Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TESD Looming Deficit Continues to Rule Decisions . . . Property Taxes to Increase + Middle School Latin & German to Disappear

Last night was T/E School Board’s monthly meeting. I attended the Board of Supervisors Meeting but I am pleased to provide Ray Clarke’s notes. In reading Ray’s notes, I understand that the school district has to make difficult decisions but it is disheartening to see that the district made the decision to phase out Latin in the middle school (as well as German).

I have mentioned it before but will repeat, our daughter had 12 years of Latin before going to college and then to medical school. Latin proved to be a significant help to Lyndsey with other languages, science courses undergraduate and later in medical school, In medical school, her background in Latin provided a ‘bonus’ in the way of help; a foundation that some of her fellow students lacked. As a first year resident, her background in Latin continues to assist her daily. Beyond a medical career, there is much to be gained in life lessons through the study of Latin. My fear is that if the school district phases Latin from Middle School, the interest and enrollment will continue to go down for Latin in the high school. This is unfortunate news.

An interesting aside, I received an email from someone outside of the school district who is thinking about relocating to our area. In researching the school district, he had found Community Matters and had several questions, including whether we had an Earned Income Tax and rate of property taxes. He also wanted to know the timeline for teacher contract negotiations . . . interesting.

Notes from Ray Clarke from the T/E School Board Meeting:

Two important votes at a very well-attended School Board meeting on Monday night. (Good result from all the district Communication activities). Again, 5 to 4 to pursue the request for Exceptions to enable a 4.2% property tax increase. Also, 7 to 2 (Bookstaber, Buraks) to phase out middle school Latin and German.

Public comment on the Exceptions broke down into the usual extremes. I was taken by a small business owner who brought the perspective of the commercial properties that pay 20% of the education bill in T/E. When a small business revenue is down, these inexorable tax increases have a very real impact on the bottom line. On the other side, a parent commented on the choices that everyone makes on whether to live in T/E, implying that those who don’t like the property taxes should move. If we think the district has a crisis now, what would be the state if all the seniors are forced out and replaced by school-aged families?

Generally all members of the School Board that did speak (all except Bruce, Motel) were against tax increases; the majority favored keeping options open while more data is gathered. This position will of course be untenable when we get to the final vote (Proposed Final: May 9th, then Final: June 13th). One data point I’m interested in: the February 14th banker report to the Finance Committee on the Fund Balance, borrowing rates and debt capacity – hope springs eternal! Kevin Mahoney made very thoughtful comments (well, I agree with them, anyway) that everyone would do well to watch on the replay.

Much positioning re the next TEEA contract; it will be interesting to see how the talk (eg: fix the contract, abolish the matrix) translates into action. Also notable in this regard: President Cruickshank implied that the pension increases are “going to Harrisburg” – well not really, they are part of the compensation of teachers here in T/Ewhich we need to take into account when negotiating the other parts.

It was helpful to have the discussion about the Latin and German programs. Students and parents had actually been voting with their course selections: enrollment has been on a downtrend to small levels. Rich Brake encouraged the administration to take all possible steps to encourage selection of these languages in the High School, as many do for Italian and Chinese now. I do like the idea that the current focus is to really push for fluency.

The Board went to great lengths to emphasize that it values all community comments, so let’s make sure that all perspectives are heard, and that those perspectives are based on actual data, not emotion!

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  1. A couple of things to add. Rich Brake reported from the “legislative breakfast” with Dinniman, Milne, Kampf that there seems to be bipartisan momentum behind Senate Bill 1 that would provide vouchers to the 144 lowest performing school districts. Corbett is known as a fan of funding to (and from!) private schools. The bill would provide money to parents to apply to tuition at parochial or charter schools, but of course the schools will still be selective on who they accept. Which schools will do better: selective schools with motivated parents, or the remainder?

    Also, Karen Cruickshank reported that a couple of years ago, before being President of the Board, she had discussions with the union about shouldering the burden of the recession. The union rejected any concessions.

    Just to reiterate a point I made above: the union knows that taxpayers have finite resources with which to compensate public employees; union lobbying increased the deferred portion of that compensation (pensions); the only conclusion is that the current portion (salaries and benefits) have to be reduced in future contracts.

  2. I am disappointed by the union’s refusal to share the burden of the recession. It is not fair for the tax payers to have to keep funding pay raises that are out of line with those in the private sector and keep paying for most of the cost of teachers’ family medical benefits that are far superior to what the rest of us receive from our companies. Don’t get me wrong – I love my kids’ teachers, but I just don’t understand why the union feels that their members are exempt from the pain of the current economic situation. I think the community will be carefully watching how the school board negotiates the upcoming teacher contract.

    1. Don’t be fooled into thinking anyone will be “watching how the school board negotiates the upcoming teacher contract”. First, contract negotiations won’t begin until the spring of 2012. Second, unless TE breaks with tradition the negotiating progress or lack thereof will not be reported to the public. The only “look” the public will get will be when the board votes to ratify the contract. Unfortunately, the last TESD board negotiated in private and kept the public in the dark. Now we can see the result and it’s not pretty.

