave up to keep their jobs.  If you recall the last time, only the custodians were in the position of giving back whereas this time it is the all of TENIG that is at risk.  Whatever happens with TENIG is certain to have an effect on the teacher contrac negotations.

My comments last night related to Community Matters and the school district’s apparent ‘blocking’ of the website from their computers.  I read a prepared statement which included asking for the reinstitution of the District’s ‘Public Information Committee’ . I spoke of the need for open communication and transparency and asked the Board to respectfully remove the ‘block’ of my sebsite.  At least some members of the school board were not aware of the situation until I brought it to their attention.  Dr. Waters told the Board that he would look into the matter and report back.  Improving communication between the administration, Board and the public should be something that we all want to achieve.

As follow-up, I sent the following email to the Board, Waters and Robin McConnell:

Dear TE School Board Members,

This email is follow-up to my statement at last night’s school board meeting regarding the ‘blocking’ of Community Matters website from school district computers.  It was my understanding from the Board’s response that none of you were aware of this situation until I brought it to your attention.  For the record, I have had at least 15 people, including employees working in various District schools, support staff, substitute teachers and students to either call or send emails asking why they are receiving  ‘this site is blocked’ notifications when they attempt to access Community Matters.
At the school board meeting, Dr. Waters stated that he would look into the matter and would check with Robin McConnell,  who was not at the last night’s meeting.  I respectfully asked last night that the ‘block’ be removed from my site and the access be restored.  Can I expect that Board members will follow-up with the administration and correct this situation?
The community is looking for transparency and open communication from our elected officials; thank you all for supporting that goal.
Sincerely,
Pattye Benson
I hope that the situation is resolved quickly and that Community Matters is ‘unblocked’ in the school district.  To the employees and students who contacted me in this regard, thank you — please let me know if the situation is resolved.
During the second comment period, Neal Colligan once again addressed the Board, stating that they had not answered his earlier question about providing adequate public time to review and comment on any proposed union agreements.  Again no response from the Board.  Without a commitment from the Board on the process of public commentary in regards to any proposed union contracts, Colligan furthered his request.  He stated there would be new leadership on the school board come January 1 and based on the outcome of the November election, that could mean either 2, 3 or possibly 4 new Board members.  Colligan offered that it was not fair that new Board members would be saddled with the results of these ‘early bird’ contract negotiations and again suggested that there should be community input.

Recent history indicates that when there is public input, initial decisions of the Board can sometimes be changed — we saw this with the proposed outsourcing of the aides and paras and again with the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School. When members of the community supports an issue, shows up at meetings and offers their opinion, it can make a difference.  Transparency and open dicussion between the Board, administration and the public is critical.

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TE Teacher & TENIG contract discussions begin …

I was unable to attend the monthly TE school board meeting last night.  But fortunately Ray Clarke was at the meeting and supplied the following notes:

Buraks read a statement to the effect that the Board has entered into discussions with both TENIG and the TEEA to explore the opportunity for “Early Bird” contracts.  All parties have agreed to a “gag order” in order to “give the best odds of reaching agreement” (or words to that effect). The public will be kept informed as the process evolves.  In response to my question (and after consulting with the solicitor (!)) Buraks stated that the Board representatives for TENIG are Brake, Bruce, Fadem, for TEEA are Cruickshank, Graham, Motel.  There was no information provided as to new TEEA leadership.

The other item of note was the Priority Discussion on the Act 93 salary adjustments.  Waters gave a lot of detail in an oral report that reiterated the general agreement from January, but of course, the only thing we had to follow was the table in the Agenda materials that kindly calculated 1% of each individual’s salary for the arithmetically challenged!  Of course, we could go look up somewhere the 2012/13 salaries, but why not just put them in the table to help the Board and community get some perspective?

The Board reiterated its opposition to the Keystone exams.  As a survivor of the UK’s “11 Plus” which determined our future at 10 years old, I’m not well qualified to comment on that!

The District’s collective bargaining agreements with TENIG (custodians, support staff and kitchen workers) and TEEA (the teachers union) expire on June 30, 2014.  In addition, the District’s arrangement with the aides and paras for the 2013/14 school year also expires in June.  Unless I’m missing something, it appears that the entire workforce of the TE School District is ‘under discussion’ with the exception of the administration.  I am glad to see that school board members (Cruickshank, Graham, Motel) are sitting at the negotiation table this time around with the teachers union. (If you recall, this was not the case the last time).

