Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Pennsylvania Ranks #1 . . . but don’t know that residents want this distinction!

Sometimes it’s good to be #1 – to be at the ‘top of the class’, but I don’t know that the following is a distinction that will excite us. A report from the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) that was just released lists Pennsylvania as the national leader in public school teacher strikes for the 2009-10 school year – 6 strikes over the 501 school districts.

For those that are interested, these are the six districts in Pennsylvania where strikes occurred during the 2009-10 school year:

  • South Butler, strike from September 21 – October 6
  • Saucon Valley, strike from October 14 – October 30
  • Lackawanna, strike from October 29 – November 2
  • Penn Hills, strike from February 2 – February 9
  • McGuffey, strike from March 22 – March 23
  • North Penn, strike April 19 – 27

To give you a comparison, Ohio had no strikes with 612 school districts during last year’s school year. Pennsylvania is one of 13 states in the country which legalizes strike by state employees, including public school teachers.

There’s a state representative Paul Clymer (R – Bucks) who is the minority chair of the House Education Committee who has decided that to make it his priority to outlaw teacher strikes in Pennsylvania. There are currently 2 House Bills and a House Resolution that would either ban teacher strikes in Pennsylvania or further restrict them. State Rep Daryl Metcalfe (R – Butler) introduced HB 2092 which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to prohibit teacher strikes and lockouts. HB 1334 introduced by State Rep Doug Reichley (R – Berks) would not ban all strikes by teachers by would require more arbitration and fact-finding.

Rep.Clymer is arguing that the Commonwealth needs to stop teachers’ strikes in a tough economic year because Pennsylvanians cannot continue to pay the real estate taxes of previous years. “Taxpayers are really hard pressed to pay any increase in real estate taxes and we have to find different avenues to balance school budgets,” Mr. Clymer said. “When the teacher contracts become too onerous financially, too much of a burden for the taxpayers we have some serious problems. I’m sure the school boards do their best to come up with equity in the contract [but] everyone has to cut back, government included.” The Democrat majority chair of House Education did not respond to Clymer’s remarks.

Do we think that Paul Drucker and Warren Kampf would come down on party lines on this discussion? Would Kampf side with some of the outspoken Republicans who want to ban public school teacher strikes? And Drucker . . . would he support the right of state employees to strike? Interesting question.

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  1. First, I trust teachers to negotiate in good faith and take into consideration the economic realities facing taxpayers. The next round of negotiations in school districts throughout the state should reflect these realities. ( The changes teachers” unions will have to make re linking teacher pay to competence in the classroom, benefits cost-sharing and pension funding going forward will have to be addressed internally.)

    Does Pennsylvania need to prevent teacher strikes , thereby limiting their leverage in contract negotiations? Or limit the length of a strike, which in effect, does the same thing?

    I honestly don’t know what is fair and just. Clearly, eliminating teachers’ leverage is unfair, while it clearly benefits school districts and students.

    But it sure burns me up that many (mostly Republicans) are all wound up about the taxpayer-funded compensation of public employees right now -most of whom are earning middle-class salaries – while they say nothing about the obscene compensation packages of top bankers and Wall Street moguls (remember, privatized profits and socialized losses?)

    We all are paying for the greed and excess of big business that avoid paying taxes by moving their profits off-shore, exploit every loophole they paid their lobbyists to help create, gobble up government subsidies, and take government bailouts. And why aren’t we taking a closer look at no-bid government contractors – especially defense contractors? The government loses money hand-over-fist and collects far too little in taxes owed by some businesses and individuals.

    Instead of focusing on a fairer system of taxes and tax collection, some politicians have focused their moral outrage on teachers being able to use the threat of a strike as a negotiating tool…And of course, they see this issue as a good one to stir up voter ire. and get their constituents to the polls in November. Thus the appearance of these House bills and resolution in an election year…

    It’s all so predictable….

  2. Kate, I am sorry but you get going then get into your populist anti Republican, anti business rant and really, are you just trying to incite conversation? You are so darn angry I can’t read your stuff once you get on these riffs.

    take a cold shower.

