Pattye Benson

Community Matters

T/E School District and Teachers Sign New 2-Year Contract

After 9 long months, the T/E School Board approved a new 2-year (2012-13 and 2013-14) contract between TESD and T/E Education Association last night. To read the contract summary of the teacher’s contract, click here. If you prefer to read the entire contract, click here.

Ray Clarke attended the Special Meeting of the School Board and the Finance Committee meeting which directly followed. In his review of the teacher’s 2-year contract, I thank Ray for offering the following highlights and his personal commentary on the contract. As expected the teacher’s healthcare benefits and salaries are the primary focus of the changes in the new contract.

  • The basic details are more or less exactly the same as the first 2 years of the District’s 3 year proposal (as Keith Knauss predicted here). Salary freeze, no matrix movement, furlough days equivalent to 1% salary reduction in 2013/14, slightly higher contribution to healthcare premiums and prescription drugs, two new (lower cost?) health plans, capped tuition reimbursement, and one time $2,500 per employee bonus (a “legitimate” fund balance use?) in 2013/14.
  • Net saving vs status quo/budget of $400,000 for the current year (2012/13); 2013/14 cost increases from that by $400,000 plus the $1.1 million one time bonus (but presumably a cost saving vs the status quo model).
  • The rest of the contract structure basically unchanged
  • No demotions in either year of the contract, but specifically on the table for the next contract
  • No resolution of the 6 period CHS grievance (a ruling in favor of the TEEA would require the hiring of 12 additional FTE – say $1.5 million ongoing cost (salary, benefits, PSERS) plus one time payment of I think I recall $3 million?)
  • The President of the TEEA is allowed to speak at TESD Board meetings
  • Family health benefits available to same-sex domestic partners

My general sense is that both sides went about as far as they could go this round. This contract is only for two years, at which point we’ll see how the economy and political landscapes have progressed, and the Board members Rich Brake, Kevin Buraks, Anne Crowley and Betsy Fadem will have had to choose their election platforms, if running in 2013.

Interesting that the standard bonus helps those at the lower end of the scale more than proportionately (my concern, if teaching is to remain attractive for the next generation in an environment of benefits slashed in favor of the currently tenured), and that lead negotiator Deb Ciamacca keeps her higher-end CHS constituency happy by keeping the grievance on the table.

Following the Special Meeting of the School Board, the regular Finance Committee meeting followed. Ray offers the following notes from that meeting:

The Finance Committee reported on the Act 1 index for 2013/14 – 1.7%. Slightly higher than expected – someone in the state bureaucracy (or government?) made a decision to change the calculation method (to include a longer period for averaging state weekly wage increases) that raises the index by 0.2%. Shenanigans?

The Finance Committee spent some time discussing how to establish that parcels currently listed as tax-exempt conform with recent PA Supreme Court rulings that narrow the availability of tax exempt status. More details remain to be gathered on exactly what these rulings are and what entities might be affected. I was pleased to see that while Committee chair Fadem was advocating a 13 part, multi-point data request be sent to all tax exempt property owners (mainly the townships, federal government, schools, churches, right-of-way owners and land trusts), Board members Brake and Motel were at pains to avoid an “undue burden” on both volunteer charities and the district.

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  1. This is an excellent contract for all involved.
    First, realize it was settled without affecting the students – there was no strike nor was there work to contract. There may have been sharp words, hurt feelings and taxpayer concern, but, in general, it was kept away from the kids.
    The board has a contract they can afford within the Act 1 Index. The teachers got job security (no demotions) by sharing the burden with concessions in healthcare and tuition. Salaries are frozen for 2 years with the exception of a one-time, non-recurring $2,500 bonus in the second year. The $2,500 bonus is an excellent compromise. It is obviously a raise (~3%) for the teachers. It’s a one-time expense meaning it can be funded (~$1M) with the fund balance instead of a tax increase. And, it disappears at the end of the contract meaning the teachers will see a $2,500 pay decrease if the subsequent contract is not settled and the district enters status quo. The TEEA now has an added incentive to settle the next contract expeditiously.
    I congratulate the teachers and the board for an excellent contract.
    Ray mentioned that “The Finance Committee reported on the Act 1 index for 2013/14 – 1.7%. Slightly higher than expected – someone in the state bureaucracy (or government?) made a decision to change the calculation method”. Actually, without the change the Index would have been 2.2% (higher than expected) and the change was driven as a byproduct of Act 6 of 2011. This change (a 3 year average of the SAWW) was made to slow the growth of the State’s massive unemployment debt owed to the Federal government.

