Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association

Will Lower Merion School District’s handling of teacher’s contract play out similarly in TE School District — Some school board candidates weigh in

Last week a tentative agreement was reached between Lower Merion School District and their teachers. The deal between LM and the union was made in secret, with a process devoid of transparency.  The proposed teacher’s contract and its terms were not published for public review.

There are rumors that the TE School District is currently in ‘Early Bird’ contract negotiations with the teacher’s union. Because of the existing situation in Lower Merion, rumors of early bird talks and five seats on the TE School Board up for grabs on Election Day, there was discussion as to where our candidates stand on this issue.  The following email was sent to the ten Tredyffrin and Easttown school board candidates on Saturday.

To All TE School Board Candidates:

I know that you are all very busy campaigning in advance of Election Day. Tredyffrin resident Ray Clarke added a comment on Community Matters regarding the teacher contract, negotiations and keeping the public informed. He has spoken with several of you regarding his concerns, particularly given what is currently going on in Lower Merion School District.  As a result, I am asking you to read the following and provide a very  brief (100 words or less) response to me by 9 PM, Sunday, Nov. 1. The question and all candidate responses received will appear on Community Matters on Monday, Nov. 2.

Negotiating union contracts (teachers and support staff) will be important tasks for the new Board.  In Lower Merion School District, a secret deal is playing out between their school board and the teachers union.  Much to the chagrin of Lower Merion taxpayers, the union members get to review the contract before signing but the public is left in the dark and provided no information.

During the last teachers’ contract negotiations, the TE School Board moved in the correct direction with periodic updates to the public. Assuming that there are no secret “Early Bird” deals already in discussion  between the current Board and the union, [if elected] where do you stand on publishing any proposed contracts to the public at the same time as the unions send it to their members? In addition to publishing the terms of the contract to the public before signing, to also include the full annual cost of the contract for each year (including PSERS, salaries, benefits, etc.) with an explanation of how the Board will pay the costs. 

Again, I understand that you are pressed for time and I thank you in advance. Your responses may help get additional voters to the polls on Tuesday.

Pattye Benson

Because I know how busy the candidates are in the last days leading up to the election, their responses were to be brief – 100 words or less. One hundred words is very short; the second paragraph in the statement above (from “During … costs.”) is 109 words.

During this campaign season, most every school board candidate has used themes of transparency, public engagement and responsiveness to citizens in their campaigning literature, meet and greets with voters and during the Chester County League of Women Voters candidate forum. It is for that reason, that a brief response would allow each candidate the opportunity to restate and to reconfirm their transparency commitment to the voters before Election Day tomorrow (November 3).

Of the ten school board candidates, responses to the question were received by Kate Murphy (R) and Fran Reardon (D), Easttown, Region 3 candidates; Neill Kling (R) and Neal Colligan (R) Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidates and Ed Sweeney (R) Tredyffrin West, Region 2.  The responses from these five candidates appear below.

The four Democratic school board candidates from Tredyffrin (Alan Yockey, Michele Burger, Roberta Hotinski and Todd Kantorczyk) each sent similar emails; all declining to respond, citing time constraints due to the campaign and/or previous personal commitments.  There was no response from Kris Graham.  If, as rumored (and I do say if) there are early bird negotiations already underway between the TE School District and TEEA, the District teacher’s union, it would not be possible for Ms. Graham to respond.

The TE School Board candidate responses are as follows:

Neill Kling, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

A cloak and dagger approach serves neither party.  The union must understand throughout that what their members receive can be no more than what our tax base will reasonably be able to bear.  The current PESERS situation resulted from disregard of that sound principle.  Thus, I believe that the taxpayers should view the contracts when they are sent to the teachers for approval.  I am also in favor of providing a public estimate of how we propose to meet the contractual obligations.  The District must conduct negotiations with this estimate uppermost in mind.  Publishing it when they are completed is responsible stewardship.