  3. Kate –
    This is a far more complicated issue than “partisanship.” You can hate the Wall St. bankers and still see the flaws in the current teacher negotiation system in PA. Act 195 in 1970 gave public employees virtually unabated right to strike Act 88 was enacted in 1992 to provide for a limit on strikes guaranteeing students would attend 180 days of classes (extend the school year, cancel holidays and vacation days). The PSEA in most districts compels employees to pay union dues (Fair Share) as a term of employment….teachers do not lose a penny of income if they strike, as they are considered salaried employees and are paid for a full year.

    The balance to much of this is that the right to an education is a student right. Strikes can destroy a community. Collective bargaining can interfere with that, which is why 35+ states prohibit strikes. PA has more strikes annually than all the other states combined.

    According to records from 2008 (last ones I can find), the PSEA has more than 185,500 members, an annual income of more than $84 million
    through compulsory dues and fee payments and other sources, and 281 full-time employees.
    School boards are 9 citizens elected for four year terms…do you really think that the teachers need additional leverage when they already have this kind of power in the legislative and lobbying process. Compulsory union membership (Fair Share) with dues collected by districts …. not sure 501 contracts are not a “divide and conquer” process.

    So, I have great moral outrage at Wall Street, but I also see that in too many districts (I can say from my personal experience that our union leadership did not take marching orders from Harrisburg as of 10 years ago), the PSEA has far too much leverage in setting the agenda. As of now, 187 districts are at risk of a strike within the next school year. As long as the right to strike exists, the district’s ability to “just say no” can be a real power/ego battle. The cost to this — kids and families, who foot the bill for all of it anyway.

    1. Amen to that –

      I have never been through one (thankfully) but it is clear that strikes are extremely disruptive and damaging to the kids and community. We used to hear “why don’t you just tell those teachers NO and let them strike?” from taxpayers. Well, it is not that easy. The success in T/E depends in great part on the good relationship between the teachers, board and administration. The aftermath of a strike would damage that relationship for years to come, and would affect the quality of education.

      On the other hand, it is true that the teachers have some benefits that seem rather generous when compared to the private sector. But don’t forget that we were doing very well in the past few years – we had put our financial house in order, had our tax increases well within the rate of inflation (before the Act 1 inflation cap) and – we had the projected revenue to cover the current contract throughout its life. Also don’t forget that we have some excellent teachers and we demanded – and got – great results from them. When an “apples to apples” comparison is made, T/E is THE BEST DISTRICT IN THE STATE. So we had excellence, but we could afford it, and for the most part, the community supported that.

      Then the economy tanked, and revenue took a hit (transfer taxes for one thing). PSERS (a classic example of an unfunded state mandate) and a huge increase in health insurance costs piled on to make a perfect storm of red ink. No, we did not see the housing crisis coming. Let’s be honest -neither did you. (If I knew what the economy would do in the future, I would be a bazillionaire now instead of a working shmuck, so unless you are a newly minted bazillionaire I don’t want to hear it)

      Now, with the Brave New World of caps on tax authority under Act 1, together with the slow economy and growing PSERS nightmare, there will be pressure on the realtionship and this will color negotiations between teachers and the board/administration. I think the relationship will be strained no matter what anyone does just because of the circumstances.

      The balance will shift somewhat in favor of the board/administration, simply because of the limited taxing authority under Act 1. “Sorry, we can’t accept that proposal, we just don’t have the money . . . .” will be heard at the negotiating table. In the past, such a claim was difficult to make in T/E.

      Will teachers get more realistic? Will they accept more of their health care costs, and so on? Or will they strike when they can’t get the offer they want?

      Who knows? I hope the relationship in T/E will help us work something out and avoid strikes. But it seems logical to assume that overall, there will be more strikes in the future, not less.

      As for taking away the right to stike – I have mixed feelings. Public union benefits are a nation-wide problem and are behind much of the budget woes of the many states and municipalities which face deficits and even bankruptcy today. On the other hand, if I were a teacher, facing the withering barrage of state and federal interference and regulation, the litigious helicopter parents, the irate taxpayers, the problem kids, and so on, I would want the protection of a strong union with the right to strike. So I can see both sides of this issue.

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