Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Labor Dispute Between TEEA Teacher Union & T/E School District . . . Claiming Unfair Labor Practices re Online Course Programming

Teacher contract negotiations between the union, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) and the T/E School District will not begin until 2012 but . . . apparently that has not slowed the filing of a labor dispute between the union and the school district.

Here is the abbreviated background on the lawsuit. In December 2009, the teacher union (TEEA) filed charges of unfair practices with the PA Labor Board against the T/E School District. The union alleged that the school district transferred some teacher’s work by offering students online computer courses, known as E-learning. The first year of the pilot program, in school year 2009-10, the school district offered four courses. In the 2010-11 school year, the program was expanded to 25 courses. In March 2010, the teacher union expanded its allegations to include the additional courses.

If I understand the union’s position, they contend that the school district was offering courses to students that should be taught by the teachers. The union contends that the work of instructing and assessing students taking online courses is no different than work performed by teachers in the classroom.

The school district argued that utilizing technology for E-learning courses falls outside the scope of teacher bargaining. They also defended their position on E-learning is no different than the district offering alternative physical education courses, in-home instruction due to illness or medical needs, community leadership classes, etc. It is my understanding that the online courses offered through E-Learning, were not courses that were ever instructed by teachers. Examples of special or advanced online courses selected by students included Constitutional Law, Arabic and Japanese. The school district viewed that meeting the needs of students with special or advanced courses as no different as meeting the needs of those students requiring homebound instruction. However, the labor dispute tells us that the teacher union disagreed with the school district.

During the last 12 months, testimony and hearings have been held between the union, the school district and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Two weeks ago, in a Decision and Order from the PA Labor Relations Board, T/E School District was ordered to cease and desist the online coursework program (e-Learning); the order to become effective 20 days following the February 28, 2011 date on the order.

So what does this mean? If the school district accepted the February 28 decision from the Labor Board, the e-Learning program would end March 20, 2011. Those students currently enrolled in the program would have to end their courses and consequently, would not receive course credit. The school district is appealing the Labor Board decision. Because of the school district’s appeal, the current students enrolled in e-Learning programming will be able to complete their online courses and receive credit.

To read the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board decision, click here. Here is the official statement from the T/E School District:

Due to the outcome of a labor dispute between the T/E School District and the Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA), the District will not be offering any online courses for the 2011-2012 school year. The TEEA claimed an unfair labor practice because the program allegedly transferred work outside the bargaining unit. The District asserted the right to design and implement programs of educational benefit to students. On February 28, 2011, the hearing officer ruled in favor of TEEA, and the District has been ordered to cease and desist its online coursework program. Because the District is appealing this decision, students currently enrolled in online courses will be able to continue for the current school year. However, absent a different outcome on appeal, the online course program will not be available in the 2011-2012 school year. Students who have applied for the online coursework program for 2011-2012 have been individually contacted by counselors.

Although the district has appealed the decision, it appears the e-Leaning program will not be available for 2011-12 school year. If the appeal is lost, the online programming will be suspended.

School districts are offering online coursework programming across the country. With advanced technology, is this something that we believe should be part of the district curriculum? According to the labor dispute filing, the school district paid a range of $300 – $800 per student depending upon the course and the length of the course. Certainly, online programming is less expensive than the hiring of a teacher for one or two students wishing to take a particular course.

Is there not a responsibility for the school district to meet the needs of all students . . . whether it is a homebound student, a physically challenged student or a student who requires advanced coursework that cannot be offered by the district, due to specific problems, such as enrollment requirements?

With a labor dispute and the ongoing angst that the situation causes between the school district and the teacher union, what will this say for the future of the contract negotiations?

Cost — how much has the school district expended on legal fees to date fighting this labor dispute? In this economic climate, can the taxpayers afford this legal battle?

I am struggling to understand why the Labor Board made their decision. If these online courses were not previously taught in the district, and if there is not sufficient enrollment for these specific courses to be taught, than how is it affecting the teachers? And no curriculum/programming cuts were made to accommodate the e-Learning program.

What’s the saying, ‘pick your battles’? With teacher contract negotiations next year, was this the battle the teacher union needed to pick.


Additional educational notes:

There is an important T/E School District Finance Meeting this Monday, March 14.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman has come out with a statement concerning Gov. Corbett’s budget and the impact of the budget cuts to public education. I plan to address Dinniman remarks and the effects that the budget cuts will have on area school districts. Sen. Dinniman has made his feelings about the education cuts public and we also know that he supports school vouchers, albeit with admendments. If you recall last week, I sent an email to State Rep. Warren Kampf asking him for a statement in regards to school vouchers. I have not heard from Rep. Kampf, however earlier this week I spoke to his Chief of Staff, Sean Dempsy. Dempsy told me that Rep. Kampf had received my email and would issue a response to me by the end of the week. So I will look forward to Rep. Kampf’s email by the end of today.

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  1. To be fair we have to realize that the teachers didn’t say the district couldn’t continue E-Learning, but to do so the district would have to come to the bargaining table. The teachers have a contract that gives them teaching exclusivity. They demand to be consulted and compensated.

    That said, this is another illustration of why unions should not be allowed in the public sector. They prevent the efficient delivery of education.

    Here’s why Gov. Daniels of Indiana stripped public sector union bargaining rights:

    Actually, my main purpose in moving away from collective bargaining was to have the flexibility to make government work better. You couldn’t move a Xerox machine from one room to the next under the agreement that was in place when we got there without the unions’ permission. You couldn’t reorganize departments. You couldn’t outsource any services. You couldn’t move to merit pay for the best workers that I mentioned earlier, nothing.

    And we have made thousands of reforms that have led to a much better — I can prove it to you — service delivery by Indiana state government. If you are owed a tax refund, it comes back twice as fast. If you go to our license branch, you’re out in nine minutes. And it was as much trying to serve the public better as it was to save money.

    Get rid of the teacher’s unions and your kids will get a better education at a lower price.

    1. Thank you for making the distinction in regards to e-Learning. Yes, e-Learning could continue in the school district, but would require agreement with the teacher’s union through collective bargaining.

  2. This is the perfect illustration of why unions and the associated contractual environment lead to sclerosis. Work rules exist to preserve jobs, even when they makes no economic or quality sense whatsoever.

    Well, that’s going to change. Taxpayers have said: enough! Now we have HB855 coming along which will allow teachers to be furloughed to address budget shortfalls, and for those furloughs to be based on criteria other than seniority.

    Presumably those factors and e-learning will become part of the next contract discussion, along with all the compensation factors and a host of other things. This petty action sets the tone for the union’s position. The Board will need to mount a far-reaching resident communication program to help them maintain their spine.

    And in the meantime, the students get hurt. This year’s will be OK, but I can’t see those courses making it to next year’s curriculum.

  3. HB855 only gets us halfway there. It does allow for teachers to be furloughed to address budget shortfalls, but furloughs based on something other than seniority are problematic.

    HB855 states: Nothing contained in section 1125.1(a) through (d) shall be construed to supersede or preempt any provisions of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by a school entity

    The TEEA bargaining agreement has the clause: If any professional staff is reduced, any resulting furlough shall
    occur in inverse order of seniority within the area of certification to which the Employee is currently assigned.

    Thus, even if HB855 passes the TESD will still furlough based on reverse order of seniority unless the CBA language is changed.