  3. The meeting last night was interesting. The School Board members went out of their way to stress that voting for the budget last night was not the same thing as voting for the 4.2% tax increase, but is that really true? Does anyone believe the tax increase is going to come in at the Act 1 index of 1.4%?

    So many parents came to speak at the meeting. It seems like our current budget situation is setting parents against other taxpayers. One parent suggested that people should move if they don’t want to support the schools. All of the parents present stood up to say “please tax me more,” yet they reacted negatively when an audience member suggested that parents should have a higher tax burden.

    According to PA law, it’s not actually possible to tax parents more since property taxes must be uniformly applied. However, it is possible to charge fees for services. I find it interesting that so many of the parents coming to the board to say “please tax me more” also oppose items such as a nominal activity fee (of $100 or less) that would directly support their own child. It seems that they are happy to pay more taxes but only if everyone in the district pays more taxes too.

    I worry about the impact on the commercial property owners, seniors and other taxpayers who do not have children in the schools. This group is not making their voices heard. Parents will always be the most involved and the most resistant to cuts. This is why we have a school board that voted for tax increases even after admitting they know the majority of taxpayers would not support a voter referendum to raise taxes. Our board is rewarding the squeaky wheel (parents) because the majority chooses not to attend school board meetings or to share their thoughts about the budget, which by the way still includes salary increases for administration, aides and other employees which are NOT required by a contract. We need to let the board know that the community is not going to support additional raises, which aren’t required by contracts.

    We need more people to attend these meetings and to share thoughts with the board about the budget. If the taxpayers do not make their voices heard, we’ll have taxes raised to the legal maximum year after year after year.

    1. It’s a public school. Everyone lives in the same community. Having children or not having children does not change your responsibility for schools. Likewise no longer having children does not mean your bill is paid. The only war between taxpayers is those who don’t think they have a stake in this community.

  4. How would these fees work? How far in advance would parents know the exact courses & activities that require a fee? How would the amount be determined and by whom? What if a child drops the activity would the fee be refunded? Are we going to know how much it costs the school to offer a particular course and exactly where the fee will be applied? ( If we pay a fee that raises money in excess of what is needed to defray the cost …isn’t that a tax?…. )

    1. The proposed fee would be just for sports/extracurriculars at the high school. The board has not shared a number or details, but Pattye wrote about the proposed fee in a previous post. It sounded like $50-$100 per student in the high school if they did extracurriculars/sports. It was not based on the number of extracurriculars or sports, and it would not be applied to classes or courses. In terms of cost, the activity fee wouldn’t come close to covering the costs. Some sports cost a thousand or more per student. This is just a small portion of the cost.

      By the way, I do believe all taxpayers should pay for schools. I wasn’t advocating for parents to take on the burden in my post. Besides, there is no legal way to make parents pay more in property taxes, so it’s a moot point anyway.

      I just thought it was interesting to see the reaction last night when one audience member suggested that parents pay more. The same parents who moments before were asking the board to raise taxes to avoid program cuts strongly objected to the suggestion.

      The key point is that parents will always object to changes proposed to save money because they perceive them to be cuts. Last year, parents strongly protested the end of middle school teams and claimed it would ruin the middle schools. Yet the transition has been acknowledged to be a success even by previously skeptical parents who now like the activity period they criticized just last year. So by making the change, the Board saved a lot of money without harming the educational program.

      As taxpayers, we need to stay involved in these meetings so that the Board can continue to evaluate cost-saving measures. If only parents attend, the voices will be uniformly negative regarding changes. The parents will pressure the board to raise taxes and not to touch a thing. But as the middle school program changes demonstrate, not all money-saving changes are bad for education or truly “cuts” at all.

  5. Yes Christine. It would be a special tax on those with kids in schools. In lieu of tuition I guess? Kind of sounds like a private school? Pay your taxes, go to school. Don’t want to pay taxes here, move.

  6. “it is disheartening to see that the district made the decision to phase out Latin in the middle school (as well as German).” “This is unfortunate news.”

    Well Pattye, your blog continues to fuel the fire for such program cuts. It’s amazing that you post these regrets after such vitriol toward teachers, their union, their Cadillac health care, their outrageous salaries and raises, and other such nonsense that you entertain on this page. Well you’ve all gotten your wishes, more fantastic and dedicated teachers out of work over the next two years, fewer wonderful educational programs for your children, and extremely contentious contract negotiations on the horizon.

    T/E has many young teachers making between 40 and 50K yet this is considered way more than the private sector?? Please. And you’re tired of paying for teachers’ health care?? If you have a problem with health care costs, stop supporting Republicans who want to repeal it and continue to keep lining the pockets of Blue Cross/Wellpoint and their lobbyists (who increased their profits EIGHT FOLD in the last quarter of 2010 – 2.7 BILLION DOLLARS ).

