Opening a door that most school districts would prefer to keep closed.
Teacher contract negotiations have traditionally been cloaked in secrecy. In my perfect world of transparency, school districts would open the teacher contract talks to the public. Letting the sunlight shine on the negotiations, parents, taxpayers and employees would benefit by seeing the open dialogue around our district’s priorities. Open negotiations would hold the District and TEEA (Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association) accountable for how they are dealing with the contract negotiations. I know, I know, not possible . . . it will never happen.
Those involved in teacher contract negotiations would probably claim that critical issues such as teacher pay, benefits, and overall responsibilities should fall within the client-lawyer privilege of privacy. I am sure that those at the ‘negotiating table’ would say that the talks should be private in order to foster a more open and frank discussion among the participants. In the case of TESD, this seems twisted logic at best. Why do I say this? Reason … There is no representation by the T/E school board at the negotiation table. As a result, it is a bit like ‘whisper down the lane’.
The information and updates that the school board receives are not through first hand attendance at the meetings, but rather from the four members of the negotiating team. Three members of the team are employees of the District (Superintendent Dan Waters, Director of Personnel Sue Tiede and Business Manager Art McDonnell) and the fourth member of the team is professional negotiator, attorney Jeffrey Sultanik.
I don’t know how the rest of the taxpayers feel about the ‘no seat at the table’ by an elected school board member issue, but I stand by my original view. The school directors were elected by, and are responsible to, the people of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District. I do not think it is fair to the taxpayers and the teacher contract process that there is not at least one school board member participating directly on the negotiation team.
Based on the many comments received in regards to the teacher contract negotiations and budget strategies, I reached out to TEEA president Laura Whittaker. Stating in my email to Ms. Whittaker, that ‘my intention was not to in any way jeopardize or breach the teacher/school district negotiating process’, I asked her several questions. Does TEEA believe that any of the District’s budget strategies currently being discussed (class size, demotion of professional staff, $50 activities fee, etc.) could have a potential negative effect on the quality of the District’s educational program. I also asked if members of TEEA were the decision makers in regards to the TESD 2012-13 budget, what solutions would the teachers offer that could bridge the current financial crisis in the District.
Understanding the limitations posed by the teacher contract negotiations, Ms. Whittaker proved the following statement for Community Matters and I thank her. Reading Ms. Whittaker’s statement, I was reminded again that if the contract talks were held in public, the taxpayers would know what the the teachers are offering; including changes to their health care plan that would save the District money.
“Because of the ground rules established in the negotiations process, I am limited in my ability to share specific aspects of our proposal and negotiations with you.
You have asked what solutions we offer. We are willing to discuss alternative approaches to health care coverage and funding as a means for the District to save money. Additionally, although we are not able to release the details of our salary proposal, we are confident in stating that our salary requests are modest and reasonable.
We have many concerns about the District’s proposal to demote our most experienced, educated teachers. Of course, we are fundamentally concerned about the negative impact that it will have on the educational program and the well-being of our membership. However, if the School Board chooses to implement demotions and the hiring of part time staff becomes the norm, they must realize that T/E will become an undesirable place for the most qualified educators to pursue a career. Simply stated, T/E has been able to attract the best and the brightest to teach its children. How will the District be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest if we are currently choosing to replace our own best and most educated teachers with part-time employees?
With regard to class size, studies have concluded that increased class sizes have a negative impact on student performance. Individual support and attention will most certainly suffer if class sizes are larger. Regarding the proposed $50 participation fee, we have no official position. As far as other budget strategies are concerned, demotions and increases in class size, are (to our knowledge) the only two major strategies being considered by the Board.
The members of TEEA remain committed to achieving a mutually beneficial settlement with the District.”
Thank you for providing this opportunity.
If you are reading today’s post on Community Matters and have an interest in our school district, I hope that you will plan to attend the school board meeting tonight at 7:30 PM.
On the subject of demotion, other area school districts are keeping a close eye on TESD. The teachers union in Radnor School District has notified their members of tonight’s TESD meeting and suggested their members attend. At Conestoga HS, the demotion issue has caused concern among students and they are organizing support for their teachers.
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I think we’ll have to agree to differ here, Pattye.
