UCFSD

2014 Pennsylvania School District Rankings based on PSSA scores are in — Unionville Chadds Ford tops the list, Radnor moves up to third and T/E places fifth

Spring is PSSA time for public schools in Pennsylvania and the results for 2014 as reported in the Pittsburgh Business Times reveal exciting news for Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD).  For those interested in this type of school district rankings, UCFSD now tops the state’s list, having ousted long-standing Upper St. Clair School District for the number one position based on 2014 PSSA results.  The Upper St. Clair School District located in suburban Pittsburgh, had previously held the first place title for the last eight years but dropped to fourth in the rankings behind UCFSD, Mt. Lebanon (Allegheny County) and Radnor school districts for 2014.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) formula ranks the school districts based on three years of state standardized test scores, giving the most weight to the current year. The PSSA is a standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math.  Reading and math is assessed in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11; writing is assessed in grades 5, 8 and 11 and science assessed in grades 4, 8 and 11. The rankings do not denote the overall quality and performance of the school district, only the PSSA scores.

Although the 2014 rankings show Upper St. Clair School District dropping to fourth place, another Allegheny County school district, Mt. Lebanon holds at second place.  This is the fourth consecutive year that I have tracked the top 15 school districts and the highlighted line in the chart below indicates  that T/E School District has moved from second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013 and to fifth place in the 2014 PSSA rankings.  Last year we saw UCFSD drop from second in 2012 to third in 2013.  However, UCFSD turned it around for 2014 and ended up first in the rankings.  Looking at other Main Line school districts, Radnor had dropped from fourth to sixth in 2013 but they also changed direction and are now third in the state.  Great Valley School District jumped a couple of spots this year and for 2014, their PSSA scores have them ranked at 11th in the state.

Looking at the ‘Top 15’ school districts in Pennsylvania (based on PSSA results), Allegheny County continues as the number one county with six school districts represented followed by Chester County with three school districts (Unionville Chadds Ford, Great Valley and T/E), Delaware County with three school districts (Radnor, Wallingford Swarthmore and Rose Tree Media) and Montgomery County with one school district (Lower Merion).

A review of other area school districts indicates that Downingtown School District continues to improve; moving from 25th ranking in 2012 to 24th in 2013 and places at 22nd in 2014. Phoenixville School District moved up four positions this year from 98 in 2013 to 94 in 2014.

A Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which  students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud.   Many view PSSA scores as a reliable predictor of future success.  As a tool for student assessment, the PSSA exam helps measure and provides useful information of what students are learning. The PSSAs measure the performance of the entire class and provide of measurement of how an overall class is performing.

Pennsylvania allows parents to exempt their children from standardized tests for religious reasons. Some elected officials, including State Sen. Andy Dinniman, have been publicly wary of the way standardized tests are used.  As Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, he offers ‘Eight Reasons Why We Oppose Keystone Graduation Exams’, believing that it is fundamentally wrong for three standardized tests to determine a student’s high school graduation.

Beyond bragging rights for a school district or as a sales tool for local real estate agents, how important are these test results?  Do children (and teachers) need this level of pressure to ‘measure up’?

PA School District Rankings, Based on PSSA Results for 2011 – 2014 years

School Rankings 14

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Rising healthcare costs … the explanation for outsourcing strategies?

Economic times and tight school budgets have school districts scrambling to find ways to cut costs, and the ‘outsourcing’ chopping block continues as a major target.   Proclaiming cost-savings for cash strapped schools is the driver behind school district outsourcing decisions – and there appears to be an outside company available for virtually every classified service.

There’s nothing wrong with researching the outsourcing idea; otherwise how will the School Board know if they are getting the best services at the best prices.  That said, I do object that the notification letter from the District was mailed to TENIG without any mention at a School Board meeting.  It struck me odd that the president of the teachers union rather than the president of the School Board disclosed this information. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful that TEEA president Laura Whittaker brought the public up to speed on the outsourcing process.  But I don’t think it should be her job to keep ‘us’ in the loop.  It’s important that the public be in the loop during the Board’s ‘discovery’ process as it relates to the outsourcing bids, but also to important that the Board list to resident input on the topic.