    1. I agree and did note that we have to wait until the next contract to see the benefit of this bill if passed.

      Here’s another interesting data point: Corbett’s 2011/12 budget would reduce TESD revenues by $1.32 million from the approved preliminary budget. On the plus side, there will be a offset from removal of the e-learning costs…………

  4. This was inevitable. E-learning is outsourcing — and it’s another reason the TESD should consider chartering itself. For the PA Board to decide this in favor of the teachers disregards anything to do with excellence in education. But as I have said before — keep a good job, lose a great one. The TEEA HAD to win this dispute or it would have opened up all kinds of programs without their bodies in front of the class. They believe TESD should pay THEM to do online videos. Maybe someone can now see (as Ray has said) that unions are about union power. What profession in this country claims to be professional and still hides behind work rules and collective bargaining? Doctors/Lawyers/Chiropractors? Only teachers claim to be professional and yet let someone else speak for them.

    1. Many professions have unions to represent them; it’s not “hiding behind collective bargaining”, it’s gaining strength from it and it’s a very reasonable thing to do, particularly when you have a very high-stress job that’s underpaid, very important, and requires ongoing qualifications. Collective bargaining works well to represent the interests of the whole profession and push for a reasonable standard of living for those willing to teach.

      As you note, the union had to fight this battle; the online courses bring nonunionised workers into competition with unionised ones. Union efforts for a reasonable standard of living may vanish quickly if that is permitted; every class slot taught by a nonunionised worker weakens their ability to fight for decent pay.

      I don’t know how to handle E-Learning, but bringing the unions into discussions seems a productive start to whatever changes are in store. This broad assault on unions you’re launching, like much astroturfed anti-union sentiment, is the wrong way to honour our teachers and build a better education environment.

      1. Given your spelling, I’m guessing you are British,so perhaps you are expanding our world view here, but which professions are you thinking of when you talk about “many professions have unions?” Even FDR didn’t think there was any point to a public sector union.

        “Non unionized workers with unionized ones” is hardly the fear — there are plenty of non-union in classrooms in this state — just fair share forces many of them to pay dues, so they “join” the union to get the discount on insurance benefits and other “perks” of their union dues.

        Wonder what you and others think of this article from NYT this weekend? And I strongly recommend you read the blog comments after (too many to read them all, but quite extensive).

        1. I’m from the US (my spelling is another topic and not particularly relevant here).

          I don’t see FDR as anything more than a historical figure; provided you’re right about him not seeing reasons for public sector unions, I see no shame in disagreeing with him. Anywhere collective bargaining is useful, unions are useful. It’s not hard to imagine (or see) teachers suffering the squeeze of budgets or management in the same way other professions suffer from the greed of private sector management (or poor price perceptions). In both cases it’s reasonable to band together to push for a better living.

          In your correction above, you’re factually correct, but my point was that the goal is to collaborate to keep/set the price of labour at a reasonable level. Non-union workers who pay dues both benefit from and contribute to that; they’re not existing entirely independently of the union. It’s hard to determine how that’d work with distance learning programs, but it’s worth discussing.

          I skimmed that article; I do agree that more compensation and respect are warranted, although I don’t like the anti-union slant of the article. I believe the democrats (and other liberals) have failed to make the case for organised labour (or talk about their beliefs, or defend vital institutions of society like the EPA, etc…), allowing the hard right (surprisingly the centrist right has failed here too) to define the field for everyone else. As a result we’re at risk of seeing right-populist-libertarian politics make huge gains and the center shift. Unions are the first casualty of a failure by Dems to look at the big picture of how political discourse happens.

        2. Oh, sorry, I meant to get a short-but-representative list, but forgot before I hit the post button.

          Airline Pilots, Actors, Firefighters, Nurses, Miners, Plumbers, Electricians, Carpenters, Construction Engineers, Screenwriters, Truckers, etc.

          Unions represent skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled labour. There is no shame in being in one, and while being human institutions means they don’t always get things right, they serve an important role in making sure those they represent have a decent standard of living. Competition for labour/wages/jobs shouldn’t be defined entirely by the employer; collective bargaining prevents this competition from representing a race to the bottom.

      2. This is not power for it’s own sake; it’s having enough power to ensure that teachers have a reasonable standard of living. It’s not abject greed, it’s a hope for a reasonable life for people doing the most important, most sustaining work in our nation.

        I might agree with you regarding getting elected officials to do the necessary work, but I don’t think the “tea baggers”, as you call them, are serious about the need to govern responsibly, nor can their movement even theoretically meet their objectives without destroying the institutions that sustain the middle class (which composes them). Still, this is not connected to concerns about the teachers union.

        I want the teachers union to retain power. I want them to fight to keep renumeration for teachers fair. I want them to have collective bargaining as a tool to do so, and I don’t want people to “take unions head on”. I hope the unions will be willing to allow the reforms needed to improve our educational system, but that should not mean the unions being weakened. Unions are actors, but they’re not obstacles.

      3. Patt Gunn, unions ARE obstacles. Teachers are not obstacles. Huge difference. It is time to reset the clock and to stem the rising tides. New world order is upon us.

        Your interpretation of tea baggers is accurate and acceptable but yours of the unions is not? Eyes wide shut.

      4. You’re correct that unions tend to fight for benefits (like pension plans and healthcare) that seem extravagant, but this must be taken in the context of a low salary; I work for a private university in PA, doing work that nets me a salary far less than I could make outside a university environment. In return, the benefits are much nicer, and while the total compensation is a bit less, I like the environment. Government jobs tend to work the same way, and the costs are less for everyone involved because there are economies of scale in buying benefits in a large bloc. Public school pre-university teachers arn’t as well off; they still make a relatively poor salary for the difficulty/importance of their jobs, but they do get some benefits that sound ok, taken out-of-context.

        I admire those who are willing to work in that environment; I don’t see them as spoiled and perhaps someday, after I’ve finished my main career, I may join their ranks because I believe their task is very important. For those willing to do it as their whole career, I’m glad they have the unions fighting for them; I think they deserve more numeration (either in salary or benefits), not less.

        (none of this is meant to suggest we don’t need to restructure education in ways unrelated to teacher salaries; I think as a nation we should consider completely reinventing our system, from making funding a state/federal-level concern so poor districts don’t underserve their area, to smaller class sizes and greater use of tutoring/independent study).

      5. Didn’t you criticize the township supervisors for holding firm against the police — ultimately losing an arbitration? Does that mean you are a police sympathizer and a teacher hater?

      6. I think it used to be that public union employees got less salary but good benefits. Now they get both, and they both are out of wack with the current economic environment.

        So John are you willing to see a strike when the dolts on the school board don’t cave?
        So now you are blaming the elected officials.

        You have my vote when you run. I want to see what you will bring to the table. Run!!!

  5. Why not just sit down with the teachers, and offer them an opportunity to teach the E-Learning courses at the same rates being paid to the outside providers?

    All the ranting and raving loses sight of the simple fact that a reasonable solution is available that best serves the students of the district.

    1. Mr. Husick asked, “Why not just sit down with the teachers, and offer them an opportunity to teach the E-Learning courses at the same rates being paid to the outside providers?”

      Pattye explained why above – “It is my understanding that the online courses offered through E-Learning, were not courses that were ever instructed by teachers. Examples of special or advanced online courses selected by students included Constitutional Law, Arabic and Japanese.”

      Had there been any TE teachers trained in those fields I’m sure the administration would have been happy to let TEEA members teach those courses.

      1. The complaint filed and the hearing officer concluded that TEEA had taught every course that was being taught online at one time. I’m not sure the District was strategically ready to win this challenge. The goal might be to offer courses where TESD doesn’t have teachers, but that’s not what the complaint was about nor how the decision was made.