Neal Colligan, Tredyffrin East, Region 1 candidate:

Of course, the public should be informed as negotiations move forward….this is by far the largest municipal contract in our community.  Start now by presenting the existing economics…total salary, benefits, pension contribution…show the history of these costs.  This information, reviewed at an entity level, will not disclose any employees’ personal compensation package and will not violate the rules of new contract discussions.  As the process advances, let the community know of the issues…I doubt the Union side would object.  People here are pretty fair and can draw their own conclusions on what is just as negotiations move towards a new contract.

From Ed Sweeney, Tredyffrin West, Region 2 candidate:

I would strongly agree to the first proposal if it was consistent with current agreement between the School District and the Union and with the provisions of relevant labor law.  As far as his other proposals, I need more information but I am a proponent of maximum disclosure at the appropriate time.

I agree with the principle of “MORE” . . . more transparency, more public disclosure, more committee meetings convenient to working parents, and more involvement of residents and stakeholders at an early stage of committee consideration of issues.  In my view, more = better.  More increases public confidence and protects the taxpayer.

From Kate Murphy, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

In Pennsylvania, salaries and benefits make up the lion’s share of any school district’s budget, generally between 70% and 80%.  Pension benefits (PSERS) are set legislatively by the General Assembly and the Governor, and are not negotiated by local school boards.  All collective bargaining agreements must be available to the public for review and comment well in advance of the public vote to approve such agreements.  Periodic updates during the negotiations can be a helpful tool to inform the public.  District estimates of the full annual cost of the contract for each year should be available for timely public examination.

From Fran Reardon, Easttown, Region 3 candidate:

In negotiating contracts within the School District, we should maintain a high level of transparency for all parties involved.  Periodic updates should be available to the taxpaying public and all other stakeholders.  Current annual cost of contracts should clearly be given with the long term effects of PSERS obligations also laid out and presented to the TE community in a timely fashion before any vote by the school board.

As a member of the TE School Board, I will work with the full board to give the taxpayers value for their dollar and also maintain the excellence of our schools.

T/E School District and Teachers Sign New 2-Year Contract

After 9 long months, the T/E School Board approved a new 2-year (2012-13 and 2013-14) contract between TESD and T/E Education Association last night.  To read the contract summary of the teacher’s contract, click here.  If you prefer to read the entire contract, click here.

Ray Clarke attended the Special Meeting of the School Board and the Finance Committee meeting which directly followed.  In his review of the teacher’s 2-year contract, I thank Ray for offering the following highlights and his personal commentary on the contract.  As expected the teacher’s healthcare benefits and salaries are the primary focus of the changes in the new contract.

  • The basic details are more or less exactly the same as the first 2 years of the District’s 3 year proposal (as Keith Knauss predicted here).  Salary freeze, no matrix movement, furlough days equivalent to 1% salary reduction in 2013/14, slightly higher contribution to healthcare premiums and prescription drugs, two new (lower cost?) health plans, capped tuition reimbursement, and one time $2,500 per employee bonus (a “legitimate” fund balance use?) in 2013/14.
  • Net saving vs status quo/budget of $400,000 for the current year (2012/13); 2013/14 cost increases from that by $400,000 plus the $1.1 million one time bonus (but presumably a cost saving vs the status quo model).
  • The rest of the contract structure basically unchanged
  • No demotions in either year of the contract, but specifically on the table for the next contract
  • No resolution of the 6 period CHS grievance (a ruling in favor of the TEEA would require the hiring of 12 additional FTE – say $1.5 million ongoing cost (salary, benefits, PSERS) plus one time payment of I think I recall $3 million?)
  • The President of the TEEA is allowed to speak at TESD Board meetings
  • Family health benefits available to same-sex domestic partners

My general sense is that both sides went about as far as they could go this round.  This contract is only for two years, at which point we’ll see how the economy and political landscapes have progressed, and the Board members Rich Brake, Kevin Buraks, Anne Crowley and Betsy Fadem will have had to choose their election platforms, if running in 2013.

Interesting that the standard bonus helps those at the lower end of the scale more than proportionately (my concern, if teaching is to remain attractive for the next generation in an environment of benefits slashed in favor of the currently tenured), and that lead negotiator Deb Ciamacca keeps her higher-end CHS constituency happy by keeping the grievance on the table.

