Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin

Tredyffrin Easttown School District contract negotiation process with the teachers union, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) is officially underway. The current 4-year collective bargaining agreement expires June 2012. (Click here for current contract).

With a cooperative tone, both sides have issued their preliminary statements – the school board recognizing the quality and standard of the District’s teachers but reinforcing the severity of our economic times. And the teachers union proudly applauding the school district as one of the best in the state and stating their desire to work together through the contract negotiations. The TEEA however did voice concern that no school board director was part of the negotiating team.

Representing the school district for the teacher contract negotiations:

  • Dan Waters, TESD superintendent
  • Sue Tiede, TESD human resources director
  • Art McDonnell, TESD business manager
  • Jeffrey Sultanik, Fox Rothchild, Blue Bell*

* Sultanik’s law practice focuses on personnel and labor relations for municipal and school districts. He chairs his firm’s Education Law Group, which has provided legal services to more than 90 school districts throughout PA. During his tenure as former president of the PA School Board Solicitors Association, Sultanik presented legislative testimony before the PA Senate Education Committee, May 2009. Click here to read a copy of his testimony, ‘Public Hearing on Teacher’s Strikes in Pennsylvania and the Impact on Public Education’.

Currently at the helm of the school district’s teacher union is TEEA president Laura Whittaker, a Conestoga HS social studies teacher. Representing TEEA in the contract negotiations is Ruthann Waldie, a UniServe representative from the PA State Education Association. Other members of the teacher negotiating team have not yet been announced.

As an aside, Waldie represented the Unionville Chadds Ford School District teachers union in their recent and very long (challenging) teacher contract negotiations. If you recall, the state intervened and assigned an outside arbitrator in the UCFSD negotiations. Although the arbitrator was brought in to bring both sides together, there was a feeling from the UCFSD teachers union (a feeling that was shared by Waldie) that the arbitrator did not fairly represent the teacher’s side. I share this information, to point out that neither Sultanik nor Waldie are novices to school district negotiations.

With two ‘A players’ (Sultanik and Waldie) in the school district/teacher union negotiating world representing the opposing sides, we’ll have to wait and see if the TESD contract process may put their skill and experience to a test.

Looking beyond T/E school district boundaries, did you see the suggestion of one Philadelphia City Council member to help fund the Philadelphia city school system? With a larger than expected budget shortfall (nearly $80 million in the red!), Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown obviously supports the theory that difficult times require creative solutions. Her proposed legislature would keep the city bars open an additional hour, until 3 AM. This extra hour of liquor tax revenue would net the schools an extra $5 million. I’m all for the ‘thinking outside the box’ ideas but somehow the use of liquor and schools in the same sentence just seems wrong – isn’t there a better way?

Chester Upland School District has become the poster child for failing school districts in the state. CUSD announced to the state in December that they would be out-of-money by early January and therefore, unable to meet their payroll, utilities, etc. With the announcement, brought an offer from the CUSD teachers to work without pay, at least temporarily. At the ninth hour, the federal court intervened, issuing a short reprieve and an order for the state to advance $3.2 million to the district. Although the state money has continued to keep the doors open and the teachers on the job, this band-aid solution was only worth a few weeks.

Come the beginning of February, Chester Upland School District will have used up their advance and once again, be out of money – CUSD needs approximately $20 million to finish out the school year. Gosh, don’t the kids in CUSD deserve to know that their schools will be open until the end of the year?

Finally, click here for a draft legislative proposal that several PA state legislators have recently made public. Marked confidential, the draft proposal document is titled “Chester Upland Fiscal Distress” and dated November 4, 2011. Interesting to note that this draft proposal was written prior to CUSD’s request to the state for financial help. The proposal calls for the state to take over school districts in financial distress (starting with Chester Upland) and run the school district with the use of an oversight board – a ‘Special Board of Control’.

This special board would have the legal authority to cancel teacher contracts, turn district schools into charter schools, reassign or suspend staff and to close schools. To be clear, this is only a draft proposal and no formal legislation has yet been introduced – however, this draft would suggest that the ‘handwriting is the wall’ for the introduction of this, or similar legislation.

Looks like Chester Upland School District could become the model for all distressed school districts across the state. It is probably a fair assumption that how the state decides to handle the financial crisis in CUSD will be duplicated in every other failing school district in Pennsylvania.

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  1. I do know that NJ is different to PA and that there is much that is controversial about Gov Christie, but I think he has done well to capture the mood and needs of the times. Reportedly he has recently come to terms with a couple of public sector unions for contracts that keep salaries flat for the next two years.

    I wonder if the same could be said of our local unions as he said of those two in NJ, quoted below?