    And I assure you TE Parents, teachers are not “exempt from the pain of the current economic situation.” They feel it just like you do, and in some cases more so. The only difference is that these people chose to give up the chance for exorbitant salaries in the private sector (just speaking to some here) to serve the community and the greater good by teaching our children every day — a more difficult job than you can possibly imagine (and I guarantee a much harder job than those held by many of the private sector whiners on this blog). What contributions have you private-sector people made for our community other than paying taxes? And could someone please post what this 4.2% tax increase translates to in actual dollars/per year for the average tax payer in this district? Couple hundred bucks a year? Yeah, you’re right, let’s keep getting rid of teachers and programs so we can save our private-sector selves from living on the streets. Let’s keep it up… I’m sure we can get rid of those pesky English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Music teachers and programs too and save us even more!

    Your vitriol is misguided. Health care companies are destroying your American ‘exceptional’ well being much faster than any teacher union ever could in 100 years. Please get real and open your eyes to the true challenges we face… not the ones you ‘learn’ from Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.

    1. “What contributions have you private-sector people made for our community other than paying taxes?”

      Let’s see… how about little things, like providing jobs and income.

      “And could someone please post what this 4.2% tax increase translates to in actual dollars/per year for the average tax payer in this district? Couple hundred bucks a year?”

      It sure doesn’t seem like much… but if you ask the teacher’s union to give back that same amount of money I bet they would say otherwise.

      1. “It sure doesn’t seem like much… but if you ask the teacher’s union to give back that same amount of money I bet they would say otherwise.”

        Actually, you’re quite wrong. The teacher’s union offered to have all teachers work unpaid days (I think at least 3) last year to offset the cost of a comparable tax increase which the school board dismissed as a ‘media ploy.’ Sad but true. Check your facts and please tell us about these valuable jobs and income you provide. What does your company do? Does it help our society like teachers do? Phillip Morris and Enron created jobs and income too.

        1. No offer was made beyond grandstanding. If you are a teacher, or are speaking on behalf of something a teacher told you, then you are part of the problem. You need to know the facts, not the talking points.
          I have no doubt that there was rank and file discussion about the give back, but the union president that stood up to talk knew quite well that her offer was hollow and only for show. That’s the problem. Even the teachers do not understand (and local leadership may fall in this trap as well) the issues of teacher contracts. The PSEA calls the shots, trains the negotiators and “inspires” local leadership to step aside and let the PSEA Uniserve reps do all the talking/deciding. It’s a grand plan, and it has nothing to do with much beyond leadership power….”look what we got for you.”

        2. Does manufacturing parts for kidney dialysis machines help our society?

          Go ahead and ask the teachers union to reduce salaries and benefits by 5% across the board and then come back here and tell me what their response was.

    2. First, we have the martyr.

      “teachers are not exempt from the pain of the current economic situation”

      “these people chose to give up the chance for exorbitant salaries in the private sector to serve the community and the greater good by teaching our children every day”

      “a more difficult job than you can possibly imagine”

      Then we have misdirection.

      “Health care companies are destroying your American ‘exceptional’ well being much faster than any teacher union ever could”

      “What contributions have you private-sector people made for our community other than paying taxes?”

      The Bottom Line: Teachers will receive a compensation package with an average 7% pay increase with a 10%+ increase in health care with a 30% increase in retirement contributions. The cost of the total compensation package for the average teachers will increase by over 10% next year. There is no justification for this largess. All teachers can do is play the martyr and change the subject.

      1. The contract is public information, and teacher salaries are available online. By the end of the current contract a teacher with a BA and no experience will make $50,000 a year for working fewer days than a private sector employee. Additionally, they will get nearly all of their health care covered in a far better plan than most private sector employees receive, and they are earning credit towards a defined benefit pension. Most workers starting out today have no chance of getting a defined benefit pension. Sounds like a good deal, and it may be why hundreds of teachers apply for every available position in T/E.

        I reject the argument that T/E teachers are unpaid relative to the private sector because they are not. They start out at relatively high salaries and get big raises every year– both from step increases, contractual increases and from moving across the matrix as they earn more credits/degrees.

        It’s a very very good deal, and it looks even better once a teacher gets tenure. It is nearly impossible to fire a teacher, and the school district is not permitted to cut teaching staff for economic reasons. The private sector does not have the same job security. In the past there used to be a tradeoff between private and public sector jobs. Public sector jobs had more security, fewer hours, better benefits and a pension, but they were poorly paid in comparison to private sector jobs. Now, public sector employees have it all: security, benefits, pensions, fewer hours and high pay. There are teachers in our district making $100+ a year. The average teacher is making more than $75k a year. So perhaps that explains why taxpayers have had enough and have no tolerance for teacher claims of poverty.