The fact is that all the school districts are in a tough situation and that some form of outsourcing has become an avenue for some districts to save money.  Over in Pennsbury School District, members of their support staff, PESPA (Pennsbury Educational Support Professional Association) have taken their cause to the community.  With prominently displayed yellow lawn signs, PESPA are delivering strong words to their School Board, ‘STOP Pennsbury from Outsourcing’.  Well-organized, the union is fighting back through a website dedicated to outsourcing, www.pennsburystudentcare.org which includes an online petition with over 1200 signatures.

According Bucks Local News, Pennsbury’s business manager  Dan Rogers (equivalent to our Art McDonnell) is claiming that they could save about $21 million over the next 5 years by outsourcing custodial services, maintenance workers, paraprofessionals, IT support technicians and instructional aides. An additional $4 million could be added through the sale of buses and equipment. PESPA represents about 600 support staff members – they continue to work under the terms of their old contract, which expired in 2011. Fascinating to note that the chief negotiator for the Pennsbury school board is Jeffrey Sultanik (remember he was the negotiator for T/E School Board with our teachers union).

Sultanik is quoted at a School Board meeting saying, “ …the only way the Board would not consider subcontracting is if the union is willing to make significant salary and benefit concessions.”

Bucks County’s Quakertown School District support staff, Quakertown Education Support Professionals Association (QESPA) fighting back against the privatizing threat of 100 custodians and cafeteria workers. Armed with 1,500 signed petitions from community residents, QUESPA members want their Board to know that taxpayers do not the high quality of services provided to the children to be given away to an outside private company that will bring strangers into the schools.  QUESPA’s current contract expires the end of June but Board is underway in their solicitation of proposals from private outside vendors – believing that it could help save money on food and retirement benefits.

In southern Chester County, the driving force behind Brandywine Heights Area School Board’s decision to authorize an RFP to outsource paraprofessionals is the Affordable Health Act that will take effect in 2014.  Currently, in the Brandywine Heights district, the paraprofessionals work 6 days a week, 30 hours a week and are considered part-time.  However, under the Affordable Health Act, all workers who work 30 hours or more are eligible for benefits.

Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) is slightly ahead of  TESD in the process.  Having already sent RFPs out for outsourcing custodial staff, they are now reviewing the bid received from Servicemaster, a worldwide provider of custodial services.  According to data provided, outsourcing of custodial services would save KCSD approximately $400K in 2014, with higher projected savings in years ahead.  KCSD is set to make a decision this month on privatizing custodial services and are planning a similar review of outsourcing proposals of instructional and teaching assistant staff in the next few months.

I thank Keith Knauss, School Board director for Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) for supplying the following background information for discussion:

” … As background, in 2009-10 TE had 312 full-time support personnel and 78 part-time support personnel. That’s the most recent year available from PA Department of Education.

Those 312 full time support personnel are entitled to salary and benefits defined in the current TENIG contract.
http://www.tesd.net/cms/lib/PA01001259/Centricity/Domain/42/TENIG09july.pdf

Let’s examine the district’s cost to employ a hypothetical 10 month, 190 day, 8 hour per day, Clerk Typist for this year and next.

2012-13 2013-14
Salary $31,981 $33,410 $21.04 to $21.98 per hr (4.5%)
FICA @7.62% $1,218 $1,273 7.62% half reimbursed by the state
PSERS $1,976 $2,835 12.36% to 16.97% half reimbursed by the state
Healthcare $18,700 $20,196 est. family coverage, 8% inflation
Holidays, Sick Leave $3,703 $3,868 10 paid holidays, 10 sick days, 2 personal days
Total $57,579 $61,582
% incr 7.0%

There are two factors that might lead school directors to investigate outsourcing.

First, the cost increase from this year to next is estimated to be 7%.  This a problem when the district’s revenue is constrained by the Act 1 Index that is estimated to be 2.2% next year.

