Pattye Benson

Community Matters

West Chester Teachers Joins 16 Other School Districts to Agree to Salary Freeze Next Year . . . Where are T/E Teachers?

Residents learned last night at the Finance Committee meeting that there is a significant savings to the budget to the tune of $3 million! However, the catch is that the two district unions, the Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) and the Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group (TENIG) would need to agree to a pay-freeze waiver for next year – in other words, no salary increases. A parent questioned the contents of an April 6 letter sent from TESD to TEEA and TENIG and asked if the letter could be made public on the TESD website. With further checking, it may be possible that the letter to the unions will be public. Apparently, the letters contained an appeal for a pay-freeze waiver. According to Dr. Waters, there has not yet been a response to the letters.

In West Chester Area School District, the teachers union has decided to follow Gov. Corbett’s suggestion for a wage freeze for next year. At their school board meeting last night, the board ratified the decision (teachers ratified the decision last week) which will help close their budget deficit. The decision to freeze salaries of teachers, administrators and support staff for next year will reflect a cost-savings of $1.4 million.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the decision of the West Chester Area Education Association (WCAEA) may be the first Philadelphia area school district to agree to a one-year, no increase contract. The wage freeze will to help with the school district budget shortfall caused by Gov. Corbett’s proposed funding cuts to public education.

I applaud the members of the WCAEA teachers union for two reasons. One, the teachers understand the seriousness of the school district budget problems, especially in light of the proposed funding cuts and two, for responding proactively by approaching the school board about a salary freeze. WCAEA teacher union president Debbie Fell told the West Chester school board last night, “Members of our union are willing to share in the sacrifices that are required by everyone in the community.” She added, “The teachers overwhelmingly voted for the agreement”.

The proposed state funding cuts is estimated to save a total of $400 million but is causing havoc on school district budgets. Freezing wages can help the school districts from seeking further cuts, so where is the TESD teachers union on the issue of one-year salary freeze? According to the Inquirer article, teachers in at least 16 school districts, besides West Chester, have already agreed to a salary freeze for 2011-12.

The pay-freeze waiver letter from TESD to TEEA and TENIG was sent almost a week ago and as of last night, there has been silence from the union side. Why . . . ?

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  1. I wonder what the difference is between a pay waiver and a pay freeze? It seems as if West Chester agreed to a pay freeze for a year with a one year extension but TE is offering a pay waiver. What is the difference in the terminology?

    1. Here’s my read of the two situations:

      The West Chester contract is up at the end of this year. The union has agreed to “freeze” the contract, but there was nothing for them to “waive”, since everything was up for negotiation.

      In T/E’s case, the contracts don’t begin to expire until June 2012, and any freeze for 2011/12 would require the unions to “waive” the 7+% increase that was negotiated for that year. (And note, a temporary waiver, restoring the increases in the next year, would have minimal value). Thus, a freeze AND a waiver.

      Note that although WC seems to have reached a fairer resolution than Radnor, the realities are more nuanced. The matrix is unchanged and there will be no lateral movement (increases for credits), and – maybe – no vertical movement (increases for longevity) either – although this is not stated in the article or district press release. However, there is also no change in benefits. Arguably the district should also have been looking to introduce some element of cost-sharing into its benefits program. So this “freeze” could be viewed by the union as actually a net positive outcome.

      Just shows how important it is to shine a bright light on these multi-variable calculations!

  2. This is the difference, as I understand it:

    If T/E teachers agree to a waiver, they are agreeing to give up a raise that has already been contractually agreed to. (Their contract is not up until 2012.)

    To offer to give up a scheduled raise in 2011-12 would require a waiver- a written agreement by the teachers’ union to give up next year’s raise.

    With a pay freeze, teachers agree to no salary increases as part of a new contract.

    1. Well said. You make an interesting point about the EIT. As a Tredyffrin resident I am not sure how I feel about an EIT benefiting Easttown residents whose children are in the TE school district. It does not seem fair, is this really how it would work?

