Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Will T/E School District Open Without New Teachers Contract

Now that the 2nd vote on the Fact Finder report is behind us, it is my understanding that the school board and the teachers return to traditional method of negotiations. As the clock ticks down the remaining days of summer vacation, can we assume that schools in T/E will open on schedule. It is my understanding that until there is a new contract; the teachers will continue to work to the terms of their expired contract.

But how long can the T/E school district budget afford for the teachers to work to the old contract?

The Neshaminy teachers and the school district have been locked in a vicious contract debate for 4+ years with neither side willing to budge – sticking points in the bitter contract dispute is healthcare and salary. It is my understanding that the teachers want a 5% salary increase retroactively for the last 4 years.

As I wrote in January of this year, the teachers in the Neshaminy School District are the highest paid in the state but if we look at PSSA results, the Neshaminy School District doesn’t even make the top 50 in the state, coming in at number 245 among Pennsylvania’s 500 districts. Over half of the Commonwealth’s school districts have outperformed Neshaminy on PSSA tests for the last 10 years. Compare that to Tredyffrin Easttown School District and the ranking of third in the state. If the highest paid teachers, working in a school district that underperforms 50% of all other school districts in the state, are willing to strike twice in 6 months … what does that mean for other districts with teacher contracts pending?

Lower Merion School District is in a similar situation to TESD. Lower Merion’s teacher contract expired the end of June and the 1,300 union members are working ‘for now’ under the provisions of the old one. With school scheduled to open on Tuesday in Lower Merion, the School District officials and the union are set to negotiate tonight to see if they can settle.

Most people who I have spoken with do not believe that our teachers will strike in TESD. I am not sure what is to be gained by a teacher strike, aside from many aggravated parents. Or is it possible that teachers can be pushed to a point where they feel this is their only option?

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  1. I don’t see a strike happening because ultimately, it does nothing other than turn the tide of pulic opinion against the teachers. That was true somewhat prior to the current economic downturn, but has been absolutely true since 2008. I’m sure they are aware of other districts that have struck since then and the tremendous negative sentiment that resulted against them. And since teacher strikes are capped in terms of how long they can go on (something like 3 weeks) all it does is get back to the same point we are now – both sides negotiating, hopefully – then it does nothing. Maybe if this goes on for 4, 5, or 6 years and teachers at the bottom rung of the tenure ladder get laid off and demoted year after year, the union could strike just as a vindictive move, but that’s far down the path. Look for no agreement, status quo to continue, and class sizes to continue to rise as retiring staff aren’t replaced and ultimately less-tenured staff being laid off or demoted. No one wants to consider any new revenue sources and I can’t see the union agreeing to the kinds of salary roll backs being proposed.

  2. They will not strike because the status quo is better for them in this situation. Striking will only result in their package being decreased. They have absolutely zero leverage despite the hysterics of some.

  3. Then, they can go on strike and watch the new package be much worse than the old one. So, who has the leverage again? In the end, change is coming and there is nothing that can be down about it. All of the rest is just theater.

    1. If they go on strike and no deal is reached…they still come back to work at status quo…which the district still can’t afford…

  4. Wow — everyone here has it all figured out. Strike – no strike. How glib to say that the teachers have the leverage because the district cannot afford status quo, and then also state that the district has to find the money somewhere to get it settled.

    IF they cannot afford status quo, and the teachers will not accept less — then what exactly do you propose Pete T? This isn’t hypothetical. This is real. We have been saying for 6 months that the only way out it is for the TEEA to be part of the solution and not much of the problem.

    I again refer readers to the Main Line Suburban letter to the editor today about Health Care. It is the ONLY way to attack the cost structure without dismantling the program. But it will take understanding and negotiation. All that depends on people wanting to settle.