Following the Special Meeting of the School Board, the regular Finance Committee meeting followed.  Ray offers the following notes from that meeting:

The Finance Committee reported on the Act 1 index for 2013/14 – 1.7%.  Slightly higher than expected – someone in the state bureaucracy (or government?) made a decision to change the calculation method (to include a longer period for averaging state weekly wage increases) that raises the index by 0.2%.  Shenanigans?

The Finance Committee spent some time discussing how to establish that parcels currently listed as tax-exempt conform with recent PA Supreme Court rulings that narrow the availability of tax exempt status.  More details remain to be gathered on exactly what these rulings are and what entities might be affected.  I was pleased to see that while Committee chair Fadem was advocating a 13 part, multi-point data request be sent to all tax exempt property owners (mainly the townships, federal government, schools, churches, right-of-way owners and land trusts), Board members Brake and Motel were at pains to avoid an “undue burden” on both volunteer charities and the district.

T/E Teachers Contract Not yet Public

The TESD held its regular monthly school board meeting last night.  I was unable to attend but Ray Clarke attended and forwarded his notes from the meeting.  There had been much speculation about whether or not the public would see the tentative agreement between the District and the teachers union, TEEA.   The agreement was not available last night but the residents were told that TEEA will vote to ratify the agreement by October 11.  Therefore, as a result the school board has scheduled a special school board meeting for October 15 at 7 PM, before the previously scheduled Finance Committee meeting, which has now moved to 7:30 PM.

Ray asked the board if the public would see the contract before the school board vote and they said it would be available at the meeting and the public would have a chance to comment before the vote.  As Ray says in his notes, “We’ll have to do some speedy analysis in the allotted 30 minutes”.  Ray’s questions to the school board were fielded by the solicitor, who offered “a lot of legalese about ‘labor relations case law’ and prejudicing the TEEA vote, while never explaining exactly how those factors would operate to adversely impact the district and its taxpayers”.  I am pleased to know that school board member Rich Brake attempted a thoughtful explanation as to the rationale behind not providing the complete information at this point but with a commitment of a thorough explanation in the meeting before the vote.

However, Ray writes, “Kevin Buraks, on the other hand, used the recent property purchase as an example of the need for the secrecy, which of course proves my point rather than his! That draft contract [Old Lancaster Rd. property purchase] – negotiated privately directly between the parties, of course was made available to the public a full week-end before the ratification vote”.  If you recall last month, I was surprised to see the property purchase of the house on Old Lancaster on the school board agenda.  Its agreed that there had been much discussion over the years about that remaining property and the need to purchase it – just came as a surprise and a little unsettling how the property purchase was seemingly buried in the bottom of the agenda. The agreement of sale identified the property as 892 Old Lancaster Avenue, the seller as the Estate of Arthur Fennimore, and the price as $265K.

Ray’s noted the school board’s updated communications objectives for 2012-13 as including the communication of “milestones”, not substance.  He reminds that it is this board of nine that “completely determines the budget, programs and taxes”.  I was hopeful that the school district was moving forward in the direction of transparency but there certainly appears to be a sense of mystery surrounding the contents of the teachers’ agreement.  My guess is that the school board believes in the ‘less is more’ approach when dealing with the public.  Their theory appears to be the less that we [public] know, the less that we [public] can then question.

Community Matters Not Going Anywhere — ‘Our Collective Voices’ Matter!

Community Matters was down for about 4 hours yesterday, causing some regular readers to speculate that either I had voluntarily closed the site down or, that someone had  forced its closure.  For those prone to conspiracy theories, concerns heightened when it was discovered that the township’s website was also down.  I have no idea what caused the township website to go off-line but it is possible that the problem, was the same as for Community Matters.  Go Daddy, one of the largest Internet hosting firms, had major technical difficulties yesterday, which resulted in 5 million of their sites (including Community Matters) to go down.  An anonymous hacker is claiming responsibility for the service disruption.

