Pattye Benson

Community Matters

School Board Members to Join T/E Contract Negotiating Team

Last night’s School Board meeting represented a distinct shift in attitude from the School Board directors in regards to the teacher negotiations. Since the District named their negotiating team last January (Dan Waters, Sue Tiede, Art McDonnell and professional negotiator attorney Jeffrey Sultanik), I have been very vocal in my concern that there was no school board director serving on the negotiating team. I was of the opinion that the residents of TESD elected the school board members to serve them and at least one of them needed to sit at the negotiating table.

Without representation by a school board director, the reporting process had the appearance of a ‘whisper down the lane’. I understand that Sultanik was hired to negotiate at the direction of the School Board, but I think that the Board’s public appearance of ‘hands-off’ to the process, may have added to the strife with the teachers. The information and the updates that the school board receives were not by firsthand attendance at the meetings, the flow of information was from one of the four members of the negotiating team. I am not suggesting that the District intentionally mislead the public through its updates, but I was of the opinion that without a seat at the table, it was possible that subtle nuances that occur in a meeting could be missed in the translation.

But here is some good news for anyone that shares my concerns with the negotiation process. At the end of last night’s meeting, Board president Karen Cruickshank gave a brief update on the status of the teacher contract talks. She explained the District has made another offer to the teachers and offered hope that a resolution could be forthcoming. Not certain what is contained in the latest offer but there was something else … Cruickshank announced that going forward, school board directors would have a seat at the negotiating table. Karen Cruickshank, Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks and Betsy Fadem will join the negotiating team at all future meetings with the teachers union. I believe that this was the right decision for the District, the residents and for the teachers! The last few months have been contentious between the two sides, but I think this latest decision represents an encouraging sign.

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  1. It was interesting that the TEEA did respond to the Board’s 3 year proposal by the 8/27 noon “deadline”. The district didn’t accept the response and will counter, but presumably they think the sides are close enough that the Board can now swoop in and seal the deal.

    Here’s hoping that the district is upfront with us about the financial impact.

    Also notable, Dan Waters gave effusive thanks to employees, particularly to TENIG but also to teachers “on their own time”, for getting the schools ready to open. 6,450 students, down 10 from last year. 439.7 teacher FTEs. Mrs Cruickshank leveled the appreciation meter with more thanks to the teachers.

  2. I also endorse this at this time. The stuff up to now had to happen. This is the “good cop” phase…where they need decisions at the table and that requires board input. As I have said earlier–they want laor peace. it’s just a matter of what they pay for it. This most recent offer does not solve any problem but the labor pain (grievances and working without a contract and all that could mean), but in the end, compromise means neither side gets its own way.

  3. Agree with Pattye’s sentiment; it’s very hard to negotiate second or third person.
    As a taxpayer, I’m a little concerned as (I believe) two of these individuals were the same “negotiators” that gave us the current contract (signed 6/18/08). That’s what got us into this situation by granting 30.8% average salary increases over the last four years and a like increase in benefits. Any wonder the TEEA is pleased to see these folks back at the table? Hopefully they let Sultanik do his job. Maybe it helps reach a settlement but what will it cost taxpayers?
    Which brings me to agreement with Ray: hopefully we’ll get the full story on the financial impact of the contract. I haven’t seen a projection that doesn’t show deficits in every future year (at least before tax increases). Will any compromise alleviate the current cycle of maximum tax increases and deficit budgets? Will it really be Sustainable or will it be the impetus for another Board “study” of the EIT??? This is the nucleus of the Board that pushed for the study of the EIT convinced that we have a revenue problem. I imagine the employees would also like to see and EIT; logical as their situation gets better with higher revenue drivers. Too Machiavellian….maybe? Time will tell and we’ll keep watching.
    Maybe it’s best to look at a two-year deal. Most of the agreement and cost savings are contained in this period in all the projections…year three is the fiscal blow-out year. Maybe we give the voters a chance at electing some new Board representatives with this as a key election issue?

  4. Neal,

    There is a world of difference between today and 2008. Simply put, the board members hands are tied. They can only do so much. The money isn’t there anymore.

