Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TESD Finance Committee Meeting . . . reporting by Malvern Resident Ray Clarke

As we know, it is impossible to be 2 places at once . . . and last night was one of those nights. I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting but I knew that I had coverage at the Finance Committee meeting with my friend Ray Clarke. The Clarke family was busy last night, Ray at the Finance meeting and his wife Carol attended the Board of Supervisors meeting! I thank Ray for providing his notes from the meeting and would encourage other readers to add their comments.

The TESD Finance Committee played to a packed house in the CHS auditorium last night. We got through about 15 of the potential deficit-closing strategies, with the next session slated for March 8th, where the plan is to complete a pass through all of them. My take-aways:

– There was great passion from parents and students who had benefited from, or who would be impacted by, the programs slated for change. Hopefully, understanding the concerns will be helpful in finalizing the new program designs. Although the majority spoke against change, particularly in the Middle School programs, there were some with experience (for example, of the proposed Advisory period) that spoke to the benefits experienced in neighboring districts.

– The Board expressed confidence in the Administration and, based on their performance, that seems to be well placed. In particular I thought that Rich Gusick, Director of Curriculum and much else, was knowledgeable and made reasonable arguments.

– The Administration believes that the programs in the first “reference code” (those for the most part previously discussed, although you would not have thought so!) will result in the reduction of 19.3 FTEs, and that reduction could likely be met through retirements (7 known so far) and resignations rather than lay-offs – but this will depend on certifications needed and available.

– The drama came with a prepared speech from TEEA President Ciamacca. She was very concerned that the possible increase in High School teaching periods from 5 to 6 would leave little time for the many functions performed outside the classroom. (Note that we were progressing systematically through the strategies from #1 on, and had not reached that – #47 – yet). She did, though, state that the TEEA wanted to be part of the solution and outlined an offer to work the last three days of 2010/11 for no pay (claimed impact $600,000) and also an early retirement offer (claimed impact $1,000,000). She handed a letter to Board President Fadem, which I took to contain those offers (and from comments made, I was led to believe that this was the first official communication from the TEEA, and that written offers had been requested before). Finance Chair Mahoney responded for the Board, welcoming the TEEA as a stakeholder, but sternly chastising the “grandstanding and unfair” tactic of presenting an offer for the TV audience rather than “sitting down across the table as in the past”.

The devil is always in the details. Is there in fact a mechanism for forgoing 3 days of pay? For 2010/11, or for 2011/12 also? How much would the district have to pay to save the $1 million from early retirement and thus, what’s the present value of that proposal? Things that do need to be analyzed in a dispassionate way. There’s clearly a communication problem, and from my perspective, since the TEEA is the only beneficiary of the situation here (compare the salary matrix for 2011/12!), they need to step up to the bigger role that I have advocated to them since last year. If the objective is to increase compensation to a certain parity level, perhaps it might just be OK to get there in 5 years rather than 2?

– The 15 or so strategies reviewed so far have very real impacts – fewer middle school specials, fewer aides, fewer low enrollment CHS classes, reduced admin position, reduced contribution to clubs, etc. – but it seemed to me that for the most part the impacted areas are spread around, and plans are in place to mitigate the adverse effects. (But still only the savings, not the costs, of closing the print shop are listed!).

A big issue for me is that many of the big strategies impact only next year: the $1.2 million supply/materials cost deferral, the $0.3 million food service fund transfer (but maybe make food service a profit center?), the $125,000 mothballing of the ESC (why one time?), the $0.3 million from issuing debt for capital items (next month’s meeting will start with an explanation of that (accounting wrinkle?)), and so on. So the expenses will pop right back up, on top of the next round of contracted compensation increases, and we’ll be right back in the CHS auditorium, but with fewer options. One commentator mentioned a likely 2% Act 1 cap next year. (And remember, the country is a whisker away from a foreclosure crisis, and school taxes are over two months’ typical mortgage payments…..). The one time programs account for $2.6 million of the $8.3 million on the table (excluding programs not recommended).