So, for those who would wish otherwise, I remain stoic in my resolve … our ‘collective voices’ are important in this community.  Community ‘matters’ and our voices are part of this community.  In the last couple of days, I  have been in contact with two members of the Board of Supervisors in regards to (1) the use of the township website by a supervisor for personal messages and the policy (procedure) for such usage and (2) the communication I received from our township manager, which was posted on Community Matters.  My hope is that the Board of Supervisors will address my concerns, and those of many in the community, prior to their next meeting on Monday, September 17.  One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that what happened last week will not be forgotten.  The offensive letter may be off the township website, but its damage is not easily erased. At this point … I say, stay tuned.

Moving forward, I could not help but think about our own school district as a I watched the news yesterday and the striking teachers from Chicago’s 675 public schools.  As I understand it, Chicago teacher union leaders and district officials were not far apart in their negotiations on compensation.  But other issues – including potential changes to health care benefits and a new teacher evaluation system based partly on students’ standardized test scores, remain unresolved. Chicago teachers object to their jobs and performance being tied to students’ standardized test scores.

In T/E School District, on September 5, members of the school board and Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) reached a tentative agreement on the contract.  The existing contract expired on June 30.  The public will not see the agreement until both sides ratify the tentative agreement.  I am not sure why the delay, but it will be about 6 weeks until the school board votes on the tentative agreement at their October 22 school board meeting.  Presumably, at that point, the contents of the agreement will be released to the public.

The TESD Finance Committee held their first meeting of the 2012-13 school year last night. for 2012-13 year was held on Monday night. Thank you to Ray Clarke for attending and providing his notes to Community Matters.

First, a few miscellaneous items I jotted down:

  • We got an unbudgeted $330,000 refund from Blue Cross.  This flows from mysterious BC prior year accounting which has in other years resulted in a charge.  This is a nice non-recurring bonus (especially since we are now self-insured).
  • Federal revenues from the ACCESS program were also $300,000 more than budget.
  • The risk from new commercial assessment appeals remains, and a $1.4 million reduction is included in the budget
  • Residential appeals of about 150 parcels is at about the same rate as last year and we’ve lost $56,000 from about a quarter of these settled so far.  The reduction is less than it was last year, though.
  • The district is appealing 23 commercial assessments; the historical success rate has not been high (~10%, I think).
  • At this early stage, the administration sees no need to use the $5.15 million “budgetary reserve”.
  • Over the last couple of years we have actively managed bus routes to reduce the need by 5 buses (down to 105) – a saving of $250,000 a year.  This success makes me think that it would be nice to see a short table of the results of all the budget strategies.

The Financial Report did not include any impact of the tentative TEEA contract agreement.  I was told that this could not be done, since anything would be “speculation” until the Board votes on the contract.  Dr Waters said that releasing tentative contract details would be counter to “40 years of history”.  Dr Motel said that the Board has complete authority to enter into an agreement, regardless of what their constituents think.  There was no explanation of why the secrecy is in the interests of the district or of the taxpayers.

It strikes me that if 40 years of history was always the guide, then most CM readers would never have got the right to vote.  How is it that the beneficiaries of a contract have the ability to review and approve it, but the people paying for that contract do not?  Every other budget item gets months of public discussion.  We heard tonight a report of the revenues from advertising, which was debated ad nauseam for 2 years and has just now realized its first revenues of $760 (over two years).  Every year the $10,000 or $20,000 cost of PSBA membership is discussed in multiple meetings.  The TEEA contract represents one-third of total expenses for just salaries alone (and probably influences double that), yet we have no chance to give our representatives our opinion?

So that leaves us to speculate for ourselves.  My thought is that the back-end loading of the tentative deal busts the budget far beyond the maximum tax increase will allow, and leaves the post-election mess for the next school board generation to sort out

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.

Given Our Economic Times, How Can T/E Afford A Real Estate Purchase?

Here we are nine days and counting until school starts, in the midst of contentious teacher contract negotiations and parents in the District hoping that school starts on time.  Residents have repeatedly been told that T/E School District cannot afford the demands of the teachers … escalating health care and pension costs.  With decreasing revenues and rising costs, in June we witnessed, as tough decisions were required to balance the District budget.