    “….we’ve gotten through to them that they are being a weight on growth, that they are being unfairly compensated, that they are not part of the shared sacrifice, and that the alternative is continued layoffs and reduction by attrition.”

    1. I just hope that when the contract negotiations heat up that all of your (speaking to Pattye) accounts from the meeting aren’t from Ray Clarke who last year during the budget crisis showed obvious one sided favoritism towards the board/administration. Both sides of the story would be nice. I remember reading all those reports last year and really siding with the b/a, but then when the news came out that the teachers had been trying to work with them all along and it was kept secret from the public…I really began to realize that the board and administration seem to work together to spin everything their way and not necessarily give the taxpayers the whole truth.

      1. Rayter —
        Ray Clarke attends the meetings. You can always watch them on TV. He was not biased in my view — but if you allow others to interpret what happens, you will be manipulated by sound bites. The teachers were absolutely not trying to work through things all along. Nothing was kept secret — in fact the teachers are just doing what the elections did — trying to get THEIR SIDE out… the meetings. Go or on TV. But truly — WATCH THE MEETINGS. If you go in person, you will see way more body language and the union in the back of the room passing notes and who else shows up.

        1. TR — When my schedule allows, I attend the meetings as I did the Finance Committee meeting this week. That meeting was nearly 3 hours long! Although the regular school board meetings are telecast, the committee meetings are not — and much goes on in the Finance and the Facilities meetings. Ray spends countless hours attending most all of the meetings and were it not for him providing his notes (thoughts, opinion) on the committee meetings, all we would have is the minutes (which don’t always provide the nuances or details of the discussion). From attending many of these meetings myself, particularly the Facilities meetings, I can tell you that often times it’s Ray, myself and maybe (???) 2-3 other residents.

          In a perfect world, more residents would engage in the school district and township governance and more residents would attend meetings or at a minimum, watch the televised regular school board or monthly township meetings. But sadly, that doesn’t happen until there is discussion of a tax increase (or programming cut) and then everyone gets involved. But unfortunately, coming in at the 9th hour of a decision, doesn’t generally change an issue’s course.

        2. No, I remember the issue very clearly. The teachers had made a proposal to save money well before any other group of teachers in another district had but it was denied instantly by the board because it didn’t save them enough; well in reality the teachers had to give up nothing because they were under a contract that was agreed upon by the board. The public was never told about the offer or denial, and then at the next meeting it was brought up by a women (can’t remember her name) that was president of the union. She came up to the microphone and stated it, and then all of the boards members got angry and very defensive. There was then an article about it on here and it was verified that an offer was made and denied. Then later down the road the teachers even after being blasted and ridicule for doing nothing (when they already tried to do something) still agreed to a half a year pay freeze.

    1. Thank you! Waldie is NOT an attorney – I appreciate the correction.

      Here is Waldie’s bio from the Unionville Chadds Ford teachers union website:

      Ruthann Waldie is a UniServ Representative from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the UCFEA state affiliate. Her job is to negotiate contracts, provide workshops and presentations, advocate for member rights, process grievances and arbitrations and assist in all matters of the UCFEA. Prior to her current position, Ruthann was a music teacher in the Garnet Valley School District for 21 years. During that time she taught all grade levels and directed the high school musicals. In addition, Ruthann spent many years as a track coach and cheerleading sponsor. Ruthann also served as an assistant to the principal and spent time at Penn State pursuing a Principal’s certification. Ruthann also owned and operated a bridal shop and wedding consulting services business in the 90’s. She has participated in triathlons and is currently getting certified in Search and Rescue.

      Ruthann holds a B.S. Degree in Music Education from West Chester University, and a M.S. in Human Resource Development from Villanova University. She has been working for the PSEA for 8 years and has been at the bargaining table with UCFEA twice before.

  2. It looks like the TE school district is taking pains to communicate about the process:

    “The School Board has established the Success & Sustainability section of the TESD web site to help community members gain a better understanding of the key economic issues which are influencing both the budget planning process and our negotiations with the Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association”.

    They are clearly doing their part to sustain the growth in “sustainability”:

    There is no information on content, though, but perhaps the fact that this was produced after receipt of the TEEA offer suggests that the offer was unsustainable?

  3. There is some excellent information on this web page.

    The power point is informative. I particularly like this statement:
    Keep the public updated on milestones so that the process
    and issues are understood by those paying for the

    Let’s hope the board is very open with the proposals from each side.

  4. I would agree with the comment about liquor taxes and paying for schools. There is a school district here in Dallas that is looking into doing ads for extra revenue. It is the Irving Independent School District. I would think as long as the ads are non offensive or inappropriate this is a good source of additional revenue without raising taxes.

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