  3. John asked, “…what is the district offering in return?”

    Two things:

    1) the ability to maintain educational programs that benefit the kids – remember the TEEA is “for the kids”
    2) the jobs of their fellow colleagues

    I don’t expect a favorable response from the TEEA. TE has the lead contract in the county and the PSEA will put tremendous pressure on the union leadership not to bend. Unfortunately, the rank and file will remain silent and say a silent “thank god it’s not me” when their fellow teachers are furloughed.

    I hope I’m proven wrong.

    1. Citizenone is right.

      This is the natural result of collective bargaining that produces a seniority system protecting the jobs of the first in at expense of the last in.

      The benefit of agreeing to a pay waiver is the reduction or elimination of staff layoffs. But that would require the more senior members of the union staff to agree to share the pain with the newbies, rather than throw them under the bus. Since the TEEA is all about job protection for those with seniority, I dont expect to see that waiver happen.

    2. John,

      When I used the TEEA and “for the kids” in the same sentence you neglected to see my tongue placed firmly against my cheek.

    3. I’ll take small issue here. I think the TEEA IS for the kids. I think the PSEA is for the power of a union, and unlike my time on the board, the union leadership locally does not have the status statewide to put TE’s needs ahead of the state leadership’s demands. I think I’ve said it here before: when Carole Aichele and I negotiated our final contract, it was with 3 TEEA members who dismissed the PSEA uniserve rep from the discussions. We put TE first, not state goals. Certainly there was background between meetings in their caucus, but they were not writing our agenda nor our script. I don’t think the stress of union leadership today comes from TESD — I think it’s about the pressure coming from the PSEA.

      And let me be quite clear here, — this is ALL my speculation. I have no factual basis except observation and the issues that have burdened the union leadership in the past decade.

      So — it”s moot at the bargaining table, but I do think the vast majority of the TEEA are for the kids.

      1. Andrea,

        If we clear up the definition of TEEA I think we’re in agreement.

        When I use TEEA I’m referring to the few militant union leaders out to maximize teacher compensation regardless of the effect on the community and students.

        When I use rank and file I’m referring to the many teachers who love to teach, are for the kids, are typically silent and will settle for reasonable compensation.

  4. Wow – more teacher bashing… and comparing the West Chester teachers decision to T/E without looking at all of the facts is creating ve this an arena for vetting and ire to inspire a few vocal individuals.
    First – does a house in the West Chester district assessed at 500,000 pay more in school taxes tan a 500,000 assessed house in T/E??
    West Chester has an EIT and T/E does not.
    Does West Chester have a 30 million dollar reserve fund as does T/E??
    Until School Board gets serious and looks at the revenue stream opportunities we will have this inane discussion of assigning the blame on the teachers.
    The residents and more importantly the parents that have kids in the schools should be outraged – not at the teachers who are delivering the quality education to their children – but at the yellow belly members on the School Board who refuse to address ALL of the opportunities to cover the rather small shortfall.
    The local union should merely laugh at the letters from the Superintendent, a contract is a contract and based on the recent PSSA rankings the teachers have earned every cent of their negotiated wages and benefits.

    1. Papadick,

      It’s difficult to know where to start with a response to your post. There are so many errors and misconceptions.

      You ask several questions about the wealth (assessed value, reserve fund) and income (EIT) of districts. I think your point is that teachers should be paid more in districts with higher wealth and income. The unspoken corollary is that teachers in districts with lower wealth and income should be paid less. Let’s dispense with the idea that teachers should be paid in proportion to district wealth and income.

      Similarly, you say TE teachers “have earned every cent” because of TE’s high PSSA results. Again, would you propose paying Chester Upland’s teachers a quarter of TE’s? Let’s dispense with the idea that teachers should be paid in proportion to district PSSA scores. I would support paying teachers partially based on value added (PVAAS), but teachers are fighting pay for performance to the death.

      I do agree that a majority of the blame goes to the board, but not for failing to look at “revenue streams”. The problem was that one moment of insanity when the board members signed the current contract. However, even if the teachers are not to blame for the problem, they hold the key to the solution. Their compensation is way way above the market rate. They should voluntarily give up their 5%+ raises in this 1% economic environment and share in the sacrifice.

