Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TEEA States T/E $1.5 million Deficit Will be Reduced by Teacher Retirements!

The teachers union in T/E School District, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) held a members meeting today. I am assuming that the press released that I just received (below) was a result of their meeting. The teachers union is coming out strong in opposition to school board using demotion of professional staff as a budget strategy for the $1.5 million budget deficit.

According to this press release, TEEA is suggesting that the 2012-13 budget deficit could be reduced by nearly $1.5 million due to the retirement of 17 teachers. According to the teachers union, these retirements were not factored into the budget. If this is true, problem solved and no need for further discussion of demotion. Surely, it cannot be that simple. Or, can it?

Looks like another showdown may be coming at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. I have received a number of phone calls and emails from concerned residents since the School Board meeting. Many of the conversations have been in support of my call for greater transparency in the teacher contract negotiation process. Comments have continued to be posted on Community Matters suggesting that the school board is fully aware of the negotiations, etc. etc.. and that it is perfectly OK that elected school board members are not sitting at the negotiating table. Sorry, I am still standing on the fact that the taxpayer needs to be represented in the room, sitting at the table, not hearing the conversation secondhand. I want someone with ‘skin in the game’ representing me — the taxpayer. And unless someone can tell me otherwise, I do not think any of the 4 people negotiating on behalf of the school district lives in either Tredyffrin or Easttown Townships.

All four school district representatives are paid by the taxpayers – one is professional negotiator Jeff Sultanik and the other three are school district administrators — Superintendent Dan Waters, Human Resource Director Sue Tiede and Business Manager Art McDonnell. Where is the Tredyffrin or Easttown taxpayer? Again, unless some tells me differently, these four individuals are not personally affected by the outcome of next year’s budget or the contract negotiations because they do not live here. The District negotiating team (Sultanik, Waters, Tiede and McDonnell) will not be affected by the increase of property taxes or the possible diminishing quality of the TESD educational program — certainly not like the taxpayers, parents and students!

I know that I sound like a broken record, but where is ‘our voice’? I think that is why I am stuck on the transparency issue; I can’t helping thinking that the taxpayers are the ‘third wheel’. We have the teachers union and the school board appointed negotiators but the parents and the taxpayers are not represented but left with a lot of questions.

Here’s the latest TEEA press release:

T/E Teachers: Demotions Unnecessary, Destructive; Existing Resources Sufficient to Preserve Program

The T/E community recently spoke out against teacher demotions at the April 23rd School Board meeting. The central concern: should the Board use existing resources to protect our best and brightest teachers – the core of an exceptional T/E school system – or cut these dedicated educators from our program?

One truth remains clear: no parties involved have created the financial challenges affecting T/E. Rather, these challenges result from a confluence of economic and legislative factors beyond the control of our local officials, residents, and teachers.

The manner in which these challenges are resolved, however, still remain in the Board’s control.

While the School Board has recently proposed the demotion of our most successful teachers as a viable cost reduction strategy, T/E teachers believe strongly that this proposal will be extremely destructive to the T/E educational program and that more reasonable solutions exist.

The recent Board meeting and a TEEA review of District finances reveal several important factors related to demotion alternatives:

  • The Board revised downward its projected deficit to 1.5M based upon allowable Act I tax increases not included in its original assumptions, revised instructional expenditures and newly accepted budget strategies.
  • 17 retiring teachers, also excluded from the Board’s initial assumptions, will reduce the projected deficit further. TEEA estimates savings of nearly $1M from teacher retirements.
  • The Board has designated much of its substantial 31M fund balance – one of the largest in the state – to rising PSERS obligations, a major external legislative challenge causing this year’s deficit. But it has not considered the use of these funds to offset next year’s increased obligation. The projected deficit is larger as a result.
  • The Board regularly uses the general fund balance to resolve budget deficits.
  • The Board’s own internal policy is the only measure preventing the use of the $31M general fund balance as a bridge that would protect the excellence of our program. The Board regularly changes its own policies, and has the authority to use these funds. The Board is not prevented by PA School Code.

If the decision to be made is between the core of our educational program or a small fraction of the fund balance, then the decision should be clear.

The Board should table the demotion measure and, instead, fully participate in comprehensive, two-way, productive contract negotiations – one of several important paths to sustainability. Why destroy our award-winning program when the resources to protect it exist?

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  1. “One truth remains clear: no parties involved have created the financial challenges affecting T/E. Rather, these challenges result from a confluence of economic and legislative factors beyond the control of our local officials, residents, and teachers.

    The manner in which these challenges are resolved, however, still remain in the Board’s control.”