The event seemed to me a good way to get the community engaged and to indicate the amount of thought behind the ideas (although there can always be more!). We heard, too, about the 800 member Facebook group for students engaged in the dialog. There could be a lot to learn from, and demonstrate to, that constituency.

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  1. Now Ray this does not sound like objective reporting. Shouldn’t we focus on the facts and avoid the distrustful comments that are ruining this process? Why not let people form their own opinions from the minutes?

      1. That was part of my point. Ray appears to me to be of a certain opinion. He “reports” from venues but his “reports” are from his viewpoint. I certainly have read others (not necessarily here) on blogs who report what happens without much of their opinion infused in their “report”. I could have been clearer.

        1. Thank you John W. That is the problem, some people can not see the opinion from what was an analysis. If Ray’s entry was supposed to be a recap of the meeting, shouldn’t it have been a summary – not a summary and critique?

  2. While I disagree on certain issues with Ray, he provides strong analysis. He attends nearly every TTBOS meeting and when he is not there he goes to the TESB meetings.

    Keep up the good work Ray.

  3. I was there through the end and I find Ray’s write up to be quite accurate. He clearly has some opinions, but this is a blog and I don’t believe his opinions alter the reporting of the meeting. Thanks Ray.

  4. I was at the meeting last night and Ray’s summary is right on and very objective. I was very disappointed in the union representative’s speech last night. Don’t get me wrong – I love my kids’ teachers and have nothing but respect and admiration for them. But I feel that the community is not getting all of the facts from the union leadership. I know their purpose is to save jobs, but why not work in collaboration with the school board rather than an “us versus them” approach? Why would the union not sit down at the table with the school board and try to come up with a solution together so that the outcome could be legal and binding? Too bad for everyone involved.

    1. Well done, Ray. I was there for a while. Pattye suggests we focus on “the process” and in my view the TE administration and Board have done an excellent job by providing a public forum and understandable information, organized in a way that helps the public see the alternatives. What time did the meeting finally wrap up?

      Mrs. Ciamacca’s statement was not unexpected, but very short on specifics. They’ve offered what they’re willing to give up and made it public. They still won’t agree to a real discussion with the Board.

      What I inferred was, the teachers are paid for 3 days after the end of the school year to “wrap up” – clean up their classrooms, complete final grade reports, etc. Is there really 3 full days of work? I don’t know, but I doubt it. If they’re doing these tasks without pay, somehow I don’t think it will take three days.

    2. One issue that I haven’t seen mentioned, and I have to guess it is playing some role in the union/board relationship, is the board’s violation of the contract in 2009 when they attempted to prevent movement across the pay matrix. Not only did they have to eventually give the raises, but also had to pay interest on the same. I imagine there will be some hesitancy on the union side to work in collaboration after that debacle.

  5. These end of year days are a budgetary effort to replace summer “workshops” when people literally sign in to do their work and head out when the work is done. By tacking them on to the end of the year, there is more continuity. But it’s also a device to increase salary and claim a lower percentage increase…the headline says “4%” but then they add a day or two on and pay them a day or two more so the percentage is really larger on the dollars, but not on the “dollars per day.” Both sides do it by the way– the teachers tell their people they got 5% (though have to work two extra days) and the board tells the press they gave 4% and got two extra days… That is not meant to reflect any specific announcement, by the way — every district has its own way of communicating and announcing the results.

  6. The union statement last night was not factual. They offer to give back $600,000 if they get 3 days off of work. But they are not offering to give up their raise for next year. They are offering to give up some money in exchange for less work.

    The administrators are giving up their raises and taking on more work. The offer last night by the union was an attempt to distract the public from the truth: the union negotiated huge raises before the recession and is unwilling to reopen the contract or to give back their raises. Even with a $600,000 pay cut, the teachers will still get a raise next year. Plus, reducing the amount of days they work will have an educational impact.