        Also, teachers in T/E have much nicer working conditions than teachers in Philadelphia and Chester, but those teachers are paid a fraction of the T/E salary for harder jobs in struggling schools. How is that fair? You might justify that by saying that those schools are failing, but I’d wager that you could swap the teachers in a Philly school with those in a T/E school without seeing T/E quality decline or Philly quality increase. (And that is not an insult to the intelligence of the kids in Philly. These kids are just as naturally talented as kids in T/E, but they lack the economic advantages kids in T/E have like early childhood education, lots of books in their homes, involved parents with the time to focus on education, computers/technology, and money available for things like food, winter coats and electric bills.)

    3. if you think health care companies are destroying America, just watch as your illustrious Obama Care starts to kick in. It must be repealed. And yes, reformation is going to have to happen, from a market based and consumer oriented basis. THAT is the only way to fix this.

      Tough love is in order. Time to apply the brakes. Boo hoo if we lose some teachers and some programs. At some point we can bring ’em back, teachers and programs alike, maybe at less of a cost. Spend spend spend… for the sake of the children. Give me a break

  7. CitizenOne ,

    Don’t kid yourself. It is only your view that whining occurs when a commenter merely reminds others that teachers with modest incomes are struggling too; who points out misinformation about the average T/E teacher’s compensation. You disregard the FACTS that 1) like the rest of us, teachers have no control over escalating healthcare costs,or 2) the fact that for years the state and school districts have underfunded their pension obligations while teacher continued to pay their full obligation.

    You see martyrs. I see professionals under seige ,who are witnessing the loss of valued colleagues and longstanding programs.

    The animus toward unions in general, and the teachers’ union in particular, clearly has colored your response. You’re entitled to it, but don’t set yourself up as a truth teller. Please.

    & T.T.,

    So you have provided income and jobs? Congratulations! But consider that teachers have provided income to their families and paid taxes in their communtieis as well. If you own a business that has sustained other families, good for you. You need to acknowledge that teachers train future workers – which is as vital a contribution as providing jobs.

    Last night President Obama made a point of urging that we all accord teachers more respect. Your focus on their compensation over the quality of service they provide reflects a general mindset among some: cut, cut, cut; all workers are replaceable commodities; taxpayers should not have to fund “luxuries” like Latin and German courses because low taxes are more important than maintaining the high standards our school district has developed over many years.

    It is unfortunate that the battle to preserve the quality of T/E schools is being waged largely by parents with children currently in the district. One commenter describes them as the “squeaky wheel” and urges others to weigh in (presumably those who oppose any tax increase above the Act 1 level) suggesting that the “wallet brigade” should control the budget process for 2011-12.

    I hope that all residents inform themselves and weigh in on the future of our much admired school district. The direction this community will take to preserve or diminish our schools hangs in the balance.

    1. Kate,

      The teacher comp system is broken and ineffective. It is perpetuated by the teacher’s union. And the legal protections afforded to the unions, mainly the ability to strike, unfairly handicap the negotiations. It is as simple as that.

      The comp schedule rewards for time in service while completely blind to teacher performance. There are certainly teachers in the district who are significantly underpaid based upon their contribution and value – some of these teachers have taught my TESD children. There are also teachers in the district that are DRASTICALLY OVERPAID based upon their contribution and commitment to teaching. IN FACT, there are certainly teachers teaching at TESD that have no business teaching whatsoever. But they are safe, protecting by their years in service, at the expense of our district and our children. Yes, my kids have had these teachers too.

      I understand you are a union advocate – but I am not sure how you can resolve that the teacher’s union or its existence has accomplished anything toward improving the quality of the education system, anytime in recent memory. It’s basis is fundamentally counterproductive toward maximizing ROI.

      If these TESD teachers are truly witnessing the loss of “valued colleagues” they can blame themselves and the union that protects the old teachers at the expense of the new. The teachers have more power to effect change than anyone, and the high quality teachers will benefit as well as the students and the district.

    2. Kate says “You need to acknowledge that teachers train future workers – which is as vital a contribution as providing jobs.”

      So I provide jobs, and they train workers. Assuming those are equal contributions, why is it that I must pay for their health insurance, un-earned raises and every other sweet deal they get? They hardly contribute to their own retirement, let alone mine.

      Obama wants more respect for teachers? I do respect teachers. Its the union that is the problem here. The union has ZERO respect for anyone, including teachers, taxpayers and the law.

    3. Kate

      >> like the rest of us, teachers have no control over escalating healthcare costs,or 2) the fact that for years the state and school districts have underfunded their pension obligations while teacher continued to pay their full obligation. <<

      Those are pure talking points with no bearing on the discussion. Unless they are married or parenting someone in the private sector, I promise you not a single teacher has the first CLUE what health care costs…and they certainly don't care about the rising costs, because they do not bear it. They have a defined benefit, not a defined contribution from the district. THAT MUST CHANGE. Let the district tell the teachers what they will spend on health care, and then let the teachers (PSEA even) figure out what that will buy. If the rising costs scare them, then they can increase their deductibles and copays, like the rest of us.
      As to the nonsense about their retirement being underfunded….they dont' care about that either. They will get their pensions — that too is a defined benefit.