I can not see how the district is better served by having uncompensated politicians rather than a professional negotiator at the table. (I agree with other posters that the Administrators have conflicts, but I see their role to provide information and context.) Maybe when the numbers come close to making sense, Mrs Cruickshank can ride in to seal the deal. Until then, we have to wonder why it is that the TEEA believes so strongly that it is in their interest to have the Board at the table?
And wouldn’t it be nice if Ms. Whittaker could have said in her second paragraph something like:
“We are willing to discuss alternative approaches to health care coverage and funding ….. which will fully pay for the impact of the rationalizing the salary matrix to attract the next generation of high performing teachers to TESD.”
At tonight’s Board meeting, the important decision item – whether to impose a sports and activity fee – will be overwhelmed by incited commentary reiterating the obvious downside of items still in committee. I encourage readers to instead spend the time developing real potential solutions for direct communication to the School Board or their representative.
Ray, I don’t think I suggested not having a professional negotiator at the bargaining table. Rather I am (and have since the contract negotiating team was named) suggesting that there needs to be an ‘additional’ seat at the table for at least one school board member. It is my understanding that in the history of TESD, there has never been teacher contract negotiations without representation by at least one school board member. If I’m incorrect, please someone correct me. I don’t see why the presence of the school board should be viewed as a downside to the process. Frankly, I believe that it is the duty of the school board to be actively involved at the negotiation table — and no, I don’t think second hand information from the District’s representatives is sufficient.
Yes, my friend — guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one.
I know your role with Community Matters has wide latitude, but I would suggest taht giving the teachers any kind of platform to polarize the discussion is not wise. Ms. Whittaker said not one thing in her response except to attempt to inject the continual rant of teachers: we are reasonable – they are not. No one ever says anything substantive hiding behind the cloak of secrecy. There is no right to this secrecy except by mutual agreement, and maybe Keith can update us on the downside of one party or the other breaking that agreement and disclosing? I don’t believe there is any.
Instead of asking why a board member is not wasting his/her time at the table (which is what it is when there is a professional negotiator involved), we should ask both parties what their reason is for keeping it secret. Both sides will point to the other, so perhaps getting them both to step up and get it open is to our benefit. After all — we all claim this is about kids, when kids are absolutely the farthest thing from the table. And now the kids are mobilizing in fear about demotion. “My favorite teacher” will only work part time? The fear that we will not attract good teachers is completely groundless. The line is very, very long. If we were able to replace striking teachers, we could probably fill the building — but of course there are legal limitations on that.
Bottom line — teachers have no problems to solve, and the board has major problems to solve. TEEA has no limits on what they can offer — and the board has severe limitations on making any progress. A school board member can sit there, but does so at the peril of his/her kids. NOTHING is worse on a student than a teacher pointing out to the class that they should ask that child why we aren’t making progress…..
And yes — that happens. In the same way good parents have no clue what happens in a home with bad parents, good teachers haven’t the first clue what union tactics feel like to a child. So pick someone to sit at the table — but the guy being paid to do the negotiating will do it all. Board members have never hired a professional negotiator in my memory…which is why they were at the table with each other and NO administrators. A solicitor when required.
Just out of curiousity, can I asked what you do for a living? If not, no big deal–you just have very strong opinions on all of these issues, and I feel like it would help me to know your career background.
TR, my son texted me from COLLEGE! Yesterday. Asked me about his old favorite teacher, and others getting a DEMOTION! Found it on a website although he didn’t remember, a day later what site. So I told him that depending upon where he is getting his information, that info can be skewed. I explained that negotiations are going on, that tough decisons will have to be made and to get info from all sources. The point is the word is out… the kids ARE getting information.. Battle joined.
I agree — and I nominate James Bruce……..
This was intended for Pattye’s comment below re a Board member at the negotiations
Ray — do you have any information about this fee elsewhere? I was at the ball f eld and asked some Great Valley parents. They have a $50 per activity fee with a $450 max per family, which they say is moving up to $75 per activty and larger max per family next year.
I do not understand why parents would balk at it? Truly. They can either subsidize the activities they want or lose them. The comment you made elsewhere about limits on taxation is absolutely the issue: the district cannot provide these activities if parents don’t kick in. The reference earlier to GV parents raising $250K is because they now have a foundation. How much does FLITE raise?