During the discussion on the Fact Finder’s report at the August 20 special School Board meeting, school board members weighed in on why they could not vote in favor of the report.   Karen Cruickshank, Board president, commented in part,

“… The public knows how hard the Board has worked to balance the budget over the past 3 years.  We have explored ways to increase revenues.  We’ll be charging students an activity fee for the first time this year. We have raised taxes 2 years in a row to the Act 1 limit with allowable exceptions to referendum. We have cut $10 million from our budget, or one tenth. We have held administrators, aides and paras at zero raises over the last 3 years. The members of TENIG agreed to a 4.5% cut last year. The custodial staff has agreed to waive both the 4.5% increase for next year and has given back an additional 10% of current salary. The numbers still don’t balance. It is the responsibility of the Board to balance the budget. The Board has no control over large increases in state mandated pension obligations put in place by the legislature in 2001. The District has also suffered significant financial losses through commercial and residential real estate reassessments and tax appeals. These reassessments and appeals have resulted in the likely loss of $1.5 million this year. These factors together have wreaked havoc on what was once a stable T/E budget…”

For the most part, I think that residents are starting to recognize the economic problems facing the District and the importance of School Board members to make responsible and sound fiduciary decisions. It is because of this, that frankly I was astounded to see a specific item listed under the ‘Consent Agreement’ on the agenda for the School Board meeting, Monday, August 27. According to the agenda, a ‘Consent Agenda’ requires Board action but “… it is unnecessary to hold discussion on these items. With the consent of all members, they are therefore grouped and approval is given in one motion.”  

There are probably 15 or 20 consent agenda items listed on Monday’s agenda, ranging from approving minutes, and acceptance of gifts to ‘purchase property’.  All of these consent items are lumped together and then rather than going through them item by item, approved by the School Board in one motion.  The purchase property item caught my attention but I had to read to page 45 of the agenda’s supplement materials to find the following:

Consent VII, E, 3:Purchase of Property

“That the Board of School Directors authorizes the Superintendent to execute, and the Board Secretary to attest, and deliver to the record owner of property designated as Tax Parcel No. 43-10L-2 [which is property adjoining the District’s property], the Agreement of Sale in the form attached to the resolution…….”

The agreement of sale that follows further identifies the property as 892 Old Lancaster Avenue, the seller as the Estate of Arthur Fennimore, and the price as $265K.  The date of sale is left blank.  On Saturday morning, I stopped by the property to take a photo and spoke with the grandson of Mr. Fennimore.  He and his brothers were cleaning out the house in advance of the purchase by TESD.  Mr. Fennimore was 97 when he passed away and was the original owner of the house. According to the grandson, closing between the Estate and TESD is expected by the end of the week.

I have attended most, if not all, of the 2012 School Board meetings and have absolutely no recall on the discussion to purchase additional real estate property, …  especially given the agonizing budget decisions, the possibility of demotion and the contract negotiations with the teachers.  Therefore, I don’t think that I missed the discussion about purchasing additional real estate.

This past Friday there was a Facilities Committee meeting and although I did not attend, according to the agenda there was no discussion about the upcoming purchase of the Fennimore property. To be clear, in the past, there have been on/off discussions about the maintenance building and the need to expand the storage facility.  In fact, there are existing architectural plans —  but as far as I knew, the project was ‘on hold’ for obvious economic reasons.

The Fennimore house is the last remaining property between the current maintenance building and T/E Middle School on Old Lancaster Rd. – the District previously purchased all other properties.  So … I guess from an overall planning standpoint, the acquisition of this property makes sense.  However, given the District’s current economic climate and the unsettled teachers’ contract, it would seem that the topic to ‘purchase’ would still require some discussion, not just buried with 20 other consent items.  Unfortunately, the word that immediately comes to mind … transparency, or rather ‘lack thereof’.

Based on my conversation with Mr. Fennimore’s grandson, the estate has a deal with the school district and that closing and settlement will occur later this week. Given that there appears that there will be no discussion about the School Board’s decision to purchase the property, here are my questions …

How did they arrive at the price for the property?  The sale price is listed as $265K.  My friend Ray Clarke did the research and determined that the assessed value is $129,500.  According to Ray, if we “… multiply $129,500 by the current Chester County Common Level Ratio of 1.70, you get $220,150.”  Subtract $220,150 from $265K, and you have to ask, why is the School District paying a $45K premium for this property.  Regardless of future development plans, for the time being, the District will need to tear down the house, which means an additional expense.  Another question — is the maintenance-storage facility project still on the back burner or does the Fennimore house purchase have the timetable moved up on the construction project?