Second, the cost of benefits is far higher than in the private sector.  The PSERS retirement plan and associated cost has been under discussion several times in this blog.  What hasn’t been discussed is the cost of healthcare.    According to the Kaiser Foundation, the national average family plan costs $15,745.  The employer pays $11,429, the employee pays $4,316.  This is compared to TESD where the family plan is estimated to be $19,000.  The TESD pays $18,700, the support staff employee pays $300.  The district’s cost of healthcare for support employees is estimated to be $7,000 above the national average.
http://ehbs.kff.org/pdf/2012/8345.pdf

As always, I try to be thorough and accurate.  I have purposely not advocated for any solution or made any determination as to what is fair.  Constructive criticism is welcome….”

Thank you Keith for this information.  Accepting that the District’s ‘hands are tied’ re PSERS costs (at least for the short-term), clearly the focus needs to be redirected towards healthcare costs, where the opportunity for change does exist.  I have been vocal in my support of TENIG, but as was the case with the teacher contract negotiations, healthcare costs are negatively affecting the budget bottom line.  The teachers provided healthcare concessions in their latest contract and I am hopeful that given the opportunity, the TENIG members may do likewise.

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Kudos to Unionville-Chadds Ford School District . . . For Openness & Transparency on Teacher Contract Negotiations

I have previously written about Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) and the ongoing contract negotiations between their school board and the teachers’ union, Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association (UCFEA).  Although there has not been a definite agreement, both sides continue to meet and discuss.

A wide economic gap exists between what the UCFSD School Board is willing to offer and what the teachers union is willing to accept.  The last round of discussion centered on an independent Fact-Finders Report from early February, which the UCFSD voted to accept, and the union rejected. The union’s rejection of the report ultimately derailed the proposed settlement and the three-year contract remained ‘up in the air’.  The school district has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees and administrators time in the contract negotiation process.

However, post-Fact Finders Report, Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget cuts to public education has now forced UCFSD to reconsider and take their original offer “off the table” and replace it with a more affordable contract.  However, since UCFEA had already rejected the Fact-Finders Report and UCFSD’s offer, it would seem highly unlikely that the teachers will accept the reduced contract offer from the district.

In my opinion, UCFSD School Board receives high marks on their openness and transparency in their contract negotiations with the teachers union and their willingness to share the process with the taxpayers. The UCFSD School Board has provided an updated contract negotiation statement, which presents an easy-to-understand 5-page document that includes a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section.  An interesting fact – the entry-level salary for a teacher in UCFSD is $47,743; average teacher’s salary is $75,798 and maximum teacher’s salary is $101,427.  Approximately 70 of the 330 teachers earn the maximum salary.  If you add in the compensation package, the average teacher’s salary jumps to $97,092 and the highest paid teacher’s salary rises to $125K a year.

The UCFSD School Board believes that they have to protect the taxpayer’s money and object to the union’s contract requests for the following reasons:

1) The request is out-of-line due to the economic conditions – the teachers union is requesting a compensation increase of 4% -7%.

2) The requested contract is not economically sustainable due to Act 1 restrictions.

3) The district does not believe that they have to increase the contract to the level requested to attract excellent teachers.

The school board has determined that they cannot ignore these three objections because taxes will not sufficiently cover the contract.  They do not think that given the economic climate, a special voter referendum would pass with voter support.

Interesting, that the UCFSD update includes TESD in their budget and teacher union contract discussion:

“One only need look a few miles north to Tredyffrin / Easttown School District (TESD) to see what happens when an economically unsustainable teacher contract is signed. The preliminary budget submitted by TESD reflects a 4.2% tax increase, which is the maximum they are allowed by law, and will result in drastic educational program cuts and still leave a budget shortfall of more that $8 million. The UCFSD School Board will not put our district in that predicament with an unaffordable contract.”

The current offer from UCFSD to the UCFEA for a three-year contract includes a salary freeze for Year 1, 1% increase, full step movement mid-year for Year 2 plus a 10% employee contribution for health care, 1% increase, full step movement mid-year  for Year 3 plus a 15% employee contribution for health care.  The gap between USCFSD and USFEA is obvious.

What impresses me about the USFSD School Board is their willingness to keep the community involved in the contract negotiation process.  Because taxpayers are updated on the contract negotiations, there appears to be greater public dialogue during the process.  I know in the past, contract negotiations have always occurred behind closed doors; I am hopeful that TESD School Board will similarly keep our community informed as the calendar moves ever closer to contract negotiation season.

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