I hope that the Board President Buraks is sincere about the School Board keeping the public informed during the the process as Ray notes suggested.  It was the lack of transparency during the last teachers contract negotiations that troubled many of us — I re-read an old CM post on this topic from April 2012, ‘Seeking Transparency in TESD Teacher Contract Negotiations’  which had a follow-up post on May 17, 2012, ‘TE Teachers Turn on Transparency Lights in Contract Negotiations’ .  In re-reading these posts and the many comments, what was striking was the need for regular updates to the public by the Board.  The lack of information and/or misinformation during the contract negotiations aggravated an already difficult situation.  In the CM post of May 17, 2012, I wrote,

” … 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. …”

I remain hopeful that the contract negotiations between the District and TEEA (and TENIG) will be open, honest and as transparent as possible.  To clarify —  representing the teachers union, is TEEA president Dr. Bob DeSipio, Conestoga HS science teacher.  TENIG president is Mary Minicozzi.

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TE Finance Committee meeting — How does the School Board regain public trust?

 I do not know anyone who attended last night’s Finance Committee meeting that left feeling good.  Although the Finance Committee is chaired by Betsy Fadem and includes other Board members Rich Brake and Jim Bruce, all members were in attendance.  Expecting a large audience, the meeting was at Conestoga.  Nearly all chairs were occupied with a significant number of aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals in addition to teachers, members of TENIG, teachers and residents.

Following the budget discussion, the public comment period was troubling and disheartening.  Based on the TE School Board president Kevin Burak’s email last week, we had learned that the District would not outsource the jobs of the District’s aides, paraeducators and paraprofessionals but instead decrease the hours of 80% of these employees from full-time to part-time status.  The reduced work hours will cause a decrease  in pay as great as 25% — all this to avoid providing an affordable healthcare benefit option as required under the Affordable Care Act.

The Board cited the May 21 in-service day meetings with Buraks, Dan Waters and Sue Tiede and the aides/paras as the reason for this choice – stating that the paras and aides wanted reduced hours to stay employed as District employees.  Not only was this not the case, but also as I have stated previously on Community Matters, as Waters and Tiede explained to the aides and paras at that meeting, reducing hours was not a viable solution because it would then require the hiring of 35 more part-time employees to fill the void.

TE resident Neal Colligan asked the Board why no other alternatives were considered, including the one that he had offered.  For the record, Neal’s outsourcing alternative document was sent to the school board on June 4 with a request to notify that it was received.  Hearing no response, I re-sent the document to each individual school board member and we receiving nothing.  Neither Neal nor I received any notification from the Board that they received the document. Yet last night, school board member Karen Cruickshank not only tells the audience that the Board notified him that the document was received but that additionally, that the Board had thanked him for his efforts.  This simply did not happen.

Neal attempted to reason with the school board and asked they consider other alternatives rather than cut the hours of employees to avoid compliance with Federal law.  Seriously, what kind of message is this sending to our children — if you don’t like a law, look for ways around it?

There was no reasoning with the Board members in regards to their decision to reduce employee hours.  The Board stated that the District’s solicitor and the health care provider had researched the Affordable Care Act and provided the opinion that lowering the employee hours was the only way to avoid penalties for non-compliance. I will say that other than Liz Mercogliano  and Anne Crowley who did not speak, the school board presented a unified team on this issue.

TE resident Joanne Sonn ‘attempted’ to offer her own Affordable Care Act research and to present information that differed from what the District had previously presented.  Joanne had done her homework on ACA and offered names of several legal and healthcare expert sources, including Dania Palanker*,  senior counsel  at National Women’s Law Center in Washington, DC, .  Unfortunately, Sonn was not far into reviewing her research (which disputed the District’s findings) when Board member Pete Motel shut down further discussion by loudly yelling, “You’re wrong” at Sonn.  Motel’s action caused an immediate reaction from the audience and defense of Sonn’s right to ask questions.  Although this resident had much ACA information to offer to the Board, they were unwilling to listen, preferring to close further discussion by referencing the opinion of the solicitor.