      Teachers are not the issue — contracts and union leadership are. I know I've read it here and many other places — 3 failing institutions in the US of A — autos, steel and education. Not coincidental that all are under control of unions. The workers are rarely the problem — the union leadership with its goals and talking points are. Even the teacher sympathizer above says "teachers are making between 40 and 50K in our district." Like that's not much….. for 7 hour work day (plus time for lunch but that's duty free)….for 185 days or so….which in a 40 hour week would convert to $80K a year. I have two college grad nephews who have very "good" jobs not on wall street who work more than 40 hour weeks and make about $50K,,..and are happy to have jobs as many coworkers have been laid off……..

    4. teachers training future workers? For what, government jobs? Liberal Democratic machine? Sure teachers don’t cause the escalation in health care prices, but maybe if they paid for some of it, they would be more likely to join the cause for true healthcare reform. So yes, we can use their support, but they should pay for some of it like most of us do, and for those that have a good company plan, as you would say, good for you. You have virtually no say in your health care, and can be cut from your plan faster than you can say appendicitis. Wait until Katnerine Sebellius(sp) decides who can have what… this is ridiculous.

  8. Kate,

    Let’s talk about facts.

    You say, “for years the state and school districts have underfunded their pension obligations while teacher continued to pay their full obligation.”

    This is typical PSEA claptrap. State law determines the district’s contribution and the teacher’s contributions to the PSERS retirement fund. Neither the District, nor the teachers, can choose to contribute more or less than the rate set by law. Neither can the district choose to “underfund their pension obligations”. Thus, both the district and the teachers have paid their full obligation every year without fail.

    You say, “teachers have no control over escalating healthcare costs”. Of course they do. They do have the ability to increase their co-pays or agree to lesser plan. If they want to cling to their current cadillac plan then they could make wage concessions.

    You are correct that I display animus toward the union. Only the union leadership could, with a straight face, defend 10%+ compensation increases and then at the same time bemoan the loss of “valued colleagues and longstanding programs”.

    1. Would you voluntarily increase your co-pay or take a pay cut to help out your employer? Probably not. I feel confident that teachers will make concessions in the area of healthcare contributions and co-pays when their contract is up for negotiation. They will take their cues from other teacher contracts negotiated during the 6-12 mos preceding their renegotiation and consider taxpayer sentiment. No one wants a strike – including teachers.

      I agree that the teacher evaluation system needs fixing, Yes, my children had some exceptionally fine teachers while in TESD, But they had some notable losers as well. The good by far outweighed the bad or incompetent.

      Like others on this blog I believe teachers should be subjected to a more rigorous evaluation process, but it cannot be one based on student test scores alone. Raises should not be automatic. Incentive pay should be viewed as a motivator, and not a threat by teachers’ unions – because teachers should be measured against their own past performance as well as district targets. A lack of trust has prevented this from happening, but we are mving in this direction.

      Higher caliber teachers will come out of more rigorous teacher training programs at colleges that can be more selective. But as long as college students consider that teachers are not well treated and compensated, many of the best and the brightest will go into other fields.

      Yes, the pension contribution rates are set by the state. That Gov. Ridge signed off on lowering contributions during a time when pension funds exceeded their projections is no excuse for why we are where we are now.The lowered rates were allowed to stay in place. No contingencies for a downturn in the market were put in place. Due to poor leadership, the taxpayers are now getting the bill.

      And none of this has been driven by our district’s teachers.

      1. Kate asked, “Would you voluntarily increase your co-pay or take a pay cut to help out your employer?”

        Yes, I would. But I wouldn’t do it to help out my employer. I would do it to help my fellow union members. They are the ones that will not have jobs next year. Have you heard the expression, the union leadership will eat their young rather than make concessions?

        Kate, you have the history of the pension problem wrong, but that is a minor issue. Did the TE teachers cause the problem? No. That’s why I have great respect for the rank and file, but none for the union leadership.

        1. I do believe that kate has in correct..
          Citizenone please expand on your comments and help Kate and me understand history.

      2. Wow Kate. I am surprised that you have agreed that an evaluation and merit system needs to be implemented… You do realize that the union is the roadblock to that happening?

        You said, “But as long as college students consider that teachers are not well treated and compensated, many of the best and the brightest will go into other fields.” Actually the current system that lacks any reward for excellence is a much bigger inhibitor to the “best and brightest” pursuing a teaching career. Some still do make that choice for sure (my wife is one), but many will not. With respect to teachers not being well treated or fairly compensated, that is simply fiction.