  7. So you have seen the written offer that was presented previously? There was a discussion the other day where a TE teacher posted that the offer was to work the 3 in-service days at the end of this school year and to forgo the pay for those three days. So how does that not match what was stated last night?

  8. Somehow people keep saying that the teachers are not going to work these three days.

    The teachers are going to work all 3 days and do whatever the district has scheduled for those days (not just clean up and grades). Although it be nice to have sufficient time to do that…or to setup the room and get organized at the beginning of the know because the 2 inservice days before school starts that are filled with meetings allow a lot of time for that too.

    The teachers are giving up something which is more than most are doing (and even with the teachers doing something a lot of them are going to get laid off). As one fellow taxpayer said last night, teachers are being cut, aides are being cut, programs are being cut…when are admininstrators going to be cut and do their part (they talked about freezing the raises of their already 6-figure salaries, but bonuses can make up some of that gap). Also…when are the taxpayers going to step up…the second lowest taxes (other than UM with the giant mall) in one of the wealthiest / highest property values around…what do you think keeps that up high….a top-rate school district.

  9. I would like to publically thank Ray Clarke for taking the time to write up his notes from last night’s Finance Committee meeting. I knew that I would be unable to attend the meeting as I would be at the Board of Supervisors meeting and asked Ray Clarke to do me the favor of taking notes and sending them in. Short of real-time recording of these meetings (which unfortunately does not seem to be happening anytime soon) I am not sure what better information I could have added on the meeting.

    I for one am very grateful for Ray’s notes. Maybe I should not have titled the post as ‘reporting by’ but ‘notes by’. Semantics . . . Ray did a great job and I am grateful. Were it not for Ray, there would have been no up-to-date information on the meeting. If people want a reporters spin on the meeting . . . I would suggest wait a week or two and see the meeting online or, wait and see what kind of details get in to the weekly paper.

  10. I know this comment will be stopped by pro-board and admin (and supposed bypartisan blogger) Pattye…..but the simple solution is that the snobby country club residents of this district need to pay more taxes

  11. It’s unfortunate that the “offer” from the union remains secret. The board has it and the union president has it, but the public doesn’t. Since the “offer” was summarized in public by the union president and handed to the board president in public there is no reason why the details can’t be made public by either side.

    Since the “offer” has not been published on this blog I’m assuming that even the teachers are unaware of the details.

  12. To TJ, I am a single mom in this district, and a homeowner. I do not belong to any country club. I think the idea that this district is SO Snobby and elite is disgusting. I grew up here and now am raising my children here. There are some people who can afford it, but the majority can not. I wish people would do a little research before they jump to these generalization. Again the taxes will go up 2.9%. Done Deal, so stop bringing it up! You are wasting time with these arguments. The reality is what it is, and I’m sure this will all come up year. Another opportunity to readjust. We need to focus on real solutions, not negativity and name calling.

  13. Well said, “t/eparent” – you speak for many of us who just cannot afford rising taxes. Thank you!

  14. Glad to have some folks commenting on the affordability of taxes. There is no debate that our property values can support the taxes — but our property values don’t pay the taxes — our paychecks do. I haven’t had a raise in 3 years — my husband has taken two paycuts in the past 5 years…and our heating bills look like a mortgage payment. I just cannot afford to write a tax check that is 4 x my annual homeowners insurance…when incomes bounce back, we can all move ahead. Instead of all these givebacks, would the teachers consider a pay freeze — wait an extra year for their raises? It’s about shared sacrifices. And by the way — the administrators are taking a pay freeze — and THEY are in demand in the market. Right now, teachers are not.

  15. Inside from shoveling snow now, and I feel I should reply to the commentary on my “reporting”.

    As John noted, this is a blog, and I think that the freedom that Pattye offers here for contributors to raise issues and offer solutions is what makes it attractive for me to participate.