      1. My point is a simple one. There is a 3 million dollar shortfall (anticipated) next year. This blog and 98% of the posters here suggest that the easiest way to address this to ask teachers to give up their contractually earned raises.

        The Board agrees with this approach – all the while ignoring opportunities to increase the revenue stream or using money from the reserve fund – (what is a reserve fund for if not to provide relief in times of need?)

        I would support asking teachers to chip in IF as in West Chester school taxes are higher than in T/E and they also have an EIT. But in T/E we seem to prefer the easy way out by asking for teachers to take a wage freeze when the residents and the Board are are derelict in not increasing the revenue stream or tapping into the reserve funds.

        I would also remind folks that as property owners we have had the joy of reduced PSERS contributions for about 10 years. Now that the state sees that that decision was in fact a dumb one it is now time to pay the piper. I would suggest that those that received the benefits from reduced district’s PSERS contributions are the ones that should be held fiscally responsible. Teachers received no benefit from these reduced contributions – but now they are being asked to give negotiated salary increases – it makes no sense – other than to once again give relief to property owners, many of which have enjoyed the benefits of a good education for their kids.

        My comments on PSSA scores was intended to show that T/E teachers are delivering for the community and for the students. Or to put it another way – they are earning every dollar they are being paid and for every dollar they have been granted in their contract.

        1. PPD — If you didn’t sound like you were asking for teacher pity, your argument is quite sound. Here’s the problem — they cannot go after the revenue enhancements without a referendum question, so it’s moot for the short haul (and in my estimation, moot for the long haul because the referendum to either implement a new tax or incrase taxes beyond approved limits would fail). Regardless, the teachers absolutely are under no obligation to say yes to any request. I would say we are absolutely in a logjam of epic proportions — and the outcome may well be that we all go under.
          But I would ask you to back off on the reference to using the fund balance, and refer you to Pattye’s blogs last January. The teachers wore red and the board voted to stay within the act 1 limit. Many noses were cut off that day, despite the fact that the rest of the community has to deal with those ugly faces now. Using the capital reserve to pay current costs absolutely is on the road to hell — I’ve said before — it’s using a home equity line of credit (after all — it’s your equity) to pay your mortgage. Sounds reasonable — saves your house — for now — but in a down market, it’s just not going to work. Using the reserve funds to pay for one-time excess is fine — and some part of the PSERS spike will be mitigated by using fund balance, but not the cost of labor.
          I’ve said it here and elsewhere, but clearly my time has passed — none of this is about salaries….it’s ALL about benefits. In 1994, the cost of benefits increased $1,000,000 over budget one year. I stood on my bully pulpit then and pointed out that our employees had just gotten a $1M raise, and no one was saying thank you, because no one knew it (and those that did, did not care). Each and every negotiation I attempted to change the view of health care benefits as a source of free health care, and instead convert the perception to INSURANCE. Pardon the analogy, the the view of health care for teachers (and in fact most union members) is a plantation mentality. We live and work here — take care of us. To re-educate teachers as to the fact that it’s THEIR money we spend on benefits is near impossible. I have defended the contracts I did because in working with the union, a senior group who understood TE and not just PA, we had a salary/benefit increase of 4% TOTAL….so if benefits went up higher, salaries did not. We had a six year contract and only had salary numbers for 3 years — the final 3 years dependent on the actual work force and the cost of benefits. That was a compromise for me, because I wanted a defined contribution — and the PSEA simply would not let us go there. That combined with rank and file who were afraid that any change meant loss of control, and ….well you know the drill. You can have ideas, but it takes 5 board votes and a majority of the union to ratify. I did manage to change our entire administrative corp from defined benefits to defined contributions….and for the firs time in their own lives, they didn’t look to purchase the cadillac plans, because they got to keep the money they did not spend. It was all good for the district, because we budgeted a number — and the employees had an incentive to look for good deals.