In an email to me following the meeting, Sonn says in part, “I felt really disrespected by the board and patronized and I was not expecting that. All we are asking from the school board is to do due diligence. As you heard tonight, they will not listen to anyone but their own advisors. I think if they at least were respectful and open we would have left feeling better about this school board.”

Since the response to Neal Colligan by the Board was similar to Joanne Sonn’s … an attempt to limit discussion on the Affordable Care Act and its requirements, I asked Neal for his thoughts on last night’s meeting.  Here are his comments:

Interesting meeting last night.  Certainly the Board did not want to discuss the fate of the Paraeducators.  Seemed their impression of the situation was that this employee group was satisfied with reduced hours to avoid the ACA.  As that will impact about 80% of these 175 workers resulting in a cut in their total wages next year, I think it was clear that the Board’s impression was wrong.  It was nice to see so many of the employee group out at the meeting.  I wish they could have shared with the Board their individual situations as it relates to the reduced hours solution but I know they are still worried about workplace reprisals.

We don’t know how much work the Board has done on trying to find a plan to comply with the ACA Act so that these employees could maintain their status quo of hours.  They say they investigated and, on the advice of their solicitor, rejected the concept as containing too much liability.  We never heard that compliance could not be done to that another solution was not possible.  The audience last night only heard that they went as far as to ask their paid expert for an opinion.

As one Board member said last night, this situation has been a train wreck.  For the last six weeks, much effort has been spent soliciting outsource venders, negotiating with two of these firms, presenting inflated ACA penalty numbers to the community and finally abandoning outsourcing all together.  The current plan is the fallback avoidance strategy…cut hours and makes all of these folks part-time.  With all that work, time, and money spent on avoidance schemes, it is hard to believe that a compliance solution was fully vetted.  But we’ll never know.

This volunteer Board works as all of our local Boards do in the Public Trust.  They extract money from the community through taxes and use it for a public purpose; our community schools.  But the Trust of the Public is exactly what is missing here.  There were ugly parts to last night’s meeting as the audience clearly disagreed with the Statements of the members of the Board.  The shouting down of community members who rose to give opinions was also ugly.  I believe that this Board has lost its most critical attribute that it needs to carry on in the Public Trust and that attribute is the Trust of the Public.

As Neal states, the aides and paras are “worried about workplace reprisals” and fearful of speaking out.  They saw what happened to a resident Joanne Sonn when she dare offer an opposing opinion (and Ms. Sonn is not an employee of the District.)  It is remarkable to me that residents are encouraged by the Board to get involved, attend school board and committee meetings.  I guess what that really means is that you are welcome to attend, just don’t dare have an opinion.  I have often wondered why more residents are not involved but after last night, I know understand why.

Besides Joanne Sonn and Neal Colligan, the other TE resident asking questions at the Finance Committee was Ray Clarke and here are his comments:

Last night’s Finance Committee meeting was most astonishing to me for the complete absence of any interest in collaboration with the community and affected employees to solve the aide/para healthcare issue.  The default approach is “how do we get around the AHA?”, not “how do we comply with the AHA most efficiently?”  Inexcusable.

We did also get for the first time an integrated picture of the expected financial results for the year, although you had to be quick with ear and pen to catch the numbers.  It’s part of a pattern of the Administration to keep all information tightly controlled.  Anyway, as best as I could figure, it looks like we are heading for revenues of $111 million ($2 million over budget) and expenses of $106 million ($3 million under budget).  The net result: a $5 million surplus.

It should be noted that $0.8 million of the revenue was paid by Vanguard under protest and is subject to the result of their assessment appeal.  Key parts of the favorable expense variance are $1.8 million of healthcare, $0.5 million of salary due to retirements and leaves and $0.2 million for transportation.

So there are a couple of important questions.  First, does this outcome have any impact on the 2013/14 budget, revenues of $112 million (up only $1 million with a proposed $1.5 million tax increase) and expenses of $114 million (up $8 million)?  Well, apparently not.  But of course there is no documented analysis of that.  Dr Brake did have a shot at getting an breakdown, but that went nowhere.  The Board should demand a clear explanation before voting next Monday to approve any tax increase for 2013/14.