At previous finance committee meetings, different levels of participation fees were discussed — the lowest level discussed was $50 and it the School Board thought it best to ease into a sports & activity fee for the 2012-13 school year. There was also discussion whether to make the fee for high school only but in the end, the decision was made to also include middle school students. If approved by the Board, the $50 will be collected from each high school and middle school student involved in sports or activities. This participation fee will be charged once for participation in one or more activities during the 2012-2013 school year. The participation fee is for all high school and middle school sports and activities that use school transportation or have a paid coach. The hope is that the fee can be paid online and in a creative approach to raising additional revenue, there will be an option if parents would like to pay an extra amount. This would help offset any of the students who would not be able to afford the fee. There will be a process in place for those students who need assistance with the fee so it should not preclude participation by any student.
To Pete T — strong opinions relate to extensive experience. Compensation analyst, capital budget controller, benefits coordinator, and others. Undergraduate business and MBA …but going to these meetings for years and reading extensively makes a bigger difference.
Ok, well that makes sense then how tuned in to the financial aspect of it you are. I understand and agree with many of your points related to those aspects, but I also feel an undertone of this is all the fault of the TEEA, they are the problem and they need to fix it. In general on this board, I feel there is a general attitude that downplays the importance of teachers and the difficulty of their job. I was a teacher in Western PA for 8 years before moving here a few years back for family reasons, and I will admit when I originally chose teaching as a career, my thoughts were this will be a fun job working with kids and then Ill get some time off in the summer. The working with the kids part was fun, I was right about that, but there is so much more that goes into being a teacher that people don’t realize, that unless you spent a week doing exactly what they do, you wouldn’t appreciate it. I taught elementary 5th grade (my school elementary went up to 6th), and teaching 7 different subjects in a day with essentially 45 minutes to plan for all of those subjects. Meetings everyday, parent phone calls and communication, grading, evaluation forms, data collection, data entry, and so and so on. If you really want to be a good teacher, which I did, you work before school, after school, and at home 6 days a week. The free time I lost during the actual school year pretty much canceled out the free time I got in the summer. Now that class sizes are rising and support staff is started to become less and less, the responsibilities that were once others are now falling on to the classroom teachers who already have a full plate. Believe me, the difference between having 20 students and 24 students is a major one. With the importance of differentiation and individualized education today, these teachers have to work non stop to do a good job, and if you want to do an outstanding job, you pretty much lose all life/work balance for 10 months. I know economic times are tough and that the teachers are going to need to change their contract to do their part, but in all of this, lets not also downplay their importance and the true difficulty of their job. There is that old (stupid in my opinion) line of those who can’t, teach. Those days are long gone….teachers are amazing people who have to multi-task and balance numerous things everyday all day and still go back home and take care of their family. lets not forget that.
I appreciate your saying this — because many people do forget what teachers do. I’m sorry for the hard-line sounds, because I appreciate teachers far more than many understand. But what I don’t appreciate are union tactics and union speak. Just read Keith’s response below and it’s totally true. I have never known the union to be honest with the rank and file. These contracts are very complicated, and unless you have the staff matrix, no one has the first clue what the salary schedule costs. So few people get less than the “average raise” because the average raise is based on the average salary, which goes up every year…so 4% one year is either a smaller percent the next year on a larger base, or more money on the new base. That’s the problem.
Another small point – I love that you talk about how much time it takes to be a teacher. Totally true of good teachers. SO why won’t the PSEA let them contract for an 8-hour workday without asking for money to represent the additional minutes in their contract? Planning time in the contract translate to working late in other industries. I know teachers work long hours — but if they don’t, there is little recourse.
And here I am putting expectations on the TEEA — because the board has basically NO OPTIONS open to them. IT’s not of the teachers’ making, but they are the only ones with the power to fix it. And not with lame comments about using the fund balance to pay the bills. The reasons for that have been included many times here. And the PSEA understands it, even if the members of our local do not.
Pete – what you said about teachers is right on the mark. And you are right about class size – your experience agrees with the available research, at least with respect to the early elementary grades. With respect to contract negotiations, the pension system is run by the state, and only the legislature can fix it. Since the legislature is unlikely to address the pension crisis in the near future, the big money is in health benefits. I don’t think it is anti-teacher to suggest that they should pay considerably more towards health care like the rest of us have been doing for years. That was never really in the cards before, but this is a different time. Our teachers only started paying anything towards health care for first time with the 2008 contract, and that is only about $1000.