Some may suggest that a $265K real estate purchase in the T/E School District is a ‘bargain’ and a ‘smart’ move for the District in these depressed economic times.  But the bottom line for me, is $265K really such a bargain for a property assessed at $130K?  And what about the public – do we deserve an explanation about the purchase?  What is the plan for the acquisition? And if there is a plan, how much will that plan cost? 

I have the questions, but it doesn’t look like there will be much in the way of answers.

Will T/E School District Open Without New Teachers Contract

Now that the 2nd vote on the Fact Finder report is behind us, it is my understanding that the school board and the teachers return to traditional method of negotiations.  As the clock ticks down the remaining days of summer vacation, can we assume that schools in T/E will open on schedule.  It is my understanding that until there is a new contract; the teachers will continue to work to the terms of their expired contract.

But how long can the T/E school district budget afford for the teachers to work to the old contract?   

The Neshaminy teachers and the school district have been locked in a vicious contract debate for 4+ years with neither side willing to budge – sticking points in the bitter contract dispute is healthcare and salary.  It is my understanding that the teachers want a 5% salary increase retroactively for the last 4 years.

As I wrote in January of this year, the teachers in the Neshaminy School District are the highest paid in the state but if we look at PSSA results, the Neshaminy School District doesn’t even make the top 50 in the state, coming in at number 245 among Pennsylvania’s 500 districts.  Over half of the Commonwealth’s school districts have outperformed Neshaminy on PSSA tests for the last 10 years.  Compare that to Tredyffrin Easttown School District and the ranking of third in the state.  If the highest paid teachers, working in a school district that underperforms 50% of all other school districts in the state, are willing to strike twice in 6 months … what does that mean for other districts with teacher contracts pending?

Lower Merion School District is in a similar situation to TESD.  Lower Merion’s teacher contract expired the end of June and the 1,300 union members are working ‘for now’ under the provisions of the old one.  With school scheduled to open on Tuesday in Lower Merion, the School District officials and the union are set to negotiate tonight to see if they can settle.

Most people who I have spoken with do not believe that our teachers will strike in TESD.   I am not sure what is to be gained by a teacher strike, aside from many aggravated parents.  Or is it possible that teachers can be pushed to a point where they feel this is their only option?

T/E School Board: 2nd Vote Not to Accept Fact Finders Report

Last night was both the Board of Supervisors meeting and the special meeting of the school district.  I attended the BOS meeting and Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting and kindly provided his personal notes of the meeting.  Although we should not be surprised that the school board rejected the fact finders report a second time, in speaking with Ray I am troubled by something that happened.  Now again — I was not there so if my interpretation is incorrect, someone please correct me.

It appears that there was a heated exchange between Sultanik (the negotiating attorney hired by TESD) and Laura Whittaker, the  teacher union president.  Apparently it is OK for Sultanik to make public claims against the union but Ms. Whittaker is not allowed to defend her position.  Why?  Because although Ms. Whittaker is a TESD teacher, she is not a T/E resident.   Regardless of which side you support (TESD or TEEA)  this does not seem fair.

I understand the economics of the school district, but that does not give Sultanik the right to disrespect the teachers and then offer no option for them to defend.   These people teach our children, are they not entitled to respect?  The school board has a policy that non-T/E residents are not permitted to comment at school board meetings and I appreciate that if there is long line of people waiting to comment, that it is fair that residents be permitted to speak first.  Regardless of the union, TENIG, TEEA, etc. I am of the opinion that the union president representing his/her members should be permitted to speak at school board meetings, without a ‘residency’ requirement.  I am not saying all the non-resident teachers, custodians, etc. just the presidents, should they be non-residents.