Second, what to do with the surplus?  Dr Motel was quick and brusque in claiming it for his Facilities empire.  I asked for an explanation of how the $50 million Infrastructure Implementation Plan is vetted by the Board, and it is clear that there is no integrated oversight.  After the proposed approval on the Consent Agenda, the next the Board sees will be a decade-long, rolling series of one-off projects, also slotted in the Consent Agenda.  Who is making the trade-offs between employee benefits and security and new kitchens, lights and toilets?

It could indeed be that the best use of the surplus is a transfer to the Capital Fund.  The district has some $60 million of debt and interest to be repaid over the next dozen years, of which all but ~$10 million has already been spent.  Although there is a good argument that the cost of new facilities is properly shared with future generations through debt financing, the district needs to be very prudent in loading up with more and more interest-bearing debt.  The first step, though, is of course to make sure that the funds need to be spent in the first place…..

There’s an important Board Meeting next week, but last night’s evidence does little to inspire confidence in Board or Administration leadership.

Isn’t it amazing how last November 2012, the District discovered a surprise surplus of $3.9 million from the 2011-12 budget. Other than some health insurance adjustments, it was never clear how the financial forecast could have been off by nearly $4 million last year.  And if you recall, the surplus was conveniently found immediately following the signing of the teachers’ contract.

If we were to believe that last year’s budget surplus was a fluke of nature, guess what – the fluke happened again. According to Art McDonnell, it sounds like the District will have a surplus of $4-5 million from the 2012-13 budget.  Two things come to mind – if the District has a surplus of $8-9 million in the last two budget cycles, how is it that (1) we cannot afford to offer affordable health insurance to every full-time District employee  and (2) shouldn’t the taxpayers receive a check for overpaid taxes?

The questions continue but the answers do not.  Perhaps the Board will behave differently at next Monday’s School Board meeting … the cameras are on and their performance is recorded.  If you are an aide or paraeducators, a resident, TENIG employee, a teacher or a parent – I encourage you all to attend the meeting, June 17 at 7:30 PM, Conestoga HS.

Open dialogue and communication are key to the success of any organization. As TE School District residents, we have a right to comment and to ask questions of our District leaders and we cannot allow that right to be taken from us.

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*  Joanne Sonn has had extensive communication with Dania Palanka, as she sought expert legal assistance to better understand the Affordable Care Act and what its requirements would mean to the TE School District. Here is a brief background from Ms. Palanker’s resume — Dania Palanker focuses primarily on implementing health reform and expanding access to quality, affordable health care for women and their families. Prior to joining the Law Center, Dania worked for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Starting her work at SEIU in the research department, she became interested in expanding access to health care to low income families and spent a few years as Deputy Administrator of a health benefit program at SEIU, working to provide affordable health insurance to previously uninsured low wage workers and their families. After the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), she worked on implementing the law as Associate Director of Health Policy. Her background in the ACA includes insurance reforms, coverage expansions and delivery system reform, with particular expertise in employer benefits and insurance reforms. She is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Based on Ms. Palanker’s background, it appears that she is eminently qualified to address ACA compliance requirements in the TE School District.

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White Ribbon Campaign no Longer Needed — TESD Not to Outsource!

The TE School Board held an executive meeting last night and have decided against outsourcing of aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers for the 2013-14 school year!  This is great news for the District’s children and their families, the employee and the school district community!

Below is the email from the Kevin Buraks to the employees:

June 6, 2013

 
Dear T/E School District Aides, Para-educators and Paraprofessionals,
 
I write to you on behalf of the T/E School Board to inform you that the Board will not outsource our aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals in the 2013-14 school year. This action is in response to what we learned from you on our visits on May 21, 2013.
 
The District will restructure the work hours of the aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals in a manner that complies with the Affordable Care Act and does not result in new costs or penalties to the District.  The 2013-14 approved Proposed Final Budget does not require adjustment and continues to reflect a 1% raise for all aides, para-educators and paraprofessionals, as well as associated PSERS benefit costs. In addition, the School Board is not required to take any action since the budget is unaffected by this authorization. As I shared with you on May 21st, we greatly value and appreciate the contributions that you make to our students and staff every day. I wish you the best for a successful closing of the school year, a fine summer and look forward to seeing you in the fall.
 