        1. Thank goodness that at least one other person on this reply chain even bothered to read the findings of fact in the decision! I must admit, however, that commenting and complaining without bothering to know the facts is way more fun and leads to reinforcement of prejudices, which is far more satisfying than living in the real world.

        2. OK, let’s revisit some facts from the stipulations, which presumably both sides accepted (reference to para #s):
          24, 14. Pilot program: 23 students, courses Latin 1 and 2, German 1 and Visual Basic: Average students per course: <6
          18. District rule of thumb for minimum class size: 15
          20. Lowest class size example that the union could come up with: one example of 8 (a Chemistry course).

          It makes sense to include in a pilot program courses with which you have some experience. Otherwise how can you evaluate it? It's a pilot.

          But I do agree with C1 that the District might have positioned this better.

          So then we have:
          44. The union wants to "bargain", but the District doesn't
          45. The District wants to "meet and discuss", but the union doesn't.

          ??? The rigors of work rule bargaining. Rigor mortis, more like it.

          Who's looking out for the interests of the students?

        3. To answer Ray’s question about “who’s looking out for the interests of the students?” It’s clearly not the union.

          The pilot program included courses that the TEEA had taught at one point. These classes would otherwise have been eliminated due to the low enrollment.

          The expanded program included classes that had never been taught by TEEA and for which enrollment would be too low to offer at CHS in a traditional classroom. These enrichment opportunities for students included subjects like Arabic.

          TEEA wants to “bargain” these changes, but that pretty much shuts down the program. TE is not going to be able to pay teachers for niche classes with low enrollment (like Arabic or Constitutional Law). TE has never had an Arabic teacher, and a realistic person knows that TE is not going to hire an Arabic teacher for just a handful of kids. Besides, it wouldn’t be reasonable to ask taxpayers to support such a hiring plan anyway.

          As a result, students with specialized interests in unpopular subjects will lose the opportunity to explore these interests before college. This is a great example of how unions block changes and improvements in the American educational system even when these changes could be implemented in a cost-effective way.

    2. Let’s try this: 30 courses being taken in the current year. Cost ranges from $300 to $800 – let’s take the highest: $24,000.

      Not sure of the subjects this year but from the TESD web site, the 2011/12 list would have included: Screenwriting Fundamentals, Mathematical Reasoning and Logic, Oceanography: A Virtual Semester at Sea, Constitutional Law, Arabic, and Japanese.

      So, the TEEA has the capabilities and would teach those courses for $24,000?

      A separate question: should taxpayers be paying for these courses anyway? It is arguably a real reason why our district deserves its reputation for excellence, but there is a risk that resources get unfairly distributed to the elite. Where have I heard that before?

      1. Honestly, I think you should thank the teacher’s union. This does sound rather elitest. Who decides what courses to offer?
        Are we in America or what? Arabic? Japanese? Be real! So now we cater to the elite. I would love to test these students to see what they really learned if they walked away from the computer for a second. How useless! We wasted taxpayers money for this. Unbelievable!!!!
        Oh, buy the way I want a course for my child to learn the art of cake decorating (at least it would be a useful skill). I might have to sue for discrimination if I don’t get what I want! This might open a whole new can of worms for the district. Are you all forgetting a public school is not an all inclusive resort where you get everything you want? Again, the teacher’s union might have actually been you friend this time.
        So, I agree with the elitest comment above.

    3. Just sit down with the teachers. Do you really think that wasn’t tried before the program was started and the union grieved it? If you work in a business, how would it work if you were only allowed to hire people that your other employees agreed to hire? And that your employees would decide who among them should be selected?

      A reasonable solution — except that homebound instruction costs in excess of $50 an hour; teachers will not work beyond their work day without contractual changes. All this is about WHO runs the school district. As long as we all understand that this is not about what’s best for the kids. It’s not about what’s best for TESD. It’s about what the PSEA wants to prevent. Our union leadership is too young and inexperienced to deal with it. IN the past year, both people who ran the union locally had stress related illnesses. Do we really think the pressure on them comes from our district?

  6. In these economic times, school districts cut classes with low enrollment. No district is going to offer a class to just 5 students! Online classes gave students options to take classes that would otherwise be cut due to low enrollment. There was no work transferred outside of the teachers union. No teachers lost jobs. It was a limited program meant to give options to CHS students.

    The teachers union will now use online learning as a chip in their next contract negotiation. And this is the problem with teachers unions. They are no longer content with negotiating salary hikes and great benefits. They want to stand in the way of educational reform and progress.

    And they are hypocritical as well. From the TESD Statement (
    “Also in 2008, the District first began permitting teachers to take online college and university courses for credit toward salary advances.”

    Teachers negotiated for the ability to take online classes for salary hikes. But now they block students from taking online classes?

    If we want to improve the educational system, someone will need to tackle the problem of the teachers unions.

  7. I am disappointed that the teacher’s union wants to prevent my kids from participating in some of the unique classes that are offered through TE’s online learning program – classes that would not be offered otherwise. This was a petty issue for the union to pursue. They are letting the pushy state education association influence them too much and it is not going to result in goodwill from parents or taxpayers in TE. This labor dispute is ridiculous.

    1. TE parent, you are exactly right. This is just a small example of who the teachers union is really interested in. I should amaze me but it doesn’t. Maybe that is what is amazing. I am sure the union will figure out a way to extract funds from the on line courses, if it ultimately is not eliminated. What a disgrace.

    1. It’s all explained in the complaint. Use the link above (AP) and then read the link below it on the web page for the full complaint resolution.

  8. My computer’s acting funky and won’t allow me to open any pdf files. If someone could just tell me the name of the company, I’d truly appreciate it.

    Also, due to technical difficulties, I’m unable to look at the agenda for Monday night ‘s school board meeting. I’m wondering if

    outsourcing of maintenance services

    is listed as an item for discussion.
    Thank you very much.

    1. Christine:

      I didn’t see the name of the e-learning provider in the Decision, and I don’t recall it from other materials.

      Monday’s agenda lists the general topic:
      “Strategies Under Consideration for 2011-12 Budget Development”
      which could include outsourcing of maintenance.

      The impact on the 2011-12 budget would be indirect, since I think that any changes could only be made on the expiration of the union contract. However, if it is felt that there will be future cost benefits (from that and other developments), then that would increase the comfort level in using the Fund Balance near term.

      Just to note it again – the agenda materials estimate an additional deficit of $1.3 million as a result of the proposed PA budget.

  9. “JD is supposedly independent…however, I’m not hearing any real dissent. The same goes for the school board. They are all a bunch of lemmings.”

    Again, why do you measure quality by dissent? Lemmings? Who are these people following over the cliff? Some vast, right wing conspiracy? These are times of uncertainty. No one has ever lived through this before — so yes, it is just taking shots. These situations need solutions, not just criticism. And apparently you have never negotiated — no one gives anything away. It’s give and take — and the most powerful wins. I think it’s pretty clear that the PSEA is the most powerful and have most of the ammunittion, including forced membership dues to pay for the full time negotiators who move from district to district….and face boards who take care of one district.

  10. Pat Gunn
    Public school pre-university teachers arn’t as well off; they still make a relatively poor salary for the difficulty/importance of their jobs, but they do get some benefits that sound ok, taken out-of-context.