Again, I did not attend the meeting and would certainly appreciate the opinions of other who did attend.  Bottom line for me … I want both sides fairly represented but I don’t like the idea of public ‘dressing-down’ from  either.  Here are Ray’s notes:

The School Board took advantage of the forum offered by tonight’s Board meeting to present their side of the contract negotiations and to outline the details of their three year offer suggested at the last Board meeting.  Unfortunately, perhaps, they felt the need to rebut the TEEA week-end comment that “School board members have not met with us….” with Mr Sultanik recounting a minute by minute list of the emails between him and the union’s Ms Waldie, during which an offer to meet was repeatedly made, and which did in fact lead to a meeting of the parties on August 15th.  At that meeting the Board presented their proposal, to which – according to Sultanik – the TEEA has not officially responded.  There were shouts of “You lie!” or similar from the audience, but Ms Whittaker, not a district resident, was not permitted to speak.

Here’s the essence of the District proposal:

– Freeze matrix, step and column positions for 2 years.  One step and column movement halfway through Year 3

– One time $2,500 bonus for all teachers in Year 2 and one time $1,000 bonus for all teachers on the top step in Year 3

—  Sizable incentives that do not build in recurring expense (use of the fund balance!)

– 189 day calendar in Years 2 and 3, down from the current 191 days

—  Locking in the 2 furlough days (1% salary reduction) in the Fact Finder report

– Two health plans with family coverage with premium share rising from 9-10% to 11-12% in Year 3.  The individual dollar cost for the most expensive plan is projected at $1,743  to $2,531, compared to $1,020 under the current plan.  A $50,000-$60,000 copay pool in Years 2 and 3 if the higher cost healthcare plan can be dropped due to less than half the employees selecting that plan.

— The national average for premium share is 29%

   — There’s a tax provision that allows employees to deduct their premium share, reducing the net cost by their marginal tax rate

– A cap on tuition reimbursement of $150,000 in Years 2 and 3 (compared to $290,000 under the current MOU and $650,000 last year)

– Radnor and Lower Merion have introduced caps on tuition reimbursement

– Prescription copays as in the Fact Finder report

– Demotions allowed for economic reasons in Years 2 and 3

– Settlement of outstanding grievances, particularly re the CHS 6 period day

— If ruled in favor of the union would require the hiring of 12 additional FTE at a cost of $1.2 million a year

Sultanik stated that the deadline for a TEEA response is August 27th at 12 noon.  It’s not clear if that is a mandatory deadline per the law, but it could be, since the process is still under the aegis of the state arbitrator and law does require continuation of the negotiating process.

Art McDonnell presented two slides that provided the current status quo budget/3 year projection and the Fact Finder report.  As presented, the Fact Finder report reduced the Year 1 and 2 deficits by about $300,000, but the year 3 (and 4) deficits increased by the same amount.  He did not show how the latest Board proposal would stack up under the same model, but in response to my question there were general comments from the Board that the deficits would still not be eliminated under likely tax scenarios.  (I think that there may be enough data to model the impact ourselves, and with some time over the next couple of days I’ll take a shot at that, but it will be difficult to account for all the inter-relations of salary, PSERS, etc.)

Ann Crowley and Kris Graham explained their August 9th votes to accept the Fact Finder report largely on the basis of expediency and on the intangible impact of an unsettled contract on home values, teacher stress, need for students to continue to out-perform, and so on.  Mrs Graham thought there was now benefit to the teachers to get the 3 year deal and so changed her vote tonight, in order to get the parties back to the negotiating table.  Mrs Crowley abstained from voting in protest of the email litany recounted by Mr Sultanik.  Dr Motel reminded the audience that salaries for all other employees have been flat for three years, and at some point increases may need to be found.  President Cruickshank also noted this and the give backs from TENIG employees and separately custodians.   She noted that the Board has to balance the budget and recounted the last three years total of $10 million expense cuts, maximum tax increases and falling real estate assessments.  Remaining options are to cut kindergarten, transportation and extra-curriculars.  She made a plea for “two austere years to right the financial ship”.

The Board voted 8 to 0 with one abstention to reject the Fact Finder report.