    That being said, this is a forum to get fresh information out to the community, and I have tried to help Pattye out with straight news that she was unable to provide first hand.

    So, inevitably, this particular comment became a mix of facts and analysis. As I wrote it, I was very conscious of the difference, and took some pains to preface the second with statements like “I thought”, “from my perspective”, and “a big issue for me”. I also tried hard to cover the entire scope of the meeting.

    However, I don’t pretend to be perfect, and so I hope that no-one will rely on my comments as a substitute for an edited piece of journalistic reporting. I am hoping, though, that Pattye will continue to find room for them if they can contribute to the dialog and to the development of solutions.

    My own particular lens is always going to be shaped by my experience as a parent, by my analytical training and business career, and probably by my long ago socialist upbringing. So don’t be surprised if I argue for clear facts and data, for economic analysis, for fair and equitable processes and solutions and for engaging our kids, who experience what goes on in the schools every day.

  16. >>One issue that I haven’t seen mentioned, and I have to guess it is playing some role in the union/board relationship, is the board’s violation of the contract in 2009 when they attempted to prevent movement across the pay matrix<<
    Denis — this is sort of a tough thing to simply reference as if it was oversight not to include it. Please share this with us — I just did a search and could find no mention of a grievance — which would have had to be filed. This sounds like a story unless you can cite some details we can research….I have asked several teacher friends and they claim to know nothing about this. Is this anecdotal or a fact you are personally aware of?

  17. Sorry for the lack of detail, I thought it was more generally known. Starting in spring of 2009, teachers were denied movement based on the fact they had taken 3rd party courses – courses offered by non-traditional universities. This union felt this violated the contract and eventually filed a grievance and an unfair labor practice complaint. The issue was finally settled by an arbiter. For details on the settlement, see the November 2009 issue of the Testifier on the TEEA website. This issue is also mentioned in the September 2009 newsletter.

    The union was not approached on this issue before the denial of advancement began and these courses had historically been approved. The cynic in me thinks the board realized they had signed a contract they couldn’t afford and tried to find away to slow horizontal movement. Hopefully that’s just the cynic in me. While there were some concessions from the union regarding these courses, it cost the district 3% interest on the previously denied salary increases.

    I don’t know why any teachers would be unaware of this as it was quite a big issue for the union or why your search for a grievance yielded no results since one was clearly filed.

    1. I was very aware of this because I had taken a few of those 3rd party classes. We were all informed about what was going on but I am guessing only those that were affected by it followed it very closely. It mostly affected those who had already gotten their masters degree and were taking IU courses and these courses for ACT 48 Hours and to move on the pay scale. The arbitrator sided on TEEA’s side.

      1. I read the results now and see the ambiguity in the contract — not exactly “sided with the TEEA’ in the result since they limited the credits to the IU credits. I would be curious as to whether Gratz gets a piece of the tuition($940 per course) paid to Randall and the other group — as what protects the district from a teacher earning these credits without them being under the guidance of Gratz or others? I don’t disagree with the result, and would be sure the language in the next contract is more specific — but if I were the administration, I would not agree to reimburse for these courses in the future, whether or not they count for salary advancement.

  18. Thanks. I can only assume the board that negotiated it was clueless….as this is a carefully considered part of every contract and previous contracts were very specific. Thanks for sharing. Still didn’t find it in googling, but I’ll read the contract and the testifier to check it out. Thanks.

  19. I read the materials — and appreciate the references. I don’t see how this particular issue has anything to do with the current one though — you called it a “debacle” but it seems to me to be a genuine point of confusion — and that aribtration was pretty much the way to go. And from the results, it doesn’t seem like the District lost or the Union won since the result is that the courses from non-university programs have to be counted as one of the 6 of 15 by the IU. Everyone is evolving — but if someone is trying to improve their training, I would think a teacher would want to take a course from a university program– not a 3rd party sanctioned by Gratz….sounds like padding your compensation to me. And the district probably paid for the course anyway.

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