    It is not a free market when there are countless more applicants than jobs, and you cannot adjust the salary to attract the people you want. Your comments about public school teachers not making a decent salary makes me wonder if you have seen their contracts lately? In TESD, a teacher right out of college, no advanced degree earns $48,700 this year, and the starting salary for next year is $50,250. To be sure that this year’s starter at $48.700 doesn’t make less next year than the starting salary, they move to $51,250….so the increase for this year’s teacher after one year — one year in a down economy – is 5.25%. Not nearly as lucrative as the person at the Masters +15, who this year makes step 9 who this year made $66,440 (a 17,240 raise from last year) and next year will make $82,680 — without any educational raise. (By the way, the educational raises are fair, but typically TESD pays most of the cost of the education). And the educational increase would only be another $1000 — so not sure the matrix serves a purpose in that case. And remember — TESD has a 16 step schedule — the PSEA goal is a 10 step schedule. Our “career step” for a Masters is $95,400, for the M+15 is $98,400. Our Career step for a PhD is $106,400. ($110,900 next year!) That is for ~185 7.5 hour days of work — which is not to denegrate the amount of time put in, but rather to reinforce the fact that this person has two additional months in which to add to that income, either by teaching summer school, but running a camp, but being the yearbook adviser (that comes during the year), by being a department chair, by being a mentor teacher, by doing home-bound instruction at over $50 an hour. And that teacher accrues 2.5% per year worked toward a pension that is tax free in PA. And we are STILL talking about them “contributing” to their benefits, which means the primary responsibility for the benefit in a defined benefit contract falls to the employer.

    I include all this to try to dispel the notion that “public school teachers make relatively poor salaries”….because they do not. Even with contributing to their pensions and social security (they receive both), to create an annuity worth $100,000 a year for life (which is what today’s starting teacher can expect to yield in a pension), their “ING” number would be well over $3,000,000 — which they would have to save and hope the market didn’t compound it with any corrections…

    CitizenOne I believe said that salaries out not in line with the marketplace. The problem is — the market place is the EDUCATION market, and TESD’s salaries are completely in line with the local market. Some steps vary, but TE teachers make less (sometimes considerably less) than LMSD, and about the same as RTSD and GVSD. Reviewing all their contracts makes it hard to compare because some pay retirement health care costs, some accrue sick days for retirement payouts, some limit educational reimbursements and more.

    But anyway….just looking at TESD’s raises for next year, the smallest raise is .5% to the B teachers on the final step. The largest is 21.9% to the M+30 teachers on the 7th step. There may be no teachers on these steps — but the schedule cannot go down in subsequent years. The PSEA would like to see those raises come faster and sooner…from $50,250 to $90,000 (B top step) in 10 years, not 16. ALL without any merit component (or compentency component).

    Do you really think the negotiations are on a level playing field? I know that Mr. Petersen will say the board gave away the store — but perhaps we need to look at the components of the store – the law protecting every employee from a decrease or even a projected decrease. There is no question that each negotiation the school board may be doing its first face to face, and the union might be doing it’s 20th….but the rules are not fair either. So “breaking the union” isn’t a goal, but certainly something has to change in a material way. It’s simply unaffordable.

    1. Let’s step back a bit in history. I was a Conestoga graduate in the 70’s. One of my teachers inspired me to teach. I headed to college to get my degree so that I could earn a reasonable living ( Isn’t that why we all go to college?). I ended up in the western part of the state and secured a full time teaching job in 1977 for $6000 per year. All of my college friends, who were not in teaching, secured jobs paying in the mid $20’s. I know you are intelligent people reading this, so do the math. I wonder how much more my friends have been able to invest over those 30+ years. It took me 33 years to get to my present salary of $79,000. This is why teacher’s unions started.
      Here is the clincher. My 3 children are recent college graduates within the last 2- 5 years. My youngest secured a job right out of college for $62,000/year + 10,000 sign- on bonus and received a $7000 bonus at the end of her 1st year. They received a $4000 raise their second year + a bonus. My child complains they are bored because all they do is make Power Point presentations all day. The benefits are great too… 4 weeks paid vacation + pd. holidays, and health benefits for which they pay less than myself (a teacher).
      My second child also secured a job during the recession with no experience at a salary of $64000 + 4 weeks paid vacation + pd. holidays and comprehensive benefit package. They are expected to receive a 15% bonus at the end of their first year.
      My oldest child just started a new job, again with no experience in the field, at $65000 and amazing benefits; just as, my children above.
      All 3 children are college graduates with no master degrees. All are in 3 totally different industries.
      The facts I have stated are true. I am thinking that the people who are writing to this blog are unaware of the real market today and what college grads are making in all different industries.
      I have taught for 30+ years and I am making what my children are making right out of college in today’s market. All in all, I think fairly speaking, teachers are underpaid. Let’s get off the mentality that teachers are like nuns who give their services away. I love my job. I teach in a school with 80% poverty and all the problems that arise with it. I walk into school each day in hopes that I can inspire someone; just as, my teachers inspired me. But, let’s be clear, I attended college to earn a good living!

      1. Well, God bless you for working in an 80% poverty school. I know at least one former Philadelphia school district teacher who was hired by T/E. He was (and is) very good. I never asked, but I think maybe the work in Philly eventually got to him. That is some tough duty.

        1. It is not easy, but it is rewarding. It is not always the test scores that matter. Sometimes you teach kids things that are impossible to measure and you don’t realize you are doing it. I would like to relate one story to you as an example; About 12 years ago, I had a student named BB(alias name); He was a second grader who was a severe behavior problems. One day, we were walking up the stairs from the basement. Out of nowhere, BB stopped, looked up at me and said, “We donn like white people, we hate ’em, we donn trust’em”. I looked BB straight in the eyes and responded, “BB, I like to get to know people before I decide if I like them”. BB looked at me in such a perplexed way, I will never forget the look in his eyes. BB was moved to a new housing project, so after only 3 short months he was no longer with me. More than 3 years later, a young boy comes to see me. I didn’t recognize him at first because he had grown so much; but, it was BB. Obviously, I taught BB something, maybe not math or reading, he still might have failed a standardized test; but maybe he learned it was okay to look at the people around you in a different way and maybe it would inspire him someday to get out of the projects and make a life for himself. So when the gov’t wants incentive pay for teachers measured by a multiple choice test, I want to vomit. This is why it is so hard to measure what teachers really teach kids. You never really can measure the effects you have on a student. This is only one of many stories I could tell you. None of them have to do with test scores. This is what keeps me going.
          In the last couple of years, I had 2 student teachers, both of whom decided they did not want to teach after their student teacher experience, and now they want to get rid of seniority for teachers. All I can say, there will be a lot of kids walking the streets.
          I work in a building of close to 600 elementary students and some amazing, supportive collegues.
          I’ve been threatened because I expect kids to do their work. I have very high standards. I spent my 30th anniversary at the police station filing a police report because a mother called the school to warn me her third grade son was going to get a gun and shoot me. Because the threat was not made in school, they were going to have to let the boy in school the next day. Luckily, when the police called the home, the mother was ready to leave to take her son to the psychiatric hospital because she couldn’t deal with him any longer. The police checked the home later that evening to make sure and called me. This happened all because I expected him to stay in, during my lunch, to do his work. Two weeks later, he returned to my classroom.
          This is the life of a teacher today!

  11. I am baffled. How could most people living in TE township ( one of the wealthiest districts in our state as far as income per household) gripe about a college graduate earning $48,000 out of college. How greedy can you get. A teacher at that wage cannot even afford to live in your community because the housing is so incredibly out of sight. Even at the top of their pay scale at $100,000, to buy a house which is more than likely at the minimum $400,000 + they would need a down payment of approximately $200,000 and still have a huge mortgage which would be difficult to afford. Oh and by the way, how about when you wanted to make a larger parking lot for all the students who have their own expensive cars( which more than likely were handed to them on a silver platter) at the expense of Mc Donnell’s property…what did that have to do with student learning? Who would have even thought to do something so frivolous? I will tell you… more than likely only parents who spoil their kids! Walk to school like I did when I went to Conestoga many years ago.. And what about the $1,000,000 + wasted on football stadiums and tracks-what do these have to do with educating children? Maybe you should rethink your priorities, oh but too late, you already wasted that money! Maybe if you planned ahead and weren’t so wasteful, you would not have to lose your most valuable resource…your teachers!!! Wake up and get a grip!!!!