  2. it means that labels are irrelevant. especially derogatory ones. sounds like, based on review and keiths comments, like a mature compromise..No ha ha moment as would be defined by would be politicians, only if they could be…

  3. You really “called it.” I guess your parents didn’t compliment you enough growing up.

    In my opinion, your credibility is zilch, as you are calling a contract with no salary increase, an increase in health care costs, a reduction in tuition reimbursement, and a 1% across-the-board salary decrease through furlough days as a win for the Union. Nice try, John…

  4. A few points prompted by the commentary above.

    I think that we should not be too quick to judge winners and losers while the 6 period grievance is still outstanding. If that goes in favor of the TEEA, TAXPAYERS WILL BE THE LOSERS – a ~3% increase in total teaching staff and the financial costs I noted above. If the Arbitrator is cut from the same cloth as the Fact Finder, the prognosis is not good. Is the District be prepared, if necessary, to appeal all the way to the PA Supreme Court? This issue is fundamental to the ability to run the district. It will also set the tone for eventual adoption of on line learning – clearly the way of the future.

    Nobody really wanted to touch the same sex partner issue. Possibly we don’t have the extreme social conservative wing of the GOP here in TE…… It was noted that there will be a set of criteria to be met to establish eligibility, and that many other organizations have been down this path already.

    Now of course, if the District starts harassing churches and subsistence volunteer non -profits to make up their revenue shortfalls, there may be a backlash. They need to establish a quick test to determine if the tax exempt list includes any profit-making enterprises.

    The vote was indeed 9-0. I noted some commentary from the Board: Kris Graham mentioned that it takes all of 16 years to reach the top Masters salary of just $95,900 (but she did not mention the value of the pension, healthcare, EDRs and other benefits). Betsy Fadem noted that this was not as big a step as needed, but avoids disruption to the educational program. Rich Brake went to some length to explain that he would have liked to see things like a higher healthcare contribution (corresponding to the private sector) and rationalization of the matrix, but he judged that the outcome was realistic in the light of real compromises from the TEEA. He believes that we could still be in difficult economic times when the contract is up in a year and a half, and paying for rising costs like PSERS and special education in the face of a stagnant property tax base rears its head again.

    Interesting commentary here from Keith about the change in the Index calculation. The mechanism of the change agrees with what we heard last night, but the directional impact is 180 degrees different from that provided. Some clarification from the district and perhaps our representatives in Harrisburg seems to be in order.

    1. Let me clarify the “directional impact” difference. Based on preliminary SAWW monthly data, UCF expected a 1.4% Index. Thus, it is correct to say the actual Index, 1.7%, is higher than expected. Based on what the Index might have been if the calculation had not changed, 2.1%, it would be correct to say that the actual Index, 1.7%, was lower than expected.

      1. Sound like a political debate question where each side can claim their satitstics (higher than anticipated/lower than aniticipated) to be correct.