          So….too much information again. The teachers do a good job, some do a great job. Again the problem is that some do an awful job — and everyone has one or two of those they can point to….but those awful teachers are someone else’s favorite, and they all make the same amount. So yes — the district cannot take anything away….except programs. And they will. The request for the bargaining unit to give back is nothing more than a request — so that the only people losing are not the kids.

          As to comments about specific board members — I find that totally uncalled for. Unless you attend meetings and read all the reports, you have zero clue for what individuals contribute. I’m certain you would blanch if people started calling out the teachers we all regularly hear bad things about. Likewise, a person doesn’t get on the board without first being a candidate. I don’t see a long line of people willing to do the job — it’s certainly not for personal glory. In the political arena, you can say what you want, but to speculate on why someone is on the board, without any understanding (perhaps?) of why, is just mean spirited.

        2. Again, we disagree broadly.

          As many poster have repeated again and again, use of the fund balance will not solve a chronic budget imbalance. Using the fund balance is just a delaying tactic (ntil the fund balance goes to zero) while the imbalance between revenues and expenditures grows.

          I’m wondering what revenue stream that the board is supposedly ignoring. An EIT? Do you honestly think an EIT would be approved by the electorate in this economic environment? How many referendums do you think have been approved statewide so far?

          Again, you think that a tax fairness between two districts can be compared by looking at the combined millage rate and EIT rates. You neglect the fact that taxes (RE and income) are capitalized into home prices. Residents in TE “bought” their low tax rate when they paid more for their homes.

          If the Board thinks that the TE teachers are paid more than needed to attract and retain excellent teachers it’s logical for them to ASK teachers to take a pay freeze. We should expect them to ASK. The board has overpaid for their services.

          You said, “I would also remind folks that as property owners we have had the joy of reduced PSERS contributions for about 10 years.” I disagree. The teachers had the joy of large salary increases because PSERS contributions were low. During the upcoming contract negotiations the teachers will have to get used to compensation being comprised of small salary increases and large PSERS increases.

          Certainly, PSSA scores are wonderful. Do you have any evidence that TE teachers deserve the credit? Do you think they are better than West Chester teachers or Downingtown teachers who are paid much less? Could it be demographics (poverty and parental education) that determine PSSA scores; not years of service or educational credits or class size or salary?

  5. No one is blaming the teachers, they are just asking that the teachers and non-instructional union employees help with the funding problems right now. All non-unionized employees are not getting raises – just make it equal all around.

  6. Asking the teachers to give back their upcoming contractual raises, while not implementing an EIT, while not instituting fees for participation in sports and extracirricular activities, while already projecting no raises for teachers after this for the foreseeable future, and while already furloughing teachers over the past year and going forward (FLES in the elementary and technology in the elementary) and then saying it’s a shared sacrifice is just amazing to me. What sacrifice is being shared? Revenue streams aren’t addressed where they could and should be and yet you want to go back on an agreed contract. I think the TE teachers would be nuts to give the money back – it’s likely to be the last raise many of them see for the next several years, and even if they gave it back there’s no condition that they wouldn’t still see significant furloughing in the upcoming years. TE needs to start realizing that property transfer taxes aren’t coming back and that lamenting the loss of that revenue stream doesn’t make a new one appear. The teachers will be sacrificed plenty over the next few years – asking them to give up the raises now is like asking the condemned to also build their own gallows before using it on them.

  7. A quick comment to the dissertations from John re the Board’s union strategy. Agreed, the e-learning set-back presents a problem, but they probably can’t spin that because of the ongoing court hearings. On the compensation issue, I’m a strong advocate of getting behind the state wide consensus that it’s time for a new modus operandi, and setting out the benefits to the district were the union to actually be part of the solution instead of the problem with the upcoming contracted 7+% aggregate salary increase. If the union just sits on its hands now, then I think they’ll have no case against a real salary freeze and benefits cuts in the next contract. And residents will be ready to take a strike.

    1. No benefit cuts. A whole new way of doing benefits — that would be a win-win…..but every contract is simply a modification — a tweak — of where we already are.