    1. J,

      The whole Doyle-McDonnel thing came up during the run-up to expand and renovate the high school. The expansion was needed because of enrollment growth and was not an elective project.

      The HS is on a parcel of land far smaller than state regulations promulgated by PA Department of Education calls for. Believe it or not, there are formulas for that kind of thing – a certain HS population needs a certain number of acres. There were also township requirements. Initially it appeared that extra acerage would be necessary to get approval for the HS project.

      The acquisition of the Doyle-McDonnel property was strongly opposed and ultimately was not necessary due to waivers granted by the state and township, which allowed the project to proceed without the extra acerage being added.

      When you touch a facility – add on, renovate, etc. – the state and township makes you bring everything up to current codes and standards. (If you leave it alone you are “grandfathered”).

      Now, as to parking – if memory serves, there is a formula for that too, so many parking spaces for a facility of such-and-such size. We were nowhere near the required parking, and even though we did add some additional spaces, I believe there were some waivers granted for lack of adequate number of parking spaces too, which also allowed the HS project to go forward.

      THE SCHOOL BOARD DID NOT JUST DECIDE APPROPOS OF NOTHING TO BUILD PARKING LOTS FOR RICH SPOILED KIDS TO DRIVE TO SCHOOL – primarily that was driven by state and/or township requirements. Not only that, but there never was adequate parking at the HS, making parent nights, family oriented programs and community activites difficult, and creating congestion and parking issues for local residents.

      I won’t go into a lot of argument on the value and benefit of sports, but let me just say it has always been viewed as part of the educational program. That has been true at all US public schools for a century or more. I am aware of no public high schools that don’t maintain facilites for at least football, baseball, basketball, and track.

      As for sports facilities, or facilities of any kind, they are not really the problem. T/E is nowhere near its debt limit (yes, there is a regulation and a formula for that too). Other local districts are at or near their limits – in fact, a few years ago, Radnor had to delay construction because they exceeded their debt limit. T/E has one of the LOWEST DEBT RATIOS among local school districts.

      A lot of the bonds were retired, refinanced a few years ago to take advantage of lower interest rates. Also, the district’s AAA bond rating (VERY RARE FOR GOVERNMENT ENTITIES) allows borrowing at rates far lower than other school districts.

      Now, that means that debt service, while significant, is not the big budget buster you make it out to be. The physical facilites are not the problem. Also, if you look at the budget, you will see that sports of all kinds are a relatively small part of the budget.

      70-75% of the annual budget is personnel costs, salary and benefits. Probably the biggest items of concern in this area are the pension system and health care costs.

      The pension system (PSERS) is state mandated and controlled. Rising health care costs are beyond the control of the school board and are a problem faced by all employers everywhere. In private industry, the short-term answer for employers has been to pass more of these costs along to their employees. This will be a bone of contention for future negotiations with the teachers.

      The school board and administration has always valued our teachers. No one wants to “lose” them. But I suspect future negotiations will be contentious. I hope the budget problems can be dealt with in a way that preserves the relationship with the teachers, but under current conditions that will be supremely difficult.

      1. Please Kevin, I graduated in 1973 with more than 600 in my graduating class. Amazingly, we never felt crowded. In fact, I was very comfortable in the school. If I am correct, there are approximately half as many students in the graduating class, now. Your formula makes no sense. I am sure if the law changed since the 70’s for “the formula” it was grandfathered.
        Let’s face it, today’s parents care more about the grandeur than the education of their children. It’s all about “looking good’ ‘keeping up with the Jones’. Just think, all that money used to expand was unnecessary. You know it and I know it. The enrollment numbers above don’t lie.
        As far as the teacher’s retirement, if PA school districts paid into it along the way and did not postpone it every year (like any intelligent person would realize), it would not have ballooned out of control. Why should teachers take the fall for inept school boards and adminstrations? It is so easy to blame the teachers for all societies ills today. Why except responsibilites ourselves? I don’t know why anyone would want to be a teacher today. I am pretty sure that is why you are not a teacher.

        1. J,

          I’ll grant you that there were more students in a smaller school in the 1970’s. That’s the answer I give to today’s parents when they complain about the allegedly overcrowded school. But standards and regulations have changed. Again, when you touch a building, you are required to bring it up to current standards and codes, which often have changed since the building was first constructed.

          The expansion was NOT elective and was NOT driven by any yuppie parental expectations. We did not have sufficient classroom facilities and when we applied for approval for the project (which you are required by law to do) the state required us to comply with all applicable regulations. The parking regulations were from the township. The regulations regarding size of campus came from the state, and had to do with the acerage the school sits on, it had nothing to do with the classroom facilities. The acerage requirement was waived, after much wrangling, and thus we did not need to proceed with the acquisistion of the Doyle McDonnel property.

          The project was driven by enrollment growth, period. The only other option would have been to put in a bunch of trailers. Not a good solution, and a poor economy because they are far more expensive than you might think.

          The PSERS pension benefit multiplier was increased by the state legislature under the Tom Ridge administration, unleasing, in one stroke of a pen – a tsunami of red ink that had swamped all 501 school districts in the state of PA. Also, as far as your comment that we should have paid into it along the way, the school board did designate fund balance and various times to meet anticipated future obligations including the pension. However, the problem – which, I’ll say it again – was created by the state legislature – is so large that no school district has the ability to cope with it in the long term. Especially after the lagislature passed Act 1 of 2006, capping the school board’s taxing authority at an annual inflation rate set by the state.

          I would say that your claim that the school board was inept is misplaced. In T/E, we actually did an excellent job considering the limitations within which we had to work.

          Really, I don’t understand how you conclude that I am blaming teachers for any of this. I’m not. The really big problems were created in Harrisburg and will need to be solved there.

      2. Thanks Kevin. To clarify the parking issue — the township was applying office building standards for the high school, so wanted us to provide the number of spaces that an office building of our size would require. They also wanted a ring road to get township off the local roads while parents queued up. We explained that we could control the numbers of people who had access to our parking lot — we were not an office park. When we moved on without pursuing the property, Doyle and McDonnell agreed at a facilities meeting after a handshake that they would never sell the property without giving the school district the right of first refusal. In fact, any sale would set a price and the district could acquire the property at that price — because it’s still the only land adjacent to the only high school in two townships. Houses wouldn’t have a whole lot of appeal there in this economy….but capital isn’t available to acquire it now.

  12. J
    Not sure which college graduates you hang out with, but except for the very top of the heap right out of undergraduate, with no experience, $50K is pretty damn nice in most industries. Accountants, PTs, nurses and others … I guess you don’t have any tuition bills outstanding for kids who have graduated and are looking for jobs.

    TE Teachers work 7:35 minute contractual day, which translates to 455 minutes. They are guaranteed 30 minute duty-free lunch, and an average of 45 minutes a day for “prep time.” That results in a net work day of 380 minutes. For 191 day work year, that translates into approximate 1,210 hours. So the starting salary for a 50,000 worker is about $41.25 an hour — which in a conventional job would “annnualize” to $86,000.