    In the end, as it has always been when it came down to the final moment, we will hear about a settlement that under more scrutiny, we cannot afford. How do you think we got to 191 days on the calendar? They get a 4%% raise, but we added two days to get it to 6% in the 80s. The district has ALWAYS bought the contract — just paid different amounts depending on the economy and the PSEA goals. One time the TEEA put the district ahead of the PSEA goals.
    The board simply cannot survive the scrutiny of labor unrest. No one wants it. And that’s a shame. I don’t blame them, but the TEEA in this case has the sympathy and the power…..and if it’s possible to do it, will ultimately put the district into a type of foreclosure. We’ve got a mortgage we cannot afford unless revenue bounces back. But as is always the case in politics — kick the can down the road. Float a bond issue and get flush. At some point, the legislature will make the balance of power favor districts and the courts will order reductions.

    Just another hypothetical?

    1. TR,
      I think we agree on many aspects of negotiations, but differ on the expected outcome.
      I foresee labor action in the form of work-to-contract, but I expect most teachers to comply reluctantly and many to ignore it. I don’t see much leverage gained and In the end it will turn the parents against the teachers..
      The union negotiators know the District is in a financial bind and know there are only two options. One, an affordable contract with no employee layoffs, Two an unaffordable contract with employee layoffs. In the past, those layoffs were furloughs subject to seniority restrictions and left veteran teachers unaffected. The Board has option of demotions that can affect veteran teachers. Imagine multiple teachers having their salary cut by 40%.
      Remember that the only agreement so far included a no demotion clause for the current year. Also note that the union table offer included a no demotion clause. Demotions are scary. It may take several months, but I see an affordable settlement.

      1. Thanks Keith. What we fundamentally disagree on is that the settlement proposed by the district is not affordable. Cost it out any way you want, but it just slows the increases and changes little. I know they are trying, but by now you have heard me that it takes creativity, not just a calculator, to get a new direction. I hope they pursue a health care consultant to consider the option that was in the paper on Thursday…and that I have been advocating for 5+ years. How does a defined benefit health care plan accomplish anything? Kind of like a defined benefit pension?

      2. Furloughs and demotions are still going to be seniority restricted as long as there is no effort to address revenue. The district is not going to risk a lengthy and costly court battle to try to do it otherwise when they face the real risk of losing in the end. They aren’t going to be able to prove economic hardship with the income level so high and the tax rate so low. If the Fact Finder’s report had any value, it was useful in seeing how the system would respond to the district trying to claim economic hardship and then demoting teachers without regard to seniority. If the Board is banking on that strategy, I hope they have a plan B.

        1. NO!
          Demotions are not seniority restricted. Demotions are specifically allowed for economic reasons and the district does not have to prove “economic hardship”. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misinformed.

  5. Yes, thankfully there are no “duds” in the corporate world. (mental note, we need the “roll your eyes” emoticon on this board).

  6. Dear Nice Job,
    You are correct. My agenda includes the ability to feed my children and provide them with their basic necessities. So while you might like to hear that the needs of the district come first – they don’t. My family’s needs come first. I llive in TE and benefit from the great schools with a tax bill close to $3000. I love my job – but I work paycheck to paycheck to pay my mortgage and other bills. I know many people in the same situation in public and private sector jobs and I am not asking for sympathy. I am only asking that you try to understand. I don’t want a raise. I don’t want more benefits. I wish I was able to give back I’m my salary – but I can’t. If my salary is reduced I will be forced to look for other employment. I love teaching and I love the students I come into contact with each day. I give my best everyday when I am with my students. I wish I had a solution. But I do know attacking teachers in general will get us nowhere fast.

  7. Teacher and Parent
    You are spot on.
    Here is the piece that I believe is causing the anger — I apologize if I have said this before — I’m getting confused by what I talk about, what I write, and what I read.

    Despite the income of almost anyone in the private sector, the economic uncertainties are such that few can plan for retirement. Retirement calculators typically suggest that you should expect to need 90% of your pre-retirement income to maintain a lifestyle. Well, our retiring teacher will have a pension with at least that if they teach more than 35 years, That’s with no savings and forgetting that they will also get social security.