        Let me ask a question here as I think you are the guy on here to give the answer: Act 1 provides a maximum allowable tax increase guideline for school districts in the Commonwealth: is it meant to mirror general economic growth (GDP)/CPI growth rates/another indicator? Current GDP nationally is projected at 1.3%…CPI may be running a bit higher. I never found an explanation on what Act 1 was trying to “peg”. Hope that makes sense…

        1. Neal,

          The Act 1 index is calculated according to specific provisions of Act 1 – essentially the % increase in the SAWW (Statewide Average Weekly Wage) and the Federal Employment Cost Index for elementary and secondary schools. The CPI is not considered. Nor is GDP inflation, etc. It is slightly more complicated than that for districts with a certain ration of market value to income/aid ration – see material below copief from the PA Department of Education web site:

          Index Calculation Required by the Taxpayer Relief Act
          [42 Pa.B. 5974]
          [Saturday, September 22, 2012]

          Under section 333(l) of the Taxpayer Relief Act (53 P. S. § 6926.333(l)), the Department of Education (Department) has calculated the index for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-2014.

          The index is the average of the percentage increase in the Statewide average weekly wage and the Employment Cost Index. For FY 2013-2014, the base index is 1.7%.

          For school districts with a market value/income aid ratio greater than 0.4000, an adjusted index will be posted on the Department’s web site at by September 30, 2012.

          RONALD J. TOMALIS, Act 1 Index

          The Index
          Special Session Act 1 of 2006

          This page contains information on the Act 1 index, which is used to determine the maximum tax increases for each tax the school district levies (without PDE exception or voter approval).

          The base index is calculated by averaging the percent increases in the Pennsylvania statewide average weekly wage and the Federal employment cost index for elementary/secondary schools.

          Additionally, for school districts with a market value/personal income aid ratio (MV/PI AR) greater than 0.4000, the value of their index is adjusted upward by multiplying the base index by the sum of 0.75 and their MV/PI AR. For example, if the base index is 1.7% and the school district’s MV/PI AR is 0.6000, the school district’s adjusted index is 1.7% x (0.75 + 0.6000) = 2.3%.

          The following documents provide information on the base index and each school district’s adjusted index for school year 2013-14.
          PA Bulletin Notice Regarding 2013-14 Base Index

  5. The school board has a diversity committee and Conestoga HS has a Gay/Bi/Trans-gender type club that they encourage their students to be accepting of all people.

    How could they vote against the same sex partnership with all that in place? Good for all involved who made that possible.

    As far as winners or losers, as far as the contract is concerned, I think this was rather status quo. However on a long term basis, I think these small changes in health care contributions by the employee will have long term positive effect and is a very good start.

    I am also glad to see only a 2 year contract. Although it means they are not far away from having to do this all over again, the fiscal climate of economy could be very different in 2 years.

    I do agree with Ray that the pending grievance will play a major roll in what if any savings could be found.

    1. John
      I cannot speak for the board members sitting now, but I can 100% tell you that the board wanted to do this in the 90s but the solicitor’s office could not identify language that would not have opened Pandora’s box. Marian Schneider was the head of the policy committee in those days and she would have better recall of the nuances of the discussion, but we had teachers who individually were eager for the distinction to be identified — we just did not have the expertise and confidence in drafting a policy that would survive challenges from any direction, so we stayed silent on it. It was NOT about getting 5 votes. I don’t recall any objection to it on moral grounds. We had teachers in same sex relationships who applied for and got FMLA to do adoptions. You are the lawyer — it was a slippery slope, and the Union in my 3 contracts NEVER asked for it.
      It may be tecnically irrelevant to the healthcare options, but it is not irrelevant to the topic of diversity, as it is true that a teacher in the high school departed Conestoga for partner benefits at another high school — the kids knew that and were active in questioniing it.
      History does inform reality occasionally.

  6. In a negotiation, no side does well….and I think that is what we have here. Both sides have shown their hands going forward, and it’s important to watch the economy to see if the next contract will be easy or more difficult.

    What the board wanted is exactly what the board got — no status quo costs and no labor disruption, no “work to the contract” and no raises. And with Sultanik playing the bad guy, now he goes away and people shake hands and pose for pictures. I for one hope that Sultanik’s participation assures us that the bonus money is not compensation and will stay out of the base….