    First part is correct, but the second paragraph is just not true. The manner in which these are resolved remain in the UNION’s control. All the rest is talk. The demotion is nothing more than a strategy to reach a goal. It is about the only thing the board has to use as leverage. And TEEA cannot have it both ways — recognize that the “exceptions” to the tax limits include PSERS — so either we use the exception, or we use the fund balance. The fund balance is for one-time only expenses — that isn’t policy — that’s smart.

    Pattye — I think we all agree that there is need for more transparency, and I have opposed using administrators from the start (though unless she has moved, Sue Tiede is a long-time resident of TESD — all her children graduated from Conestoga). But I believe it is distraction to talk about presence at the table and connect that to transparency. I was at the table 5 times for negotiations. And my children DID pay a price for it. At a reception at Dr. Foot’s home in the 90s, a member of TEEA got into a screaming match with me in his driveway. Transparency and a seat at the table are not the same thing. Nothing stops board members from sitting there, but there is an agreement in place that negotiations will not be discussed publicly.

    The board has hired the negotiator — and he proceeds at their direction. Considering how they ducked and ran during the last election, do we really think having members of the current board sitting at the table will offer us anything? These people are parents too. Creating turmoil between them and the people at the table can be very tough. Recently a teacher approached me and said how they hated me then, but wished I was there now, because at least I told them the truth. The problem now is that no one believes anyone. Which is why transparency would be very helpful. But for this board — I don’t know all of them well at all, but I don’t see anyone among them that I think could improve the situation. It’s no win. May as well let Sultanik take the lumps.

    Just my opinion — but I feel quite strongly that unless a board member at the table is good at this, there is no purpose. These are skills that you need to have mastered. . It’s not a learn on the job situation when you have reached this kind of economic chaos.

    So — at the risk of sounding more knowledgeable about this time around than I am (I am not in contact with any board members), the people who negotiated the last contract got their butts whipped. Kevin assures us they believed they had the money when they signed it, but I think Ray’s analysis over the past two years on this topic clearly indicates they did not. They were betting on revenue they could not be sure of. And health care costs have never been in anyone’s control, and the district continues to bear all the risk of increases.

    So — the board should NOT table the demotion strategy. The TEEA should counter it with a way they will offer up savings — not with retirements but with real, forward moving options. I do not believe anyone will be demoted in the long run, but if you throw away the only “threat” you have, you are basically crying mercy.

    Thanks for pushing this. Just remember friends — negotiations are scripted. They are not spontaneous.

    1. Andrea —

      Yes, certainly you are entitled to your opinion and I and the other residents are entitled to his/her opinions. There’s a reason that some of the states in this country are implementing mandatory ‘public’ negotiations of teacher contracts. Do I think that will ever happen in TESD? Not likely. However, I do not think that it is fair that the 4 people sitting at the negotiating table are paid by the taxpayers, either as TESD employees or as professional negotiator. I do not claim to be any expert on negotiations as yourself, a former school board member. However, based on the number of phone calls and emails that I have received on this subject, it certainly appears that there are others in this community who share my sentiments.

      I appreciate all the people who are reading Community Matters – residents, parents, teachers (hopefully school board members) but let me be clear — I’m not giving up on the idea of transparency, nor am going to throw up my hands in defeat. No, I believe that people need to question the process and the decisions that are being made (whether demotion, programming cuts, increase class size, student participation fees, etc.). And folks, like me, with little experience or background in contract negotiations are still taxpayers and as members of the TESD community, get to ask the questions. I accept that this approach may annoy some people (particularly present or former school board members) I make no apologies but it will continue. As for there being ” an agreement in place that negotiations will not be discussed publicly” between the union and the school district — to that I would say, change the agreement … just takes both sides agreeing. To my way of thinking, that would be transparency. Let the public see what both sides are offering, wouldn’t that be a novel approach!

  2. Pattye
    I do not disagree with you in any way. I just want to be sure that we don’t automatically link the two — transparency vs. someone at the table. As I said — I sat at the table, and clearly that was my decision (the first negotiation I was party to, I was doing numbers in the back room, not at the table). The last negotiation I was part of, there were no attorneys and no PSEA reps….just 3 TEEA members and 2 board members. So I have seen it go both ways.
    My point is that as the acrimony grows — there are lots of opinions. I would hope that TE Teacher is successful in pushing her reps for transparency — Keith has said here that UCF opened it up, but he believed it was done later than it should have been.

    Keep it up. If we could convince the two sides to open it up, I cannot forecast the results, but I know it would save a lot of wasted hyperbole.

    As to someone at the table — I’m not opposing it, but I feel that the decision to hire Sultanik means they have a strategy that is better served by his being the bad cop. Maybe the board comes in later and plays good cop?

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