Rather than see deep cuts that directly affect the kids (like class size) I wonder if most rank and file teachers would rather contribute more towards their benefits?
At UCF we began bargaining in January, but didn’t publicize the details of each side’s offer until September. In my opinion that was too late! During the summer, the board’s negotiations team was hearing information from rank and file teachers that reflected a misunderstanding of the board’s offer. Further, It was clear that rank and file teachers had no specific information on their own position. Yet, they were being asked to vote on work-to-rule actions and a strike authorization. Hence, our detailed release in September – http://www.ucfsd.org/nn/091310nn.pdf
May or June would have been better.
I don’t advocate televising each negotiations session nor do I advise publicizing “trial balloon” offers. However, I see only upside to publicizing each side’s formal offer that is “on the table”.
Totally agree. What I was asking is whether or not there is anything that requires both sides to keep it to themselves other than by mutual agreement? So “pressure” on either and both sides should be equally addressed, right?
There is nothing other than mutual agreement that keeps offers secret.
I don’t understand your question about “pressure”.
Pressure refers to the fact that the TEEA is suggesting here and elsewhere that we ask the board what they offered. In fact, we should be asking both sides to share their offers. Perhaps if the offers were public, they wouldn’t waste so much time with “initial offers” so they can claim that they came way down….
I make $80,000. I want $150,000. Okay, I’ll accept $100,000. I reduced my demands by 33%. They offered nothing. (a wage freeze — and the promise of no furloughs)
I just got back from the meeting and just feel like the board doesn’t want to be involved in the negotiations….they are going to stay out of it and play dumb. That way no matter what the admin/negotiating team may present or say, they don’t have to be held accountable or verify statements for them. It gives them more leverage….look the other way so stretched truths and misinformation can work in their favor…
What “stretched truths and misinformation”? I was at the meeting as well. I’ve also attended several “Success and Sustainability” presentations and have been keeping myself informed for the past few years. This isn’t new, we’ve known about the fiscal situation for quite some time. The numbers don’t lie and and I would argue the economy is not getting better but going to get much worse. What I was appalled at last night was the sheer ignorance and surprise by what has to be done. I think the real scare tactics are when others state the board is using “worst case scenarios” and “doom and gloom” numbers. What do you think got us into this situation in the first place! The state, nation and global economy were all based on unrealistic assumptions. Even if the economy were to positively turn around, we would never get to the numbers that would allow us to make up for the losses. Here’s my proposal – don’t get rid of our best teachers but cut the lowest performing 10%. Base it on merit and performance not pay scale and seniority. Now there’s a novel thought…
not about the fiscal situation….everyone knows about that… about what is being presented from both sides, and what the actual offers being mentioned and entertained.
Well I was at the meeting, too, and I feel that the school board is VERY involved in negotiations. They have stated many times that they work with the negotiating team each step of the way. I applaud them for having a professional negotiator. The last contract that was negotiated without a professional negotiator put the school district in financial trouble because of excessive spending. They know they need to do better this time. TEEA is also guilty of stretched truths and misinformation, from what I hear…
They are working with the district negotiating team…not both sides…therefore all they hear is the district side. They only get information about the TEEA side from the district side. As with all politics one side can take anything and spin it. The board should be meeting with both sides and getting information from both…that way if any discrepancies come up between the information given from both sides, the board can address it.
The board is not the neutral party here Squeeze. THey have people working ON THEIR BEHALF with the TEEA and PSEA. The negotiators have no agenda of their own (at least in theory) except the wellfare of the district.
What does the hired district negotiator have to gain from make things work between the two sides…the longer this goes…the more money he makes…
I live in Phoenixville, but grew up in TE. I am sure there are parallels between the demands of both districts.
Phoenixville teachers are ready to strike if they don’t get 5% retroactive raises for the last few years since their contract expired. Plus they have zero plans to contribute more than a lousy 45 bucks a month to their Cadillac insurance plan that costs taxpayers almost $3,000/month. Neshaminy teachers walk out of the room en masse if dare you mention them contributing a nickel.