    Chris Graham’s comments are tempered by her own career as a retired teacher. Few working teachers have any appreciation at all for the fact that after 30 years of work, they will have 75% of their final pay as a pension check, along with a full social security check. Too many people from PA have only worked in PA. I have teacher pals all over the country who choke at the retirement options we have here — Mass. does not permit social security benefits, only the state contributes (not the districts), and they don’t accrue at 2.5%…. Starting salaries are much lower, even in other NE states.
    WHen planning for retirement, you are supposed to try to cover 90% of your pre-retirement earnings. Our retiring employees in PA have that in hand and guaranteed for life. You need to be retired to begin to appreciate that. A teacher with an 85,000 pension would need almost $3M in the bank to generate that….and until teachers understand that, it will continue to be an argument that taxpayers will lose.
    As to the grievance — it’s not related to online learning, which was also a grievance they teachers filed and won. “Change in working conditions” comes with an obligation to bargain. Ray — you are right to suggest that if this grievance is not decided in favor of the district, it will likely need to go all the way because it will represent a major failure in management rights — which might have been avoided had they negotiated it. Then again, from 6 to 7 periods, each teacher would likely have demanded a 16% raise for the additional time added to their work day (even though they do not work an additional minute of real time — work day length did not change).

    1. The board moved “much further” than what you believe their position was. Isn’t that the point? If you get what you want, you didn’t “settle”…..and I think you will agree that from the start, while cost controls were important (and not achieved at the level one might have hoped), getting out of status quo (very expensive health care plan) and avoiding work disruptions (“work to the contract” can destroy a high school) was always a very, very high priority. It’s why demotions were such a key bargaining chip — because it was the only true cost cutting measure the board could attempt to use. Unless the union accepted the reality of the rising cost of their pension plan TO THE DISTRICT — the board could not alleviate some of the cost pressures. And when the board came to the table — riding in to save the negotiations — the symbol was reinforced by the “settlement” options. So as MD says — it is left to each individual to determine whether this was a “win-win” or in fact a …kick the can a bit further down the road….and regardless, it will be the same actors at the next showing of this play in 18 months.

  7. “WHen planning for retirement, you are supposed to try to cover 90% of your pre-retirement earnings. Our retiring employees in PA have that in hand and guaranteed for life. You need to be retired to begin to appreciate that. A teacher with an 85,000 pension would need almost $3M in the bank to generate that….and until teachers understand that, it will continue to be an argument that taxpayers will lose”.

    Township – I think they do understand it and do NOT want to give it up. Who in their right minds would? It is a state issue though and I don’t think the board can do much about that.

    1. MD — they absolutely do understand it. What I don’t think the “rank and file” understood was exactly how expensive it is to the taxpayers to maintain that program.
      WITH a salary freeze, the cost of the TEEA president’s pension contribution for the next few years is: (increase from prior year follows each year’s contribution)

      2011-12 $7,473.60
      2012-13 $10,679.04 $3,205.44
      2013-14 $14,472.00 $3,792.96
      2014-15 $18,360.00 $3,888.00
      2015-16 $22,083.84 $3,723.84

      It is THOSE numbers that the rank and file had little understand of. WHen they learned it, they perhaps had a better grasp of the problem.

  8. Thanks again for the active discussion. Couple of comments: I asked about the potential financial impact of providing coverage for same-sex domestic partners at the meeting. The Board’s response was that they could not estimate it. I don’t think anyone/the community is “against” the concept of same-sex partners…the issue here is the addition of some number of individuals onto our medical coverage rolls. Like the bargaining unit employees, the District will be covering 89-90% of this new group’s medical coverage and we don’t know the financial impact to the taxpayer. We also don’t know the definition of this class of coveree’s (not sure that’s a real word..). As the Commonwealth does not define this status, The District will have to define what is acceptable/allowed in this category. Can someone have more than 1 domestic partner; will children of the domestic partner also be covered, how is the dissolution of a domestic partner union defined, etc? We’ll have to see what this will cost in the 2013-14 contract year.