      The paper today said one parent said an activity fee was not fair. There are 6,000 kids in the district. An activity fee is the clearest way to identify the beneficiaries of increased spending, and doesn’t feed the beast….Private school tuition is upwards of $15,000 a year for the independent schools in this community. Unless you live in a $2M house, your property taxes are under $10,000. $500 a kid means we can keep status quo……pretty simple. As I have said before — it’s ALL political nowadays. The debate is more extensive than the answers/questions need to be. If you want to get elected, you go and say “I want to provide a good education for this community at a reasonable cost,.” Okay —- HOW? Don’t complain that the school board isn’t frugal. More than half of them have kids in the schools themselves — do you think cutting programs is appealing to them?

      How about parents admitting that they move here for wonderful schools, and they want to keep them wonderful, and they admit that a referenda for an EIT would not pass (it wouldn’t — I truly believe it would not, because of the non-parent status of 70+% of the residents) and they cannot convince people to just say YES to property tax increases, so instead of having PTO fundraisers to buy white boards and swing sets — all of which are wonderful and do save the taxpayer — that each kid can just pay some tuition. Student Activity fee — for all those programs that are NOT mandated by the state! I don’t agree with them in principle, because this is a public school, but I don’t want fees associated with specific activities, because we already think we are a homogeneous community and everyone can afford stuff….they cannot. But if you want to sacrifice for your kids, $50 a month for a 10 month school year is just gonna have to work. Because no one is going to fix this magically. You are going to have to buy the services you want….collectively,, that means the $3M gets assessed to the student body.

      {Collective sigh of relief that I am no longer on the board….but if I was, there would be far less “angst” and far more voting. PULL THE TRIGGER. ]

  8. CitizenOne:

    If we clear up the definition of TEEA I think we’re in agreement.

    When I use TEEA I’m referring to the few militant union leaders out to maximize teacher compensation regardless of the effect on the community and students.

    When I use rank and file I’m referring to the many teachers who love to teach, are for the kids, are typically silent and will settle for reasonable compensation.” >>>

    There is no place to “reply” to this, so I’m writing at the bottom of the page. I’m writing too much right now, but so much information and so little time!!!

    What I am saying is there is no such thing as a militant TEEA person who is also TEEA leadership. Sure there are militant union members in any union, but the militancy that fits what you describe comes from Harrisburg. Do people not know that Debra Ciamacca is on sabattical for this school year (approved March 2010). Our own teacher leadership is under incredible stress and scrutiny at the state level. PSEA calls the shots. Period. End of debate. When Paul Slanika was pres of the TEEA, along with some very strong associates, the PSEA had to accept that they, not the state, were in charge of the district. Now the union leadership is much less seasoned, hasn’t come through the wars of previous generations (I’m pretty sure that Slanika taught before there was a union). The lawsuit against e-learning was something that the state absolutely had to do. The district had been presented with a Demand to Bargain letter on this, and strategically, the District did not make their case. But there was NO WAY the PSEA would have allowed that to happen unchallenged. It’s outsourcing. Call it what you want, and credit it for whatever benefits it offers — it’s outsourcing.

    Here’s an example: The TEEA has maintained a website http:/// They have a newsletter called The Testifier. When I was on the board and throughout my time where the teachers had an influence on the daily lives of my children, I read the website.
    From what I can tell, Dec 2009 was the LAST time it was updated. I encourage you to read the Testifier on the site for Dec 2009. Read the President’s letter on the home page. There is reference to the e-learning and what the issues are with it. The officer listing on the website are for the year 2009-2010. Now — did they stop comunicating/ That’s hard to imagine, but the last Testifier was Volume 29, No. 3. So after almost 30 years, it just stopped? Or they stopped sharing it publicly? I don’t know…..but things have changed.

    As I said elsewhere in my posts today, politics and the partisan rhetoric was born at the national level — Roe v. Wade, War v. Peace, but it’s being fought at the local level on about every issue that comes up. TE managed to stay clear of it for years, and within the workings of the school board, I think it still does (As Kevin said, Karen C. is Pres — ran and elected as a D). But the bickering in the bleachers is all about “liberal v. conservative ” — on a myriad of fronts.

    I’m not speaking from research, again, just observation.

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