You should put in a right to know letter to see about the teacher’s health insurance plan. Make that public. The public needs to see the low co-pays and deductibles. Every pimple sends them back to the doctors to waste more taxpayer money.
I’d bet TE teachers have similiar demands to Phoenixville. The teacher’s union never says a word about their demands nor do they want anyone at the meetings because then that info goes public and everybody goes ballistic at their unreasonable demands.
I like teachers, but their unions are unreasonable, greedy and out of touch negotiators.
But this teacher unions does want the board there…they have requested many times… this was basically stated in the reading of the TEEA speech last night.
Well said, Phoenixville resident. Let’s see the details of the teacher’s health insurance plan and the costs. And I whole-heartedly agree with your last statement. I, too, LOVE our teachers, but despise the union/PSEA rhetoric and their sense of entitlement.
Apologies to those who have already read this, but no sense sending people backwards:
Page 16 of the current Teacher Contract: Medical Insurance
“employer profives all full-time Employees (.6 or greater) one of the following health care plans:
Blue Cross/Blue Shield C1F102 at a cost (final two years of contract and therefore status quo costs) of
$540 for single
$900 for Husband/Wife
$1020 for family
Also includes vision and presciption select 10/20/35.
Annual Cost of these benefit plans (medical, prescription, formular, and vision) as of 5/2011:
H/W: $ 19,212.72
2 or more: $ 988.68
C1-F1-02 Summary of Benefits – Blue Cross Preferred Provider Personal Choice plan/network
All costs refer to “in network” coverage — out of network is clearly discouraged with significant cost penalties.
Individual and Family : $0 ZERO
Out of Pocket Max: None (means no limit)
Lifetime Max: Unlimited
Doctor visits – primary care $10 copay
Specialists: $20 copay
Pediatric Immunizations: 100%
Routine Gyno/Pap $10 copay
Nutrition counselling for weight mgmt 100% (6 per year)
Outpatient Lab/Pathology 100%
Maternity: $10 copay first visit
Inpatient Hospital services 100%
Inpatient hospital days unlimited
Outpatient surgery 100%
Emergency room $100 copay (not waived if admitted)
Ambulance 100% (emergency)
Chemo-Radiation – Dialysis 100%
Outpatient private duty nursing 360 hours per year 90%
Skilled nursing facility 120 days per year 100%
Hospice/home health care 100%
Durable medical equipment/prosthetics 70%
Mental health care – outpatient 20 visit per year $20 copayment
INpatient mental health care 30 days per year 100%
Serious mental illness
Outpatient 60 visits per year $20 copayment
Inpatient 30 days 100%
Substance abuse treatment
Outpatient/partial facility 60 visits per year, 120 lifetime maximum $20 copay
Rehab 30 days per year, 90 days lifetime 100%
Detox 7 days per admisssion, 4 admissions lifetime 100%
Various therapies and specialty services $20 copay with annual visitation limites
SO — clearly the plan is a very good plan. No deductibles stand out to me. Family cost for this year of $$20,814.48 is especially noteworthy (with single costing $8,332.80)
Note that the contract does not talk about how much the district will contribute to health care. It says the district will provide these health care plans and the teacher/employee will contribute. The employee cost is capped (with NO deductible).
In my view, that is where the process fails us all. Under status quo, they will continue to get the same plan. There is no cap on the district exposure. If the contract even said the district would contribute up to the cost of the plan in 2012, we would at least have control over the increases which would be borne by them.
Said before: We dont’ pay people differently if they are single or married, so I don’t think their benefits should be offered differently. I would offer each employee $8,000 for benefits — with the establishment of a joint committee (the PSEA should step in) to work with Blue Cross to develop a plan to maximize the value of that $8,000. With large deductibles (it is insurance, not health care), even a family could get a reasonable insurance program for a somewhere around $1000 a month. In subsequent contracts, the TEEA and TESD could negotiate the district contribution, but NOT THE PLAN. Right now, the PSEA acts like making any contribution on the part of the teachers is a “sacrifice.”
So, this is why I think the composition of the negotiating team is likely to protect the health care plan — they already have their “bumps” in salary that come mid-way through the schedule.
Well I am impressed the teachers do make adequate monthly contributions.
I’d still be interested to see the balance that the taxpayer contributes. Since the teachers union (and Obama and his boyfriends blah blah blah) must have the Cadillac Rolls Royce plan, I’m sure it’s close to $3k/month.