    Now, I’m not even trying to suggest that TE Teachers only work 380 minutes a day, but likewise neither do starting employees in ANY industry work a 40 hour week. Not if they want to stick around and get promoted. They get 2 weeks off a year in that new job — teachers technically get no time off because that isn’t calculated in their work year. Benefits are almost optional in many jobs nowadays, and they certainly are not included/negotiated the way they are for teachers.

    I’m agreeing with John Stewart…Teachers are NOT at the root of any economic problem. So this is NOT teacher bashing. What this is is a wake up call to people IN education that you are no longer the 1970s underpaid, overworked industry you believe yourselves to be. You are well compensated, have significant control of your time (TE teachers get 10 sick days and 5 personal days, 3 unpaid) and worry about what your cadillac benefit copay is, not the premium. And you have a pension and social security, so putting away money for retirement is kind of taken care of. You call yourselves professionals — and rightly so — but you negotiate the tiniest of issues and expect to be paid extra for “extra duties.” (coaching, advising, mentoring, department chair, field trips, summer workshops).

    J == not sure where you got your parking lot story, but I attended those hearings and the demand for additional parking came from the township because they didn’t want kids parking on the roads. It’s not the school district’s issue — it’s the taxpayers who buy those cars. Teachers don’t need to be jealous of that, do they? (Silver platter???)

    1. I notice you did not respond to the fact that teachers could not afford to live in your community at a salary of $48000 per year or even $100,000. You talk about accountants. My father was an accountant (not a CPA) and my parents own a beautiful home in your community which they built in 1949 for $20000. Their home is worth 300 times that today. So how is an accountant could own a home in your community then, but a teacher can’t nearly afford it today?
      It is apparent to me if you really believed what you wrote above, you would be a teacher. If the benefits are so fabulous and the pay so great why aren’t you a teacher? It seems like the perfect choice for you. But beware it might not be as easy as you think!

      1. I do find it ironic that many teachers cannot afford to live in our district, but that results from a lot of factors and there is probably nothing anyone can do about it.

        By the way, I never said I think being a teacher is easy. In fact, it is incredibly important work, and very difficult work at times. I do appreciate good teachers.

        1. Why can’t you do something about it. They are professionals, often times with way more education than the people who own the million + homes. Oh, I know why, they are paid with taxpayer dollars, so we assume they are suppose to give their services away. It is so ridiculous. Why do teachers need so much education? Just let them pass a civil service test and teach your children. Why should teachers sell education to kids, encouraging them to go on to higher education when it ‘s doing them no good. There’s something to think about!

      2. If you read what I wrote, you will see once agian that this is NOT teacher bashing. This is just a request on behalf of those of us in other industries (the ones that cannot grieve outsourcing) are not able to afford “more” each and every year for every teacher. Cut teachers, cut salaries or cut programs???

        I think teaching is very hard, and not something I would be suited to. I do not object to teachers making a good living. It is hardly useful to consider that an accountant could buy a house for 20,000 that would sell for 30x ($600,000?) or 300x ($6,000,000). I know many college educated kids who grew up in this area and could not afford to buy a home here either — though they could buy condos, which is what kids do…and if they get married and have two incomes, they buy a starter home. An accountant in 1949 bought a home in an area with pretty small and quiet schools. 4% 20 year mortgage and the house mortgage is less than escrows today. Conestoga was built in 1954. This is a two-income society nowadays….if your parents were willing to sell their home for what it cost them, so be it. They could not afford to live here if they could still only buy a $20,000 home — as their taxes are probably around $6,000 a year. The value of homes is based on the quality of the area and of the schools. We have replaced most of the starter communities in the continuing drive for “more” space. But the fact is, we have good schools and we don’t need to pay more each and every year, beyond what our base can afford, to keep good schools, because what we are seeing now is that we are going to have to cut good programs so that we can keep expensive teachers.

        So, agreeing that it takes two incomes to buy any home nowadays…. — let those two $50K employees marry or get together to buy a home here (or one buys and has a lease to supplement the rent) . If you want them to buy a $400,000 home, and there are PLENTY of those around, they would put 10% down and have a mortgage of $2000 a month plus escrows. Try and rent an apartment (one bedroom) for half that…and there are tax benefits to owning….and presumably more than two bedrooms.

        Go on and look at the homes around our schools. Since you think a new college grad should be able to buy a home in our community (once upon a time there were starter homes), check it out.

        1. J-

          Thanks for showing the union perspective on this blog. You believe that teachers are underpaid and deserve even more money because many of them cannot afford to live in the school district.

          You comment that some of the people living in $1 million + houses are less educated than teachers as if that would justify paying teachers more. (Hint: your resentment and envy are showing!) And you give a few anecdotes about people who were able to get $60k+ jobs immediately after college graduation. (Lucky kids! I know adults in their 40s who would love one of those jobs!) And you use this to claim that $50k for a new teacher isn’t enough money. (Again…I know many people who would be thrilled to have that job.)

          $50k for a brand new teacher is an excellent wage when combined with the Defined Benefit Pension and top-quality healthcare with minimal cost-sharing by the employee and the required hours and vacation days. In fact, it is such a good wage that TE regularly has hundreds of applicants for every open teaching position.

          Teachers are well educated, and they deserve to be paid. However, they are compensated with yearly step increases, tuition reimbursement which allows them to move across the salary matrix and earn more money and pay raises that have been baked into every contract. Additionally, they receive good benefits and significant job security (after getting tenure). It’s a good deal, and taxpayers are tired of hearing whining from teachers that they are underpaid.

          At one point in time, teachers were underpaid. In many districts (including Philadelphia), teachers are still underpaid. That is just not the case in T/E.

          So taxpayers are upset when teachers continue to push for higher raises when many in the community are out of work or on fixed incomes. And then, the community is even more angry to see teachers blocking educational programs like e-learning that didn’t take a job away from teachers but enabled students to pursue their academic interests in a cost-effective manner.

          Public employee unions overreach when they push for even more money and grieve things like e-learning, and it is turning the community against them. Teachers should take a hint from their union and agree to a pay freeze.

          I also wanted to respond to your complaint that teachers are underpaid because they cannot afford to live in TE.
          I would argue that a teacher on step 5 or above could easily afford a house in TE. There are houses in the $250-$500k range available. I live in one of them, and there are several on the market in my neighborhood in that price range. The average salary in our neighborhood is probably $75k a year. The average salary of a TE teacher is higher than that. A new teacher may make $50k, but how many 23 year olds are ready to buy a house anyhow? Most of us wait until we’re older to make the transition from renter to owner. At that point, a TE teacher would have risen enough on the salary scale to live here if they wanted, especially if they moved across the salary matrix by getting a Masters degree.

          Many TE teachers buy outside the district because they want more house for their money and not because they cannot find a house here. Living in TE is a sacrifice for many families, but it’s one they gladly make to send their children to a good school district. If I were willing to live elsewhere, I’d have a big house with a pool and a large yard. Instead, I chose a top school for my children even though it meant buying a smaller house.

        1. I appreciate your perspective,although I am not in total agreement. It appears many bloggers resent teachers. By the way, PSEA (PA teacher’s Union) asked all PA teachers to take a pay freeze for next year. I am assuming you did not see or hear that on the news.

          Now, let’s not just assume teachers are the only ones who can do their part. You can too! I will share my plan with you. I am sure anyone reading, will jump on this idea.
          Our country is in trouble. I am pretty much assuming we have all taken government handouts in one form or another and we can stop now. No more mortgage deductions, afterall you chose to buy your house in your affluent neighborhood which means the higher the mortgage, the more handout you are receiving in interest deductions. Let’s not stop there. You can help more. You chose to have children, why should I pay for them? Let’s skip that deduction too. Now those children are going to college, their choice or yours. The better the college, the higher the school loan, hte more interest you can deduct. Why should I pay for the deduction (or credit) for their expenses? All handouts! The list goes on and on… you own you own business and write off frivilous expenses, donations etc.