    So — for our 45 year old teacher making $80,000, they can retire at 65 with a pension of over 100,000 if they get 2% raises every year…and their expected social security will be $42,500. And that is without a dime of savings.

    So while you may earn the $80,000 and feel like there is nothing left, your peer taxpayer might make $120,000, but even with 2% raises each year, they would need to save 20% a year (after taxes) and would still run out of money by the age of 73. There simply is no way to produce the kind of income after retirement that your pension will provide.

    All this is mumbo jumbo, but it’s really important to continue the dialogue so that teachers understand that beyond their control, the economy stopped giving pensions. 401Ks have suffered dramatically due to major market fluctuations, and people are under-employed and unemployed much more than the “1%” are too wealthy. So for the rest of the economy, besides muncipal workers and teachers and government employees, planning for retirement is really only hypothetical. There is absolutely no certainty about how to live. That’s not your fault, but it at some point has to influence the negotiations.

    Play with these calculators — though as a teacher, PSERS provides one for you that should give you great peace.

    Thanks so much for your input.

    1. TR,

      A tough situation for all to be sure. But it is the pension plan that the teachers signed up for when they agreed to educate our children. Now you can propose that we change the plan as many companies have done in private industry. But the plan would have to change for ALL including state government, police, fire, etc., all that benefit from PSERS/SERS. And that simply won’t happen. Pinning the pension problem solely on the teachers is patently unfair. The teachers are paying more per member into their pension than the school district if memory serves me correctly. The state reduced their contribution from 14% back to 5% about a decade ago and placed the burden back at the local level. In my opinion, that is what people should be outraged about. You also cannot say the pension issue is due solely to the economic downturn of 2008-2010. The plan has carried an unfunded liability for a while. The recent downturn simply added some salt in the wound.

      How do we resolve it? Civil discussions (so far, I haven’t seen anything close), creative compromise, and a mutual desire to do what is best for the children of TESD. Recent news on this board has indicated the the school board is now going to participate at the negotiating table. That is a start, but again, in my opinion, long, long overdue. The negotiating “dance” that has taken place over the past 9 months has been ugly. Some posters on this board warned back in the spring not to pay too much mind to the accusatory tone, and that it was simply each side posturing. Believe me, Mr. Sultanik has done more harm than he has good. The animosity between the two sides is unprecedented. It is time to mend fences.
      Changing the plan for new employees (again, for all new employees throughout the Commonwealth) would be a start. More continued dialogue with Harrisburg and state and federal legislators is a must. But

      1. Icharcoal,
        I don’t hear TR “pinning the pension problem” on the teachers. What he has said repeatedly is that “it has to influence the negotiations”. In essence, no district can afford concurrent salary increases, health care increases and pension increases.
        I’m curious why we should be “outraged” at the Legislature asking the Districts to assume half the pension burden. Let’s remember taxpayers pay for 100% of pensions. To the average taxpayer it matters little whether it’s taken out of the left pocket (local RE taxes) or the right pocket (state sales of income taxes). However, it makes more sense to place the tax burden with the same political f pension expenditures are ever to be brought under control it makes more sense to
        I’m curious why you would single out Mr. Sultanik for doing “more harm than good”. What about the union leadership, Ms. Waldie and the school directors?

        1. Keith,

          “There simply is no way to produce the kind of income after retirement that your pension will provide”…sounds like pinning the problem on the teachers to me. Whether the statement is accurate or not. But that is just me. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.

          I simply don’t like the approach of the legislature in forcing the pension issue locally. Also, keep in mind that the teachers do in fact contribute to their own pension plan. And I believe on a % basis, that # is significant in the pension funding equation. But the pension is not the sole reason the district is in this predicament. My issue with Mr. Sultanik is the tone of his negotiating. All I can go on is what has been offered by both sides and the tone in which it has been offered. As someone who has some personal in-depth experience at school board business and negotiations, you may be more immune to those kind of tactics than I am. But to an outsider it doesn’t show well in public.