    The second issue that Ray correctly identifies as a financial risk is the on-going bargaining unit grievances. Remember that the Board has booked a contingency of $5,150,000 for these items…that would be the maximum exposure to the District. The Board has stated many their confidence that they will prevail in these two matters…not sure if the bargaining unit has made a statement on their assessment of the situation. I’m nearly certain it was a negotiating point that did not make it into the final contract..but I stand corrected if I’m wrong here.

    It’s a negotiated settlement, neither side gets all they asked for….each individual can judge the fairness for themselves…

  9. Neal
    Well said. Again, the concern that the board moved much further is purely supposition. Both sides have polarizing offers so that any movement seems generous.
    As to domestic partnerships — it is more than time for that to be in the contract, regardless of where the budget stands. It was approached in the 90s and the law was too flimsy — and the Union didn’t push for it. But the district did lose at least one high profile teacher to another district because of partner benefits there. When we interview people, we do not inquire on their marital status, and we cannot control marriages and divorces, so the notion of partner benefits is no different. It’s exactly why the state and the US need to come to some conclusion about a legal recognition — so that there is no “grey” area about who is eligible. No conventional marriage is threatened by a same-sex union, but the reality is that without legal recognition, each entity needs to develop a policy on what constitutes a “partner” — not something schools should be in the business of doing (or anyone else for that matter).

    1. TR,

      You are absolutely right that allowing domestic partner benefits is the right thing to do and is long overdue. I do recall the discussion when I was on the board (but not in detail) and I am sorry that we did not get that accomplished back then.

      I could not agree more that same-sex unions do not threaten “traditional” marriages. What does threaten families? What threatens the ability of a couple of any kind to raise children? I’ll answer that:

      1) Lack of good quality public schools
      2) Lack of affordable heath care
      3) Lack of a strong economy where parents can make enough to support a family
      4) Lack of affordable student loans

      I have zero tolerance for “family values” politicians who are obsessed with what consenting adults do in their personal lives and virtually ignore the real issues that support families.

      1. I understand and appreciate your point of view. For me it’s all about economic impact on the taxpayer and not the underlying potential debate on tradition. Still have a hard time swallowing increased spending in the current budget that exceeds any measure of inflation or enrollment increase.
        Bargaining unit member benefits are extremely generous with only a 10%-11% employee contribution. The national average of employee contribution to their employer sponsored medical benefits is 29%. Given the choice, a potential plan participant would always switch plans to the least costly (for the insured). Just don’t know what the impact is/will be and we can’t estimate it today…uncertainties always seem to break towards costing more than anticipated. BUT…I’m hedging my bets…the girlfriend is a teacher…I may be covered one day!!! :-)
        Kevin, Thanks for the very complete answer on Act 1!!

      2. Hi Kevin, I guess I’ll be first to give a boo & jeer :) I value what you say tremendously, so I’ll be respectful.

        #4 – affordable student loans. Couldn’t disagree with you more on this. 18 years olds do not have ANY clue about the realities of student loans – from an amortization schedule to the fact they aren’t bankruptable in Chapter 7 (or if is a disability discharge, then its taxable income). My wife and I make around $92K AGI and we put two kids through college without any help. They do fine, and I can assure you that college loans are not necessary. This was done in three parts – they chose schools they could afford (including scholarships), a little help from us, and the understanding they were going to have to work 20+ hours a week to get through. No debt, no Sallie Mae, nothing. It is VERY Possible, trust me on this! Name-brand schools are not necessary. You can go to WCU or Temple, or trade school, commute (i.e. no partying), and be fine. I’ll keep politics here to a minimum, but I think that it’s beyond absurd that we think that current politicians are doing us a favor by keeping the student loans rate low (for new loans only) while the actual COST of school is skyrocketing.