        1. Well said Another Job Creator.
          Additionally, many of the highly selective colleges do not train undergraduates to teach. Barriers to becoming a teacher are varied, including state obstacles to out of state residents being qualified to enter the system. You can major in something at Yale or Princeton and be a year or two of training away from being qualified to TAKE the teacher exams. And if you major in something like elementary ed at a college that does prepare you, you are pretty much restricted to doing that….not considered qualified to do anything else. After paying private school tuition for 4 years, needing to go student teach etc is a barrier to the best and the brightest teaching as well.
          But regardless, there are countless fabulously educated teachers in the TESD system and throughout the country. But the problem is — they make the same as the poor or average teacher. And also — you cannot predict who will be a good teacher based on their intelligence (“best and brightest”). Being a good teacher is respecting the art of teaching. And really — a salary matrix that only rewards time in job and additional courses taken….how reflective of excellence can that ever be?

      3. Kate
        When you say “probably not” to whether someone would accept increasing copays or taking a pay cut to help your employer, you clearly do not operate in the current world. Employers don’t ask. They just do it. You can work elsewhere if you don’t like it. I have a teacher friend in Maryland — all teachers took a 2% paycut this past year. It’s apparently a state contract and the state announced the wage modification. She wasn’t happy, but didnt’ have a choice. I’ve seen layoffs and pay cuts through my company — and I certainly don’t get asked when they change the health plan provider or plan — we just get told the options we have and what they will cost us. We could pay a lot for a great plan, a little for a bad plan, or about $300 a paycheck for an average plan. I think the teachers pay about $300 a year for a great plan — without regards to its costs.
        Stop with the teacher evaluation….not gonna happen unless it happens state-wide. PSEA owns Harrisburg. TESD has a very legitimate teacher evaluation program — and it works. Problem is that you have to have several bad reviews in a row to require any improvement, and you typically have observations scheduled in advance. Now — how hard is it to do well if you know the boss is in the audience? Likewise, you can slack off until you need to stop slacking off.
        Now — do I think teachers do that? Absolutely not. But good teachers have no clue how poorly bad teachers prepare and teach. (Same as good parents have no clue what a bad parent truly is). The evaluation process, however, is pass/fail. And unless I read the contract incorrectly, that would absolutely be a strike issue…..
        Oh — as far as teachers yielding based on other districts….Radnor hasn’t settled yet. LM didn’t require any givebacks. Exactly what other districts will generate this change of heart?

        1. Give it a rest, Andrea,

          It amazes me how much you know about everything, including the background and motives of commenters on this blog. Of course I realize that in the private sector employers don’t call for a democratic vote on whether to switch insurance carriers, downgrade coverage or increase co-pays. But given the nature of any contract – union or otherwise, how many people would opt to increase their costs if they are currently protected from doing so? Consider all the executive contracts given top tier managers that provide guaranteed benefits and limit out-of-pocket expenses.

          Focus on the word CONTRACT, and not UNION.

          The teachers’ union – two dirty words to some on this blog – will need to face reality when renegotiating. And they will look to recently negoiated contracts beyond our immediate area. You seem to believe that the district will get no cooperation from them on benefits, copays, or salary increases. But this continuing pessimism serves no purpose.

          Ms. Bookstaber, as a new member of the board in 2008, did not participate directly in contract negotiations, nor did any of the other newly elected SB members. Hinting, as someone has, that all SB members up for re-election should be challenged by people with hard-line views on the teachers’ union is foolish. A newcomer to the board is not in the position to understand all of the issues involved. The community would do much better to make sure all members of the SB understand their positions on maintaining quality and/or keeping taxes down.

  9. the realization that employees will have increased their co-pays or are making other concessions is indeed happening in the private sector, whatever is left of it.

  10. I’m tired of the old argument that teachers are “giving up big salaries in the private sector.”

    I’ve spent 20 years in the private sector. I pay $300 a month for the barest minimum HMO for my family–that’s with my employer paying 70%. Unlike teachers, I can’t go to any doctor I want. My kids can’t go to any specialist I choose. I have to get referrals all the time. Teachers and their families are on a Cadillac health plan like no other available today.

    I’ve spent 20 years in the private sector. I have a master’s degree. In the past few years I’ve seen my salary go down $20K thanks to the recession and the disappearance of jobs in my field. I now make just about what a brand new T/E teacher with a B.A. degree makes… and he/she only works 8-9 months of the year, with generous holidays (Christmas week, Spring Break) mixed in.

    Finally, after two decades in the private sector I am not going to retire at 55 like most of these teachers with their fat pension plans. I will be working until I’m 75 or 80.

    So let’s put that “poorly salaried teachers” argument to rest, please. Their health benefits, inflated pensions and supersized salaries for part time, 9-month work is pretty generous if you ask me. And they still want 10% more? Add to that the many expensive gifts they get at Xmas. In the T/E elementary schools, parents are strong-armed by affluent “room mothers” to donate $20 towards a $300 gift certificate or Tiffany’s charm bracelet for some 20-something teacher–or their kid’s name doesn’t go on the card.

    1. “In the T/E elementary schools, parents are strong-armed by affluent “room mothers” to donate $20 towards a $300 gift certificate or Tiffany’s charm bracelet for some 20-something teacher–or their kid’s name doesn’t go on the card.”