Sincerely,
Kevin Buraks
President
Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board
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Outsourcing analysis by TE School District does not stand up to public scrutiny – decision ‘on hold’

Taxpayers, teachers, PTO presidents, paraprofessionals, parents, substitute teachers, TENIG members and students brought their collective voices to the School Board meeting last night, and were heard, at least temporarily.

Standing three people deep and overflowing into the lobby, all attended the meeting for the singular purpose to oppose outsourcing of paraprofessionals in the TE School District.  For over three hours, one voice after another was echoing the same message to the School Board, “don’t outsource.”  For the record, not one person spoke in favor of the District’s proposed outsourcing plan.

With Fox News and ABC Action News filming most of the proceedings,Board members, District business manager Art McDonnell, personnel manager Sue Tiede and Superintendent Dan Waters repeatedly claimed that many of us had misunderstood and that the third-party outsourcing to STS would actually help ‘save’ the jobs of District aides and paras.  They wanted us to believe that STS would hire all the displaced TE employees and that our employees would be making more money working for STS.

According to McDonnell, the need for outsourcing is based on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the cost to provide healthcare for the aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers working 30 hours or more per week in TESD. These employees have never received healthcare coverage through the District.  McDonnell claimed the annual cost to provide healthcare coverage to these currently uninsured District employees would be in excess of $2.3M and further citing a potential fine of $1.2M annually for noncompliance.

By the time the last person had spoken out about outsourcing, it was abundantly clear that the District and the School Board had many more questions than answers.  McDonnell had predicated his evaluation of the healthcare coverage costs to the District on all 175 employees needing insurance.  As was repeatedly pointed out, most of these employees have insurance through their spouses and do not need the coverage.  The District’s cost to insure was based on all 175 employees working 30+ hours per week which had many in the audience asking why not reduce their hours (so the District would not be affected by the requirements of ACA).

Several residents spoke of personal experience with the Affordable Care Act and its requirements.  One in particular, a CFO for a local corporation, offered that the District’s analysis was incomplete and inaccurate, and suggested the Board seek healthcare benefit expertise so as to make an informed decision. Example of inadequate District analysis — The Affordable Care Act does not stipulate that the healthcare coverage must be the same as offered to the teachers and administrators.  Rather than plugging in the cost for a ‘basic’ healthcare coverage in their outsourcing analysis, the McDonnell used the cost of the Cadillac-type of healthcare coverage of the administrators.

The most striking comments of the evening were from those who had called the proposed outsourcing company, STS to learn about the company and their employment requirements.  They were told that STS employees only need graduate from high school, or a GED will suffice. (Remember all the aides, paras and substitute teachers working in TE have 4-year degrees and many have Master degrees). When asked if any additional training was needed to serve as a school district paraprofessional, the response from the company HR — was one evening of their STS Academy training (!).  One young woman in the audience spoke last night who works for TESD but is also a STS employee.  She explained STS hiring procedure and the shocking revelation that STS hired her with no interview required.

Personnel director Sue Tiede repeatedly countered the low employment standard of STS that should District use this company, they would be required to meet the TESD requirements.  We also learned that STS has no experience with this type of job outsourcing.  Although McDonnell and Tiede offered that a couple of Lancaster County school districts employ STS, we learned quickly from audience members that these contracts were only recently signed … therefore leading to the speculation that our award-winning school district would serve as the company’s outsourcing guinea pig.

Facing many unanswered questions from audience members and an outsourcing analysis that did not stand up to public scrutiny, at 11:20 PM, the School Board voted unanimously to table the discussion of outsourcing for the night.  By the Finance Committee meeting on June 10, the administration and the Board will seek a better understanding of the Affordable Care Act (and its requirements) plus work to answer the many questions and possible solutions offered by the public last night.

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Will outsourcing in TE School District signal decline of property values?