          Then there is the “appearance” of a big pile of cash sitting in the Fund balance. No matter that it is spoken for, planned for, etc. The Govenor has said that SD’s with surplus fund balances, need to tap them in these tough times. While I disagree with alot of Mr. Corbett’s policies and statements, this one needs to be considered. If there is a 5 or 7 year capital plan that has earmarked those funds, seems like we ought to look at revising those plans. As mentioned on this board previously, purchasing more real estate at this point, doesn’t seem to make alot of sense when we are in such deep and dire financial straits.

          It is tough to be an outside observer and think that all the givebacks have to be made by the teachers. IMHO…

        2. I would like someone to remind us what that fund balance is ear marked for? Not sure it is discretionary. Please advise>?

        3. Icharcoal,.
          I’m curious why you think “all the givebacks” are being requested of the teachers. Average teacher compensation will increase an average of over 3% per year in the latest Board offer. I’m hard pressed to characterize this as givebacks by the teachers. Maybe takeaways?. However the taxpayers are clearly giving – I’m estimating that RE taxes will increase each year in the 3% range.
          I’m not sure if you have been reading the comments for the last month or so, but use of the fund balance for recurring expenses (e.g. matrix additions, steps, educational movement, health care, PSERS) is poor fiscal management. That said, the latest Board offer does use the fund balance appropriately in year 2 & 3 for one-time, off schedule bonuses.

  8. I know this is neither here nor there, but when it’s all over are we going to find out how much Sultanik made during the process?

    1. They can but it won’t matter to me….we are not paying Ms. Waldie, but our money is being used to pay Sultanik

    2. TR- What difference does that make? Her salary would come out of the dues teachers pay to the union. Sultanik’s fee comes out of your pocket. You are not paying Waldie, you ARE PAYING SULTANIK. And based on what I have seen, you did not get your money’s worth. The school board could easily have gotten to this point without him. It isn’t hard to make an offer that elimintaes everything. Whatever the district is paying him is money that could have been spent on student programs or in all likelyhood, could cover the cost of the new student activity fee. Notice I didn’t say the extra money could go towards teacher’s salaries.

      1. Please do not ever presume you have the first clue what goes on in a negotiating session. The use of a negotiator is a strategy, and I think it is moot for you to assume the district “could easily have gotten to this point.” There is nothing easy about it.
        Were it not Sultanik, I guess you do not realize that the board ALWAYS takes a lawyer into the negotiations. It has been the solicitor or someone from that office. The rules of negotiating in today’s world always has a lawyer at the table.
        Good cop time.

        1. So which teacher contract were you a school board member for? Clearly with your knowledge, expertise, and wealth of ideas you must have been involved in a contract negotiation and by your tone I highly doubt it was as a teacher. You are right, I have never been in a negotiation but as someone who has been paying attention I don’t see what Sultanik did that was worth his fee. Are you suggesting that the elected school board members couldn’t have come up with this strategy on their own? I would like for you to explain to me how difficult it would have been for the school board to come up with the initial offer (which basically removed everything from the existing contract), go to fact finding because they were so inflexible, and then use the fact finding report to come up with this latest proposal.

        2. Had,
          If the negotiations were amicable and the new contract was a slight modification of the old contract Sultanik would not be needed.
          However, the TE Board wanted major changes and a labor lawyer is essential. The public sees the lawyer’s job only as constructing the offer and sitting at the table. Behind the scenes, the lawyer is dealing with grievances, fact finding, and status quo training of administrators. His experience with other districts gives perspective on other offers and allows him to give advice on how to avoid problems – grievances are initiated because of poor contract language. Remember, many of these board members have never been in contract negotiations and the ones who were had a 5 year lapse. Sultanik does this on a daily basis.