          Now, this was just a scenario which most of us have engaged in the past, present, and will in the future.

          Remember, that extra money in the gov’t hands that you don’t write off could help all those people on fixed incomes- again gov’t handouts! So, let ‘s not single out teachers until we all do our part!
          It is just my perspective. So, will you do your part on April 15th. I sincerely doubt it!

    2. But they are underpaid/overworked, and the importance of what teachers do cannot be overestimated. The entire financial sector of our economy produces highly abstract, ephemeral benefits to society, and yet we waste all those resources on them. We have markets that are based on writing software to do day trading. Why? A single good teacher can impact the lives of so many of our children in a very real noticable way. If we’re serious about education, we should decide to pay, train, and respect teachers far more than we do now (and we might raise our expectations accordingly).

      Between two nations, one which steers its brightest into education and one which steered its brightest into finance, the latter will I think proven to have squandered its potential. Teachers should be as well off as doctors or lawyers.

      1. Supply and Demand. Financial markets are not unionized — they can chase the best and the brightest and pay them to come. Teachers do not allow a starting teacher to be any higher than step 1….and do not allow a star teacher with all kinds of skills and talents to be retained at a higher wage. So you can say that teachers should be as well off, but they chose a field that does not allow markets to flourish….and the education requried to be a teacher does not distinguish the skills of teaching from the grades in the classroom. Go figure.

        1. Markets have no moral weight, nor do they guarantee good results. This is the public sector we’re talking about; an area of the economy where we can and should be able to change things when it promotes the public interest.

          We can and should better fund schools, and structure them so as to better pay all teachers. The reasoning is not just to reward people for a difficult and important job; it’s because the job is critical to our national success. The relatively worthless financial sector could be shrunken with only a moderate loss of financial fluidity and lessened distributed judgement on investment. Failing to improve our educational system means our citizens will be ignorant and incapable of many fields of work. This deprives us financially and cuts us off from the common heritage of humanity; knowledge.

          Competing for higher wages among teachers? That might be a good idea, but it might also create perverse incentives (technical term here). Complete reform with significantly higher funding levels? Absolutely necessary.

        2. Pat, trow more money at schools?? Seems like we’ve heard there is no correlation to money/performance in schools.

          Markets don’t guarantee good results? EXACTLY. But they do weed out the bad. Except when the government bails out “bib” banks. Even I , as Kate would say, the consistent Republican here agrees that was BS.Nothing guarantees good results. That is the fallacy of egalitarianism. I am all for improving the school system. But the gravey train is over for these valuable public employees, or at least it should be.

        3. If a teacher underperforms (which is the kind of incentivisation we’re talking about here, I think?), I agree that they should be asked to improve and eventually given the boot. The unions need to allow that. Some level of performance-based pay would also be merited. Still, I dispute that their pay amounts to a gravy train; for their importance and the difficulty of the work, I believe they’re underpaid, and we also need more of them and less funding variation between states/regions.

          Let’s stay on topic on education; it’d be too easy for this to drift onto basically everything under the sun if we start talking bailouts.

      2. Pat, you ask why we have markets that are based on writing software for day trading? Because it can be profitable. There IS a market. Some win, some lose but folks have the freedom to trade/invest as they see fit. Maybe if we tax them to death they will go away.. Puff. Then there will be less sources of capital to fund businesses and those software writers can all become teachers.

  13. Thanks to AdditionalPerspective for such frank talk. I’m even betting that at one time you would have supported teachers unconditionally, as would most of us. But now, it’s time that teachers understand the economy, not just the opportunity costs of doing something other than teaching. I once had a conference where the teacher told me his friends played golf every week on a Friday, while he was working. I asked if he would just get a tee time at 3, since he was done work, and that I worked weekdays until 6 or 7….so golf wasn’t a sport I ever took up. I also reminded the teacher (in a loving way) that there was no barrier to his changing jobs and doing what his friends do — though his friends could not switch careers to his job and make his salary.. He said he couldn’t quite because of his “pension benefits” — which of course are vested after 5 years, but not much benefit if you leave early. (YOu would get 12.5% of your final salary though once you were eligible to retire, even if you taught for 5 years, depending on your age….lots of silly parameters).

    So thanks. I think it’s important for the community to get the message out, or the board (unfortunately, many have young school-age children so they have “skin in the game”) won’t know to stand firm.

    1. Please read my response to Additional Perspective right above your response. I am interested to hear your perspective on my perspective.

      1. J-

        You write, “By the way, PSEA (PA teacher’s Union) asked all PA teachers to take a pay freeze for next year. I am assuming you did not see or hear that on the news.”

        But you clearly didn’t read my comments since I stated, “Teachers should take a hint from their union and agree to a pay freeze.” And Pattye posted the PSEA statement on her blog, so anyone reading Community Matters has heard the news. At this point, I’m eager to see if the local union will listen to PSEA.

        You then set up a false analogy in your comments. (But again…thanks for doing so since it speaks volumes about how teachers view the taxpayers. Your comments do more to inform the public about the problems with teachers unions than anything I can write!) You speak about tax deductions as handouts and argue that tax deductions (such as a mortgage credit) are equivalent to the salary and benefits you receive as a public employee.

        This is just false. In one case, the government through a tax deduction is permitting me to keep a larger share of my income. In the other case, teachers are receiving their income FROM the taxpayers. If you can’t see the difference between your earnings as a government employee and tax deductions, then I am worried about the quality of education provided in our schools. This is just basic economics.

        By the way, teachers are eligible to receive the same tax deductions. Would you agree to give them up? I would gladly give up all tax deduction in exchange for a flat tax even if it meant paying a higher tax rate. I believe a flat tax would be fundamentally fairer.

        Progressive taxation leads to problems. States with flat taxes such as PA are in substantially less fiscal trouble than states with progressive taxation. You might wonder why? There’s a simple explanation. In PA, a tax increase impacts ALL.voters. And this removes the incentive to view certain programs and spending increases as “free” since your neighbor is paying for them, but you aren’t. Many politicians have bemoaned the PA flat tax because it prevents them from robbing Peter to pay Paul, but fortunately it is protected by our state Constitution.

        You also write, “Remember, that extra money in the gov’t hands that you don’t write off could help all those people on fixed incomes- again gov’t handouts! So, let ‘s not single out teachers until we all do our part!”

        If I felt my taxes were truly going to help those people on fixed incomes, I would agree with you. Instead, I will pay my taxes and take all legal deductions and directly use a percentage of my remaining income to help the needy in our community through private charity. Like many in our community, I actively support charities. And my money goes directly to the people in need. In the form of taxes, it goes to all sorts of wasteful programs before a small percentage is given to those in need.

        Now, let’s look at teachers. Pay raises for teachers and unsustainable benefit packages are forcing our school districts to cut programs. By giving up your pay raise as your union asked, you could “save” these educational programs– many of which serve our most vulnerable students.

  14. J
    First of all, it’s hard to respond to you because you are talking about of bitterness, and for someone in their mid-50s (you graduated in 1973), it’s kind of depressing. You keep hearing bashing when there is none. As for your suggestion about government handouts….I’ll give back my mortgage deduction if the teachers will give back their pension accruals….that’s stupid. You have what you have — and you make decisions about what to buy and what you can afford by what you earn and what rules are in place.
    For the record — those folks in those million dollar houses already don’t get to deduct college tuition loans…just mortgage, and some of that is limited as well, with AMT or just a limit on schedule A deductions.

