Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board Approves Teacher Demotions, What does this mean for T/E teachers?

Sixteen months ago, I wrote an article titled, “Looking at Unionville-Chadds Ford School District – Is the ‘Handwriting on the Wall’ for TE?” The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (U-CF) is similar to the T/E school district and the districts are often compared. Students from both school districts enjoy similar academic performance; both top performing school districts. On the SAT and PSSA, the performance of the districts places each in the top 1% statewide. We often seen the districts listed together for the similar quality of their education.

You may recall, the U-CF teacher contract expired June 30, 2010 without the signing of a new contract. The talks between the school board and teachers union continued but after six months, the PA Labor Relations Board assigned an arbitrator to resolve the bargaining impasse through a fact-finding report. The school board voted to accept the findings of the report whereas the teachers union rejected the report.

Two major suggestions contained in the report – (1) a provision for each union member to receive a one-time, nonrecurring paying in lieu of a raise in year one and an increase in the final two years of the contract and (2) that union members move to a new, cost-saving healthcare plan, Keystone Direct, in the second year of the contract. The U-CF school board sought to maintain quality care at a reduced rate and they suggested, “that the economic times are hard and that the teacher union has benefited greatly when times were good but they must now share in the sacrifice as the others.” The teacher union rejected the independent report and recommendations.

The U-CF school board and teachers union finally reached an agreement in September 2011, sixteen months after the expiration of their contract. I wrote of the agreement on September 13, 2011, and asked the question if there were any lessons for T/E as a result. What did the U-CF school board and teachers union finally agree to – Terms included:

  • Year 1 (2010-11) no pay increase for 2010-11
  • Year 2 (2011-12) 1% increase on the pay schedule, step movement, prep level movement
  • Year 3 (2012-13) $300 in each cell on the matrix, $700 one-time bonus, step movement, prep level movement

One of the sticking points in the U-CF school board – teacher contract negotiations had been over healthcare benefits (sound familiar). In the final U-CF agreement, the teachers contributed 7.5% in 2011-12 and 10% toward their healthcare costs.

Although the U-CF school district contract does not expire until June 2013, according to the Daily Local, their school board and teachers union members have been quietly meeting unofficially since January of this year, for preliminary contract talks without the expense of outside legal counsel. According to U-CF school board member, Jeff Leister, the early talks were “an attempt to find common ground, achieve greater certainty about the future and to avoid a lengthy process later in the year.” However, what’s the saying about the “best laid plans of mice and men” ? Unfortunately, the school board and teachers union are too far apart at this point, and both sides decided to end the preliminary contract discussions.

Leiser did comment that going forward the school board would adhere to a three-tier approach –

  1. What is in the best interest of the students and the quality of education
  2. Is the agreement sustainable under Act 1
  3. Is the agreement consistent with current economic conditions, and what I fair to ask of residents financially.

In reviewing the U-CF school board agenda of May 21, I did note something of interest:

Demotion Resolutions (2)
1. Approve the Demotion Resolution for Employee No. 2797, as attached
2. Approve the Demotion Resolution for Employee No. 866, as attached

The discussion and approval of demotion resolutions may explain why the preliminary contract talks have ceased between the U-CF school board and teachers union. Curious as to the contents of the demotion resolutions, I filed a right-to-know request with their open records officer. (If I receive a response, I will certainly post it).

In the Souderton School District, their school board and teachers union were unable to resolve contract negotiations and were aided by a state mediator. The mediator’s proposed bargaining agreement between the Souderton school board and teachers union was released – to read the overview, click here. The school board and the teachers union accepted the recommendations of the state mediator and signed a 5-year contract. The contact contains a salary freeze in the first 2 years; elimination of 2 “masters-plus” salary schedules; increased health care premium share; and reduced tuition reimbursement. There is a 1.6% reduction in the teacher salary schedule in the first year; no “step and column” movement for the first two years; then a 1 percent salary schedule increase in the last year and a return to “step and column” starting in the third year. It appears that significant concessions were required on behalf of the Souderton teachers union.

The Souderton school district budget of $107 million for 2012-13 includes a 3 percent real estate tax increase. The harsh reality of Souderton’s budget deficit required school board members to make some tough decisions to balance their budget, including eliminating middle school teaching positions, demotion of a language teacher, reducing the budgets of technology, facilities and supplies, increasing student parking and activity fees, etc.