The audience seemed to be largely teachers, with little public comment.  Andrea advocated rationalizing the healthcare benefit craziness by providing a defined contribution rather than a Blue Cross-specific defined benefit; another resident supported the Fact Finder report on the basis of retaining qualified teachers and supporting property prices.  ABC News was there, also.

T/E Teachers Union Appeals to School Board to Accept Fact Finder Report

President of Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA Laura Whittaker has released the following appeal in advance of Monday’s TESD vote on the Fact Finders report.  The statement urges the school board to vote to accept the report at the special meeting.  Whittaker claims that the school board has not moved from their original position of last February although TEEA has offered “significant financial sacrifices”.

The clock is ticking down to September 4, the first day of school.  If the school board does not vote to accept the Fact Finder’s report, is a teachers strike on the horizon … ?  

Board’s decision to reject impartial Fact Finder’s report further exposes its inflexibility

Tredyffrin-Easttown Education Association President Laura Whittaker is calling on the members of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District board to reverse their decision to reject an impartial Fact Finder’s report intended to settle the district’s expired contract with TEEA members.

In the fact-finding process, a neutral, third-party arbitrator reviewed the contract proposals of each side and made recommendations intended to settle the expired contract. The review took 40 days. Once the fact finder issued the report, each party had 10 days to accept or reject the fact finder’s recommendations.

The TESD board rejected the report at its August 9th meeting, and will vote again on the issue during its Monday, August 20, special school board meeting. The meeting starts at 8 p.m. in at the Tredyffrin-Easttown Administrative Offices.

TEEA members voted to accept the Fact Finder’s report even though it contained significant financial sacrifices on their behalf, including approximately $500,000 in lost wages, a reduction in health care benefits, and a loss of tuition reimbursement for professional development.

“School board members have not met with us, and they rejected the Fact Finder’s report without having moved from the original proposal they gave their negotiator in February.  They now have another opportunity to vote to settle this contract,” Whittaker said.

Whittaker urges all members of the T/E school community to turn out for Monday night’s school board meeting and make their voices heard. “Parents do not want their children’s education interrupted because of the school board’s stubborn inflexibility,” she said.

“If the board would be reasonable and accept the impartial Fact Finder’s report, it would assure that the school year can start on time and without disruption,” Whittaker said.

T/E Teachers Union Weighs in on Fact Finder’s Report

Last night I received the following press release from Laura Whittaker, president of teacher union Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA).

TEEA Votes to Accept Fact Finder’s Report, Asks for Community Support 

On Monday, August 6, the members of TEEA met to discuss and vote on the Fact Finder’s report. Acting as an independent third party, Fact Finder Mr. Timothy Brown carefully examined all of the issues in dispute as well as the District’s finances and revenue potential. By law, TEEA members were required to accept or reject the report in its entirety, and the membership voted to accept the report.

Under the provisions of the Fact Finder’s report, professional employees would be frozen at the current salary for a year and a half.  Association members also agreed to a choice between two less expensive health care plans as well as increases in premium sharing and prescription costs. The report linked no demotions of professional staff with a reduction in tuition reimbursement during the second year of the agreement, a provision that built upon the previously established Memorandum of Understanding which reduced tuition reimbursement in exchange for no demotions during the first year of the contract. Furthermore, the Fact Finder acknowledged the District’s desire for cost savings by allowing the District, in the second year of the contract, to furlough teachers for up to two full days with a corresponding salary reduction, a provision currently non-existent in any teacher contract in the state of Pennsylvania. TEEA estimates that the furlough days alone would cost TEEA members approximately $500,000 in lost wages.

“We are disappointed by the School Board’s choice to reject the report and stated efforts that they would like to continue bargaining,” TEEA President Laura Whittaker said. “By voting to accept the report, TEEA members have acknowledged the need for shared sacrifice. We believe that the report offers a fair and reasonable contract settlement. We urge members of the public to read the full Fact Finder’s report that is available on our website and ask the community to support acceptance of the Fact Finder’s report in order to reach a contract settlement so that we can all focus on the education of the children of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District.”  The School Board will take their second vote on the Fact Finder’s report on Monday, August 20 at 8 pm at the Tredyffrin-Easttown Administrative Offices at 940 West Valley Road, Suite 1700 in Wayne.

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