    So — this whole debate is about empowering people. One teacher at a time, I have never found individuals unwilling to consider changes. It’s the group think that creates the issues. Why do you think the union leadership pushes so hard for Card Check? They don’t want people to be able to vote about unions in secret — because pressure to be part of a union is completely peer directed.

    So the point of all this blogging is to help explain where the frustration comes from — not to bash the teacher — to be sure that the community stands behind the direction our elected officials take. Many, many of our teachers live in this district. More have moved here in the past few years because one of the teacher perks used to be that if they worked here, their kids could go to school for free, regardless of where they lived. That ended about a decade ago I think — because — to be honest — the non-instructional group was angry that the teachers kids could go to our schools and they wanted the benefit too. Valued at about 15,000 per person, in a time of growing enrollments, it was a deal breaker. Instead, the board got rid of it across the board, grandfathering a few kids who were older I think., but stopping the practice going forward. After that, several non-local teachers moved here — because they knew our schools were excellent and it was an affordable option for them.

    Not every millionaire inherited the money — some earned it one dollar at a time. Some saved most of the dollars they earned. Some live in small houses and some are mortgaged to the hilt. The point is — our teachers are well compensated within the marketplace of educaiton. A one year pay freeze suggestion by PSEA is about as valuable as the offer last year by the TEEA to give back 3 workshop days. It’s non-binding and you cannot cash it. Sounds good. But you won’t see many contracts opened to do it. I hope our board and union would consider a re-opener for the limited purpose of extending the contract for a wage freeze, but I would imagine there are too many things that need to change in the contract that it would not be worth re-opening to get a wage freeze, since not settling results in the same thing.

    So your spirit seems dimmed by the state of affairs. This is America — American ends in I Can. You can too.

  15. to J.

    Mortgage interest deduction is not a handout; its a government incentive to levered home ownership. May or may not be good policy, but its not a handout.
    You might say what it does is raise the tax rate on people who dont borrow money to own a home. May or may not be good policy, but dont confuse a mortgage interest deduction with a government handout.

    Similarly with the personal exemption and deduction amounts for dependents. Has the effect of raising the tax rate on individuals who do not have dependents (frequently children). But this is not a handout, either. And whether its a good or bad policy, it does not involve persons without deductions “paying for” the children of those that do.

    There was a time when there was no income tax. Today we have a federal income tax. The persons who earn the least, pay the least. The persons who earn the most, pay the most. Many persons pay no federal income tax. If you dont like the tax system, call your congressman or run for office.

    T/E is a wealthier than usual community. While there are individuals of all income levels in this community, there are certainly more than the average number of communitiy members with income and assets that are above average. If they buy larger houses, they pay higher taxes. If they have higher incomes, they pay higher income taxes although not proportionately more at the state level due to the flat tax rate.

    The present financial hardship is the fallout of a financial panic that started 3 years ago. In the private sector, unemployment is high. Personal incomes are down even among the wealthier members of the community. Government revenues are down in part due, in our area, to the practice of using real estate transfer taxes as a source of operating revenues and the reduction of overall activity in property transfers.

    In this environment, the government looks for revenue sources and finds less to tax. Individuals have lower earnings (if they have jobs at all) and have less to spend. Real standards of living for the government and private individuals are, relative to the boom years, lower, as is the norm in recessions.

    This causes some members of the community to ask, why is it that persons who work in the public sector are exempt from the financial hardships that so pervade the private sector? Why do public workers get guaranteed raises and pay little or nothing for healthcare, when private sector employees get pay cuts, extended hours, and annual increases in health care contributions, copays and deductibles? Why are public employees not in the same boat? All of our property taxes are going to rise, and I, as a private sector employee, accept that. The cost of public services like police, fire, schools, hospitals, needs to be borne. But the question remains, why should persons who happen to work in the public sector be exempt from the belt tighening that is the norm in the private sector? That is the nub of the question, and that is what is giving rise to the unfortunate vitriol that is playing out across this country. Its not that the services of the public employees arent valuable — they certainly are, and have always been. But why are they inherently more valuable in times of financial hardship, than those of individuals in the private sector? Why are they entitled to a growing share of a shrinking pie? That is the fundamental question.

    1. I think there are plenty of much more fundamental questions than the one you mention here; why do we continue with regional funding and organisational models rather than a national one? Why don’t we heavily track our educational system? Why don’t we experiment with asking universities to manage our public schools (to try to bridge our excellent higher education performance with our poor pre-university performance)?

      The answer to the question you suggest is fundamental is simple. We only have a chance of growing our pie again if we invest heavily in education, including teachers. It’s a false economy to skimp on education.

      Gutting what keeps society going as a response to a financial crisis caused significantly by underregulation of the private sector; that doesn’t make sense.

      1. I fully agree its a false economy to skimp on education.

        We need to educate more . . . just to pay less for it. Thats not skimping on education, its proviging more education, which we all agree we need, just paying less for it.

        I have a former neighbor whose house was foreclosed in december. The house was bought with 90% financing and a negative amortizing loan (a/k/a option arm). Loan balance went up, property value went down. Do the math. Nobody forced this buyer to finance that way. College educated couple. They got to live in the house for less than the true cost of ownership . . . for a while.
        I dont blame underregulation of the private sector for what happened to them, or other people who live beyond their means. Bubbles come, they go. But during recessions, all costs of goods and services should revert to the mean. That includes public and private sector employees. Not talking about skimping on education; just marking the service to market.

        Thats eminiently fair, i think you would agree.

        1. Pat writes, “We only have a chance of growing our pie again if we invest heavily in education, including teachers. It’s a false economy to skimp on education.”

          I agree that we shouldn’t skimp on education. But we ARE skimping on education and educational programs in order to pay for unsustainable teacher benefits and to accommodate union work rules. That’s what this original post is all about. The School District had a great, cost-effective EDUCATIONAL program (e-learning) which the teachers union grieved.

          You make it seem like education would improve if we just paid teachers more. And I just don’t think that’s the case. In fact, if we went with your solution (reducing local control), TE teachers would make LESS money since there just isn’t funding to bring every teacher in the state to the TE level.

          In fact, TE teachers are paid substantially more than teachers in Philadelphia and other locations with the exception of districts like Lower Merion that lead the entire state on pay. TE teachers get better results than Philly teachers, but is that because they are better teachers or because they have more affluent students who have stable homes, food on the table and parents who support education?

          In some districts, teachers are still underpaid. TE isn’t one of them. But do you think that paying the teachers in Philadelphia more would improve the educational quality of Philadelphia schools? I really doubt it. The problem in Philadelphia schools isn’t teacher quality. It is poverty. I’d rather see my tax dollars go to improving the root cause of educational failure than to bigger raises and more benefits for teachers.

          Do you know how you can determine if a profession is underpaid? Look at the number of applicants per job. In TE, there are hundreds of applicants for each teaching job. And the TE applicants are all highly-qualified according to the federal rules in NCLB.

          That’s an objective (market-driven) way to show that the compensation is fair in TE. Philly, on the other hand, continually faces teacher shortages because teachers do not want to teach there– less pay for lower quality schools and tougher working conditions. And Philly has a harder time finding “highly-qualified under NCLB” teachers too.

  16. underregulation of the PRIVATE sector vs overregulation of the public sector.. ex.. no child left behind. Public regulation that has failed albeit w good intentions.

    State mandates… overregulation.. FAILED I’ll take local control and less regulation..

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