      If that’s true, these extortionist, racketeering, “room-mothers” should be lined up and spanked. (Was going to go with “shot”, which was my first inclination, but didn’t feel it would be right in this new era of civility.)

      1. But how was this a teachers’ fault/responsibility? Unless the teacher is working in coordination with the “room mothers”, I don’t see what the issue is. This sounds like an argument to take up with the other parents.

        1. When did I say a single word about teachers? I said the “room-mothers” should be spanked.

          And really there is no way for the parents to deal with this situation, which is why I proposed a comedic, yet poetically symbolically retributive, punishment for these blackmailers (assuming again the allegation as fact.) Parents either cough up the cash or endure the shame of their child’s name not being included on the card. Again, if this it true, it’s petty and these “room-mothers” are richly due some measure of humilation.

          I think it’s the truly deserving teacher who sees through this racket and turns down the gift.

    1. Papadick — aren’t you married to a teacher? The decision to become a teacher has to be made VERY early on in life…typically when your parents are still footing the bill. Becoming one mid-career is almost impossible, as the barriers to certification are significant (though changing with charter school inroads) and even a math major from Harvard could not start teaching Math without some education courses. some state exams, and even then, probably emergency certification. If that Harvard math person had been a college professor, they might be able to get some credit for previous teaching, but otherwise, they start with the rest of the college grads….on the first row of the teacher salaries….
      3 years to tenure….2.5% pension a year accrued. It is a gamble….unless they could cut bad teachers and replace them. But they don’t. They work with them and try to help them improve. Teachers do as good a job as they can — if they choose to. They are respected. It’s the apologists and the union noise that make it hard.

      1. Gee I was asking “WORKING PARENT WHO’S HAD ENOUGH” that question. He/she was saying that they were now only making what a new teacher would make in TE. So I was merely asking why he/she does not make a career change.
        And now I am challenged by “School Observer” who starts out by asking me whether I am married to a teacher – care to explain what that question has to do with anything — what if I were married to a teacher. Does that have any impact on my question?
        As to your inane comments that no one can make a career change to the teaching profession – I say Bunk. many private sector folks have made the change — BUT it takes a desire to teach and spend whole days with 20 -25 kids and many evenings marking papers or reading writing assignments. If there is a calling then it can be done. By the way — if this is such a great job — why do 30+% leave the profession after 3 years??

    2. There are hundreds of applicants for every teaching position in T/E. This is a sign that teachers are paid very well. (Some might even say it’s a sign that they are paid too much for the job.)

      It’s just not realistic to say to “working parent who’s had enough” that the solution is to become a teacher. And you don’t need to be a teacher to notice and complain about the disparity between public employee union compensation and that in the private sector.

  11. This conversation is so far off topic.

    Although I don’t have answers to solve the issues, I think it is important to recognize that the vote was 5-4. In local government, that is big. It’s big because it means it is not just some easy-street. Too often things have little opposition on the board and it seems things just happen the way they want it to. This division will force more dialog and pressure from each side of the vote to do the right thing. Fortunately, this board works well with each other, so things can get accomplished.

    The pressure from some to simply not just raise taxes will keep those who want their ‘options’ in check.

    1. Very important point. It’s up to the public to make sure that all pertinent points are well articulated and communicated. I’m pleased that the current Board make-up allows for dialog and differing opinions.

      The tragedy in all for this, it seems to me, is that no-one is representing future teachers. How will we improve quality (e.g.: get to Finland’s teachers coming from the top quartile of college graduates) if the prospect is for much lower compensation (pensions, benefits) than we currently have? How can we get the right balance in the face of union roadblocks?

      And I’m going to keep plugging the point that quality and cost of the schools depends on a diverse mix of citizens who find it in their interest to live here.

  12. Be sure to identify which board members have terms that end this year….they will be in primaries if they want to run again….that typically influences votes – which is unfortunate because they should work through this. Perhaps they will.

        1. Ms. Bookstaber was on the board in 2008 when the current teacher contract was approved. She knows that either a LARGE tax increase or a LARGE cut in the teacher force will be required to balance the budget directly due to that contract. I think she’s making a quick dash for the back door.

    1. It’s unreasonable to say that she’s making a dash to the back door. If you attended any of the school board meetings or even watched a meeting on TV, you’d know that she is pregnant.

      According to the rumor mill, her pregnancy is why she isn’t running again. You might disagree with her votes, but it just seem petty to imply she’s not committed or willing to do what it takes to balance the budget.

      She had her first child while on the board and didn’t even miss a single meeting. You accuse her of making a dash to the door, but wouldn’t a more reasonable explanation be that she understands the commitment being on the board entails and is choosing to put her family first? Then again…do we even have confirmation that she’s not running aside from speculation on this blog by Pattye and others?