At the Monday TE School Board meeting, our community’s taxpayers, parents and School District employees deserve an open and honest discussion on the impact of outsourcing.  If the jobs of aides, paraeducators and substitute teachers are outsourced with a third party contractor, we deserve to know the long-term costs and financial benefits, if any.  Based on the numbers provided at the Financial Committee meeting, I am not convinced that outsourcing is a cost-savings measure.

Outsourcing subjects our most vulnerable students, those with special needs, to a revolving door of low-paid, less qualified replacements hired by the low bidder outside contractor. Is this better for children with special needs than keeping the dedicated longtime TE employees who parents and students trust and respect?

And what about the taxpayers in the community who don’t have children in the school district …  the issue of outsourcing affects you too.  To date, Tredyffrin and Easttown Township residents  have enjoyed stable real estate values; the reputation of the T/E School District a key to the sustainability. The quality of a school district affects local property values and as a result, homeowners are willing to pay a premium.  With the outsourcing of paraprofessionals in T/E, I think we will see the beginning of a downturn in our home values.  Everyone needs to understand that if the School Board votes on Monday to outsource the aides and paraeducators, the jobs of the District’s custodians, kitchen workers and support staff will not be far behind. The homeowners in this School District should have assurances that living in the T/E community will continue to mean sustainability of the home real estate values. 

Upon his election as T/E School Board president in December 2012, Kevin Buraks stated, “We’re benefiting families with kids who are in school because they’re getting a top-level education that they’ll have for the rest of their lives. I think we’re also benefiting families who don’t have kids in school, because we’re keeping high property values because the schools are ranked in the top of the state”.  Contrary to what you stated 5 months ago, I would argue Mr. Buraks that outsourcing of aides is not beneficial to our families and outsourcing will certainly not keep our property values high.   Perhaps, President Buraks should review his own words prior to the outsourcing vote.

Scott Dorsey sent in a comment for the last Community Matters post but rather than have it buried in the stream of comments, I am adding it to this post.  Mr. Dorsey is a School Board candidate and voices strong opposition to outsourcing. Opposing Dorsey in Tredyffrin Region II is currently serving School Board Director Rich Brake.  In Tredyffrin Region I, incumbent Kevin Buraks is challenged by Peter Connors.  The four Easttown Region III candidates are Doug Carlson, Virgnia Latner, Maryann Piccioni and Jean Kim. 

Primary Election Day is May 21 and knowing where candidates stand on issues has never been more important than in 2013.  I invite current School Board Directors Buraks and Brake and candidates Connors, Carlson, Latner, Piccioni and Kim to submit a personal statement on the issue of outsourcing.   Similarly to Scott Dorsey’s statement,  all statements received prior to Monday night’s meeting will appear on Community Matters.  (Although Betsy Fadem and Anne Crowley are not seeking re-election, they are welcome to submit outsourcing statements as well Pete Motel, Jim Bruce, Liz Mercogliano and Kris Graham.)

From Scott C. Dorsey …

As a resident of Tredyffrin, I stand firmly against any proposal that would outsource the jobs of my fellow neighbors. I truly believe there is an assault on those who have no union representation and it is time for our community to let its voice be heard.

I am saddened by the latest actions of our School Board. The Board has lost its way in giving our top administrators a sweet pay increase and retirement bonus while pushing paraprofessionals out to the lowest outsourcer bid. I understand the Board struggles to find financial opportunities to keep the school district solvent, but do we stoop to tactics of harassing nonprofit organizations by questioning their tax status or attempting to tear down neighborhood popular tennis courts? Do we discard loyal and valued employees who contribute to our students’ success?

Why are they making these decisions without the full input of the community? Where is the transparency?

Government can’t solve all the problems on its own, but Tredyffrin has been a community where people of all backgrounds can raise their families and provide their children a great education. In recent years, our educational system has come under attack. It is time to have public meetings and hear the voices of our neighbors before making decisions that will radically change the character of our schools.

Outsourcing will not save the district money or be a better deal for aides and paraprofessionals, as some School Board members have suggested. I beg my friends on the Board to listen to the people. It is time to focus on investing, not slashing the greatness of our community. I ask all my neighbors to come to the School Board meeting on Monday night to oppose the outsourcing of our educational system. Let us fight to protect those who are oppressed. May God bless us to find the right solutions that will preserve a great school district by investing in its children and valued employees.

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