        3. TR and Keith-
          I value your comments because you both have had 1st hand experience with this. Here is the part I am having trouble with. Keith, you said a labor lawyer was needed to work behind the scenes. Couldn’t the solicitor do that? You said Sultanik’s experience is important. It seems every negotiation he does goes to fact finding. Was having TEEA request fact finding part of the boards grand plan? TR- you said Sultanik is a puppet. That is one expensive puppet!! It just seems that the board came out with alot of animosity in the beginning. Perhaps without Sultanik, or had the board not been so hostile in the beginning this could have been worked out sooner. I believe the teachers are reasonable, perhaps not the PSEA, but the TE teachers. It would have been interesting to see how this would have played out if everything had been done internally. I’d like to think both sides would have worked together much better.

        4. Had,
          You asked if the district’s solicitor could have substituted for Sultanik. Not very effectively. Dealing with the PSEA is a specialty and the education labor laws are unique. Also, I’m not sure if the district would have saved money – both hourly rates are probably close.
          There is a tendency to blame Sultanik for the hostile environment because he’s been highly visible. Both sides have been equally stubborn and both offers were equally one-sided. I can assure you that the PSEA representative Ms. Waldie is equally assertive, direct and abrasive at the “table”. The board lost the PR battle because they made Sultanik the “face” of negotiations.
          The combination of Act 1 and the bleak economic environment make this a time of change for teacher negotiations. It’s going to take time for the union leadership to accept the new reality of limited funds, demotions, furloughs and the futility of labor action. Phoenixville and Downingtown have been in status quo for over a year. Kennett, TE, West Chester and Avon Grove are beginning the new year without a contract.

      2. Were you not at the meeting when one of the teacher/negotiators yelled “LIAR ” while Sultanik was briefing the board/audience on the exchange with Ms. Waldie. They do not like Sultanik. That is not a bad thing, because he is the bad guy who will go away. Who else would you propose have taken that role? Because this was always going to be ugly….and now, once it’s settled, Sultanik is gone. Would you prefer they have demonized the board or the administration? They have to work with them.

        1. Had
          What you need to understand is that the board members DID come up with the initial offer. Mr. Sultanik is a puppet speaking in front with the script behind the scenes. He delivered the bad news, and now the board rides in with the conciliatory outcome. Negotiations are ugly. Yes — not only have I been in them, I needed a personal lawyer to deal with some exchanges. In the end, it has to be about all of us — and if you go back to the very start, you will remember that Keith K who has done this with teachers said it would take this time to play out….and Mr. Sultanik did not cost any more than the full-time presence of a district solicitor either at the table or in the caucus room answering questions.
          If you want to know more about my own experience, ask Pattye to send me your email and I’ll happily share it. Most reading this site know who I am — I don’t typically post under my name because of the way “Mike from Berwyn” was treated in the election he ran for Supervisor. I don’t want to google my name and see these posts :) But I enjoy the exchange, and I am DELIGHTED to have people more engaged.

    3. TR, thanks again for all your insight.

      Here’s some facts on Ms. Waldie

      A thought to ponder. PSEA gives out lots literature that swears that defined benefit plans cost much less to administer than defined contribution plans. I would beg to differ (this argument could be akin to saying that an Acura is cheaper than a BMW – when all you can budget is a Civic). This isn’t helped by the confusing fact that school districts are reimbursed for 50% of the PSERS expense. It’s akin to the infamous Virginia car tax… makes the situation difficult to change. Lots of talking points can be thrown out… not many on GASB 68 :)

      I’d love it if there was more nation-wide discussion on Roth accounts. I max mine out every year. Love it. Just my $0.02

  9. dues the teachers pay to the union… they do come from the public then… Its circuitous but it comes from the taxpayers. if it matters.

  10. Had enough, see thats the kicker with tax payer funded employees… It all comes from the the private sector is footing the bill.. for the whole enchilada..

  11. The post Aug 27 PASD resorts to fact finders above…if you click on the PASD it is a link to an article about Phoenixville turning to Fact Finding after 30 months of unsuccessful bargaining….
    It’s not easy. The President of the Phoenixville School Board is Paul Slanika, a retired TE teacher who was the long-time TEEA president here. For whatever reasons, that district is struggling with negotiations where one could reasonably assume that the Board would completely understand the union perspective.

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