      5 members are up in 2011: Cruickshank, Mahoney, Bruce, Bookstaber and Motel. All 5 were there when the last contract was approved. Cruickshank and Bookstaber were new to the board in 2008 and not on the negotiating committee for the last contract. So by your logic, all five know “that either a LARGE tax increase or a LARGE cut in the teach force will be required to balance the budget directly due to that contract.” Why not ask them directly? Or are you going to speculate about their motives as well?

      1. You are correct. My comment about Ms. Bookstaber was unkind and inappropriate. School board directors serve to the best of their abilities without compensation or thanks.

        What I’m trying to point out is that next year’s budget (the one under discussion now) will be easy to balance. The fund balance will fill in the difference between revenues and expenditures. But the fund balance runs out at some point and then the real pain begins. The budget shortfall for the 2011-12 year is around $7M The budget shortfall for the 2012-13 school year is about $11M. A 1% tax increase brings in $850K in revenue. To balance the budget we’ll need a referendum asking for an additional 8% to 12 % tax increase ABOVE the Act 1 index.

        Or if a teacher’s compensation is about $100K we’ll need to furlough between 70 and 110 teachers to balance the budget.

        That’s real pain. And who will be held accountable?

  13. What I meant to say is that teachers in T/E have it pretty good already. I think we have some good teachers (and some average), but do they deserve 10% salary raise every year, on top of Cadillac health plans and out-of-this-world pension plans the likes of which no one else in the world has seen since the 1980s? I work 50 hours a week to pay my mortgage and put food on the table. Paying $300 a month health insurance, there’s very little left over to save for my kids’ college. Teachers need a REALITY CHECK. They should all be required to work for one year in the real world and see how the rest of the world has to swing it financially. $3600-$9000 a year out of pocket for health insurance (low end is HMO, high end is Personal Choice PPO), 2 to 3% annual cost of living recession raises (if any) modest 401(k) plans (if the company has one at all), daycare costs (many teachers get summers off in addition to all school holidays, and don’t have to pay thousands for childcare each summer or run around trying to find a sitter for $12 an hour on school holidays). I think then they would understand why we don’t think they need 10% more and how much their exhorbitant pension plans and other demands are burdening the rest of us. Many teachers in T/E retire in their early 50s. The rest of us Gen Xers and Gen Ys will be working until we are 80.

  14. Teachers don’t need to work in the “real world” to learn about it any more than non-teachers need to teach to understand that job. But we all need to stop attacking the profession and simply look for solutions.
    That’s a nasty comment above that Deb Bookstaber is dashing out the door….watch the TV and you will see that she is expecting a baby. I don’t think switching to parenting is a cop out. But the need here to take shots at almost anyone reflects the great frustration level at how to fix such a major problem.
    No one wants to cut programs, but no one wants to pay more for education. Most teachers have only ever taught, so they believe they do a hard job (they do) and then have to correct papers at night. Non-public employees don’t have limits on their work day, so they work 50 hour weeks and then some, and hope to hold on to their jobs while making ends meet. They dont’ want to pay more. They get 2 or 3 weeks off a year for the same salary ($50K) that a teacher straight out of college makes.
    The problem is partly constitutional — and on another post someone suggested we need a constitution overhaul in PA. We do. We cannot back down on any compensation promises much less contracts. We are attracting hundreds of applicants for each job — which is a sign that the need for a job far outweighs the compensation provided.
    So the REALITY CHECK is that we are all living and working in a country where the notion of working hard has somehow gotten confused with being overworked… and that’s why outsourcing is going to eat us all alive. I don’t know what jobs are coming back to the US….but I know lots more will leave. teaching included. The problem is BIG — REALLY BIG. The REALITY CHECK is much deeper than local property taxes. It will require serious debate and not just political bickering. Vouchers are in fact a political cop-out because you don’t need to fix the system if you just give people money to leave it. But for the people who are victimized by living in poor communities that do not fund educational programs, the voucher is a hand up to get to a program/place where you can get an education.

  15. Again, I must say that I greatly regret the decision to cut Latin and German. And mostly I am upset by the argument that it will save money–the only thing it does is replaces Latin and German teachers with Spanish and French teachers. The same number of students need language instruction–so more teachers must be added or the schedule completely redone so that the current ones are worked to the limits to fit all the stduents that now won’t be taking Latin.

    1. The problem as I understand it is that the demand for Latin and German had declined to the point that class sizes were inefficient. The one for one point may not apply. This actually does seem to be the Administration listening to the voice of the customer, in aggregate, if not of every individual. In an ideal world you’d like to be able to support all choices, but costs have just outstripped today’s capacity to pay for that.

  16. But that’s not necessarily true, as there are currently two 20-student sections of Latin III, 1 of Latin IV, and several (I’m not sure) of Latin V, all of which are taken by those continuing Latin from the middle school (except for 2 juniors in Latin III). The cut-off for having a class is fifteen students, so we have in some cases over double that. The middle school classes have not shrunk this year as far as I am aware, and membership in the Junior Classical League (Latin Club) has increased greatly in both VFMS and Conestoga, showing that the interest in Latin has not waned.

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