        Education is important, but one has to be smart about it. Getting $100K in debt to make $50 is not smart. I know of too many of my peers who have children in that very situation. I don’t think student loans are very smart, and the concept of “student loan forgiveness” being on the political radar nationally is beyond insulting and absurd to those of us who lived beneath our means our whole lives to give to a future generation.

        But, I’ll end with something you might agree with more: I do appreciate the independent-thinking years you put on the school board. You never apologized for many of your platform issues (like classroom size) and provided to be a great asset to the community. You continue this thought process on this board, and it shows how much you do care about T/E and the community at large. This is a very good thing, and another reason T/E will always remain an outstanding place to live. So sorry for me being the first boo & jeer, but I guess I’m as passionate about keeping my kids out of debt as you were for class size :)

        1. Thanks very much for the compliment. You make some very good points, and I never have had a problem with differing views so long as people are respectful and argue the facts. You also are an example of what makes this community so great.

      3. You are probably right, John. Political parties tend today to be controlled by their most extreme elements, to the great detriment of us all, in my opinion. Was it ts Elliot who said in one of his poems “the center cannot hold?” we are losing the center, the capacity for factual and rational debate, the ability to disagree respectfully and compromise, and if the American people don’t renew and reestablish the center, we will ultimately collapse. Principled conservatism or liberalism is great, so long as partisans respect each other and above all, respect facts (instead of inventing them). Without this respect, the ultimate logic of power is violence.

      4. It was not Eliott – it was “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats:

        The Second Coming
        Turning and turning in the widening gyre
        The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
        Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
        Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
        The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
        The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
        The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity.

        Surely some revelation is at hand;
        Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
        The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
        When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
        Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
        A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
        A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
        Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
        Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
        The darkness drops again; but now I know
        That twenty centuries of stony sleep
        Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
        And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
        Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

      5. kevin.. affordable loans? how about the COST of a college education. Talk about a scam. with the colleges swiping more money than they should into their coffers? THink this isnt a problem? And the loan issue is directly tied to these costs.. since the gov’t (dare I say obama administration, ) took over loans, the loans go from bank to school with the student responsible. So how to slow this all down? CAP the loan amount per student per year.. Schools will have to LOWER their costs.. use some endowments, give less football scholarships to savants, and reign in this new bubble.. With the ills of obamas policies to continue for years, there is little chance these loans will be repaid.

        1. Of course the high cost of higher education is a huge problem. Perhaps I should have framed the issue more broadly, something like “affordable higher education.” certainly better loans are part of the solution to the problem, and I stand by that. The terms available to students right now are pretty egregious – with the economy so slow and interest rates so low, there is no excuse for it.

      6. As usual Kevin, your facts and rational thoughts are appreciated here, as are Ray’s, Neal’s, Keith’s, and many others.

        Sadly, the “Four Horsemen of the Tredyffrin Apocolypse” use every issue raised on CM, either School District or Township, to nitpick, speculate in the absence of facts, second guess, and/or personally attack our government officials, elected leaders, political parties, etc. Seems the only ones they praise are dead – or in their mirror.

        I’ll let you figure out who the “Four Horsemen” are…

      7. A spectacular moment for CM! Not just a quote but a whole mind-blowing Yeats poem.

        Possibly nearly a century ago the mystical Yeats had a different “best” and “worst” in mind, but the thought is certainly appropriate now and the language and images are awesome. I hope everyone takes a few minutes to let this sink in. Thanks Kevin!

        On student loans, I think that it’s the availability and not the rate that is the problem. In case anyone hadn’t noticed, interest rates in general are minuscule by historical standards. And of course taking banks’ cut out of the process helps. (I would take the insurance companies cut out of basic healthcare but there might be a little push back on that …..). The standards for making sure that the right students get loans for the right courses need to be tightened, and I do believe that the current administration has taken steps in that direction.