Zero deductible, barely a co-pay, no cap encourages abuse that the taxpayer picks up.
Guess it’s for the children…
“Guess it’s for the children”
I don’t even know where to start with that statement. You are saying because they work with kids that they should just always take whatever is offered, that they should do it because they love it and pay and benefits don’t matter. Teachers love working with kids–helping them is the main intristic motivations for being a teacher.
But they are also real people, with bills and families, and they also have to take care of themselves.
Of what other career would you ask that question…
Do you say to any business person when they take a raise or get a better benefits package…Guess that’s for the customer…
Kids love video games and legos right…when those companies make a huge profit on all of the products you buy, do you say…Guess that’s for the children…
If tomorrow, your boss (in whatever you do) said you have to take this salary and this benefit package and those changes would change your personally financial situation drastically, would you just…
say yes its for the children, or the customer, or whomever… or would you try to find something that was some where in between the current and the extreme that would still work for both you and your boss?
PR — not sure you understood the info.
The annual cost is referenced, as well as the contribution by the employee for the year. SO — the taxpayers pay the balance.
Eg: single premium is $8,333. The employee pays $540 towards that for the year.
Does T/E really have to demote in order to stay afloat?
Demotion in T/E for financial reasons? Has the enrollment declined to such a level that the district has no other options other than to cut or “demote” experienced teachers because of their salary level? Doesn’t this school district have to prove a “real” economic hardship or urgency—i.e., if district doesn’t take immediate actions such as demoting they will have to shut down operations sooner than later because money is running out? Hardly a scenario with an existing 30+ million dollar fund balance!
I guess T/E is not utilizing a seniority program for teacher’s years of experience as well as not considering those multiple areas of certification individual teachers may hold and/or can teach outside their primary certification when factoring in this reorganization by “demoting” solely for economic reasons. Suggested reading for those interested should be the bill passed last year known as SB 612 and it’s amendments. (View SB 612 at PSBA website)
Here is a general observation—Seems like the teacher/s with advanced degrees requires a few years to earn that level of education. And, most likely teaches for quite a few years. How “old” are these teachers with advanced degrees/PHDs—any over 40?
Has anyone in the school district administration/school board given a thought or two about the possibility that maybe yes, they can save a “few bucks” by demoting some experienced staff —BUT, in reality, they may have to pay up “BIG TIME” when this demotion “blunder “ hits the fan because the district will most likely be in violation of the FEDERAL Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) because they have chosen not to utilize the existing seniority program for this “reorganization” for economic reasons???!!! Wake-up School Board and Administration—do your math homework.
Again, someone wants to explain why the cost reduction strategy is wrong. WHAT is your cost reduction strategy???
TE has fixed revenues. Contractual expenses. Legal restraints on expense reduction.
This is not poorly thought out — this is one of the few strategies that other districts have applied. If you have $110K employee teaching German full time, you cut him to half-time, consolidate his classes, reduce his salary in half and once under .6 FTE, he no longer gets benefits. You save the value of a full step 3 teacher. Desperate..You bet. So the TEEA has to put other options that will achieve something on the table.
SB612 is not law. It is currently tabled. Please realize that even if it were law, SB612 only deals with furloughs; not demotions.
The demotion portion of the school code (Section 1147) has been tested in court many times over the last few decades. Seniority does not apply. Bumping rights do not apply. Demotions are presumptively valid and an employee seeking to overturn a demotion has the heavy burden of proving the action was arbitrary, discriminatory or founded on improper considerations.
See these decisions for further clarification.
http://www.depweb.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/document/914856/berman,_mark%3B_et_al__v__sd_of_philadelphia_(tta_03-97)_pdf . 2.
http://www.bucknell.edu/x9798.xml . 3
Demotion based upon need for fewer teachers are all the cases I can find, but where is a case of demoting to avoid healthcare which would warrant hiring another part time person to teach???? The district said they could demote the entire staff to part time…who would teach all of the classes then??? Additional part time staff…right???
Benefits go only to people scheduled as .6 FTE or more. This is a strategy, not a plan.
The ball is clearly in the teacher’s court. Let’s see their offer before we bash the TESD’s strategy. There isn’t enough to pay for status quo.