    1. From your lips to their ears MD. You are correct of course…so why are we all a little anxious? Seems so logical, right? So glad more citizens are starting to engage.

  5. Except that it wasn’t there in 2008 either…and I’m not sure they understood that. The advantage now is that so many people are looking at it, they cannot simply agree…..but make no mistake about it — they were warned in 2008 that it was not sustainable, and they wanted labor peace. So cross your fingers.

    1. Tr – if memory serves, you had at least one kid in school when you were on the board. Not necessarily a bad thing. Who else is willing to make the sacrifice if huge amounts of time and energy, to say nothing of enduring tremendous abuse? (you certainly endured more than your share – to your credit).

      Still, the point is well taken that people with kids may be more willing to spend money to keep the quality of our schools high. If “taxpayers” (and don’t forget people with kids are taxpayers too, but for this argument I am referring to people without kids in the system) feel that their concerns are not adequately represented, then they need to run and win several seats on the board. They have never done so, and you don’t even see that now in these hard times.

      I can see how a balance of demographics and perspectives can be good for the process. But any point of view, if taken too far, can be very counter productive. I recall one older gentleman who was on the board when I was elected in 1999. You will know who I mean. This guy was so cheap that with 5 or more if this kind of guy over the years, our schools would be crap, and so would our community and property values be crap.

      1. Kevin
        I don’t mean they will spend more, just that they are more vulnerable. That was my experience. When Imreas the post that said Phoenixville was going to fact finding after 30 months of negotiating, it was clear that PSEA has not figured this out yet. The Pres of the Phoenixville board is Paul Slaninka, long time Pres of TEEA. If any board was able to work with the likes of Ms. Waldie, one would think Paul would. In fact, it was on Paul’s watch that the TEEA dismissed the PSEA rep from negotiations because it was clear that their mission was state wide, but we wanted to do what was best for TESD. These contracts will not be solved unless some district decides to test Act 1, or until the PSEA figures out a way to look triumphant but save jobs and change the measures traditionally used.
        As to your comment about cheap board moves–you were there when we could only get 5 votes to A/C the high school if we accepted the cheaper and less flexible two pipe option…and everyone was not old….just incredibly short-sighted. It continues to be why I advocate a complete change in the way we do health care…because you cannot take money out of the pot if you still measure it the same way. That old “insanity” phrase comes up. And PSERS is a defined benefit….so it’s hard to manage. We must change health care to a defined contribution. And we need to EDUCATE the work force on what it means and why it is GOOD FOR TESD. Who cares what the PSEA in Harrisburg wants? We will dismantle our district with furloughs and demotions and program cuts and grievances and labor unrest while Harrisburg feathers their own nest. NONE of the PSEA uniserve reps teach anymore….and they WISH they had districts like ours with parental support and motivated kids. Again, if the PSEA’s once Golden Boy Paul S cannot get a deal with his union, then the PSEA is NOT about good schools. We need to keep our focus on what works FOR OUR KIDS and OUR TEACHERS.

  6. While structural changes need to take place, I don’t think everything will happen all at once. I suspect the teacher’s will go to a 80/20 traditional health ins plan while most others have already moved onto other plans that have more risk sharing. The raises will be very small AND we can expect the max increase in RE taxes every year.

  7. just saw this on the district homepage….

    Negotiations Update: Tentative Agreement Reached
    Joint Statement

    At 10:30PM on September 5, 2012, representatives of the T/E Board of School Directors and the Tredyffrin/Easttown Education Association reached a tentative agreement for a successor collective bargaining agreement. The existing collective bargaining agreement expired on June 30, 2012. The details of the tentative agreement will not be publically disseminated until both parties ratify the tentative agreement. The Board will vote on the tentative agreement at its October 22, 2012 regularly scheduled meeting. The negotiating session was five hours in duration and took place in front of state mediator Robert B. Birnbrauer. Karen Cruickshank, Board President, and Deb Ciamacca, Negotiation Chair, both expressed thanks to their respective teams for working through a challenging contract negotiation process in the midst of this unprecedented economic climate.

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