Whether it is Souderton, Unionville-Chadds Ford or T/E, the reality of the economic crisis in Pennsylvania’s public school, is forcing school boards to make some very difficult budget decisions. A state assigned mediator was required in the contract negotiations of Souderton and U-CF to push their contract impasse, I wonder if the same will happen in T/E? Maybe having a hired professional negotiator will make the difference for TESD — I’m not sure if Souderton and U-CF took this approach. It would hard for the taxpayers to pay Jeffrey Sultanik’s legal bill if in the end, the negotiations still require an independent arbitrator.

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  1. A bit of clarification –
    The Fox Rothschild firm represented all 3 districts above. Mr. Sultanik represented Souderton and TE. His associate Mark Fitzgerald represented UCF.
    It’s almost a certainty that a mediator is already involved at TE. Act 88 requires both parties to contact the Bureau of Mediation if an agreement is not reached 45 days after the start of negotiations.
    The next step is Fact Finding. Forty-five days after mediation has begun either party can trigger Fact Finding. Fact Finding uses a neutral 3rd party to hear both sides and make a non-binding recommendation. The Fact Finder, typically, comes down in the middle. That’s why, in my opinion, there is a disincentive for either party to come to the table with a reasonable first offer.

    1. Thank you for the clarification Keith. I had no idea about this Act 88 requirement — so since the contract negotiations started in January and we know that there has been no agreement reached (and we are well past the 45 days), guess the union and school board has contacted the Bureau of Mediation. Didn’t realize that there was an automatic trigger int he process. At what point, does the information surrounding the process become public … or rather, can we ask the school district for the process to be public? Understanding how it works could help the residents better understand the negotiation process. Did TESD and TEEA go to the Bureau of Mediation during the last contract negotiations? Anyone know?

      I remember knowing about the U-CF negotiation/mediation process, who the mediator was, and the details of the Fact-Finding. However, I don’t recall if the U-CF information was available while the process was going on or after it was completed.

      Also interesting to note that the same legal firm represented U-CF, Souderton and T/E.

      1. One can always ask the Board to publicize the process, but there is no requirement that they do so. I am surprised that they have not had candid communications with the pubic.
        The sequence of events might be interesting to CM readers. If I remember the sequence properly:-
        – Negotiations started in January.
        – A mediator was requested soon after.
        – Talks stalled over the summer
        – In September the union sent notice that they were going public with their concerns and did so with two handouts to parents at school events; the union instituted “work to contract”. Neither of the handouts gave details of the offers
        – In September the Board responded with detailed information on both offers
        – Fact Finding was requested by the union In November
        – The Fact Finder’s recommendation was published in January
        – The union rejected the recommendation; the Board accepted the recommendation
        – The contract was settled in September, 18 months after start of negotiations.

        The Board released detailed information on the offers The union, not the UCF Board, asked for Fact Finding. They did so in the fall if I remember correctly. Either party could call for Fact Finding now, but there is no requirement they do so. It may be months before Fact Finding begins.

  2. The Board has a special meeting on Wed 30th for the primary purpose of approving diplomas, but some may find it of interest that two other items are on the agenda:
    Agenda Item V, (Other Action)
    A, 3
    . Recommended suspension of the Class Size policy. effect since 1978 in some form or another; last revised Nov 2004.

    Agenda Item IV
    C 2 and C1 . Extended school year staff list “at the following rates” with no rates included, and a realignment of administrative staff to fill a vacancy after a resignation (Hoffman, VFMS) , but no money showing.

    The numbering for this special meeting is a little confusing — AGENDA MATERIALS
    Agenda VI, Priority Discussion/Action is at the top, but then Agenda VI is not that number.

    The Consent agenda is section IV, but only has materials for
    A. Minutes of the May 14, 2012 Regular Board Meeting
    C1. Routine Personnel Actions
    C2. Year 2012 District Extended School Year Program Staff
    E1. Successful Bids
    H1. Policy 1305: Code of Civility (General Public), Second Reading

    So I don’t know if other sections of the Consent agenda have been removed or simply don’t have information in the agenda for the meeting.

    There is also a Final Approval for a civility policy that has what appears to be a typo or grammatical error in the first sentence. (H1 under Consent)

    This Policy is designated to promote civility an environment in which all members of the school community will be treated with respect and expect the same in return.

    Regardless — the meeting is humdrum, but what doesn’t the agenda list?

  3. The next negotiations meeting isn’t scheduled until the seventh…so what would there be to update?

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