  10. Here is some data to determine “which side moved the most”. These are my cost increase estimates of each offer and the final contract.
    TEEA initial offer 3.9% per year
    Board initial offer -2.7% per year
    Status quo 1.7% per year
    Fact Finder 1.5% per year
    Final Contract 1.1% per year
    Looks like both sides met in the middle.

    1. John,

      I don’t think the board wanted to get to no coverage – that’s not reasonable and I don’t think anyone (board or teachers) really thought that was likely to happen. It is negotiation – it is sending a message. They started where they need to in order to get to a place they could live with. Ever watch “Pawn Stars?” The seller wants $10,000, RIck offers $2000. Initially, the seller probably knows he isn’t going to get $10,000, and Rick knows he will never buy it for $2000. But that’s the dance the parties have to do to get to the middle. Does not mean the board caved more than the union.

      1. Thanks Kevin. It’s not like the board needs to apologize….and the board did not cave. If you have never done this dance, you cannot truly assess it. In fact, Sultanik did precisely what he was hired to do. And here’s the good news — the bad will went with him. The TEEA Pres is now allowed to speak at board meetings, and the good relationships between staff and board return to some kind of normal. Did anyone get what they wanted? Nope. But what this district wanted MOST OF ALL was to avoid status quo and to avoid work stoppages/disruptions. No one ever wanted to demote either. That was just the ONLY tool the legislature left the board to work with.

        Trying to assess who won and lost is about as useful as deciding who won and lost each Presidential debate. In the end, it’s the issues, not the debate. With this contract, it’s all going to come out in the budget. If the teachers didn’t go far enough, they will see programs reduced and altered. If the board didn’t get enough, they will not be able to run from it, and will have to do this contract again in 18 months time. With a 1.7% index, this contract is better than status quo, and how much better remains to be seen.

  11. The association did indeed bring the issue of domestic partnership benefits to the table in the past, but it was bargained away quickly as a chip that some felt did not affect too many (or not enough) people. I am glad it made it into this contract, and encouraged that so many people in the association and board (and on this blog) recognized the clear inequality of not providing benefits to same-sex couples.

    TR’s response that marriages among opposite-sexed couples cannot be predicted for insurance purposes, nor can the birth/adoption of children is right on target., The number of new people covered under same-sex domestic partnerships should not really affect the costs (unless you think we have a disproportianately high number of teachers in same-sex relationships who would seek benefits for their partners. Many partners of teachers have jobs with benefits and would not seek the district’s benefits). One thing not mentioned in the above discussions is that currently the value of health benefits provided to the domestic partners is taxed as federal income for same-sex partners (unlike for straight couples), because of DOMA.

    An easy way for the district to specify who qualifies as a domestic partner is to simply recognize civil unions or marriages performed in other states in the US (like NY, MA, NJ, DE, IA, VT), or those performed in D.C. The board could also choose to recognize legal marriages or civil unions between any two adults performed abroad (Canada, UK, Mexico, etc…) This puts same and opposite sex couples on the same footing (thus reducing legal challenges), and would prevent co-habitating partners of both genders from applying for benefits without a legal commitment.

    PA does allow same-sex (and opposite-sex) partners to adopt the children of their partners, so children of partners would be covered in these cases only if the couple went through the legal process to do second-parent adoption. In these cases, both parents are the legal parents, and coverage should be extended to their children.

    One thing that did not make it into this contract is the equal extension of bereavement days for relatives of domestic partners. Currently a teacher cannot take a paid bereavement day if their domestic partner’s parent/sibling died, though a bereavement day is allowed for an in-law for married opposite sexed couples. We’ve moved forward, but equality still hasn’t been reached. Maybe in two years…

    1. I think the terms of what days are paid should be over …specific number of personal days paid and unpaid…and use it as you choose — but no way there should be all kinds of requirements as to who you grieve….many, many variants to the relatives in today’s changing society. Children and step-children and half-children and then the next generation of those people….it’s no one’s business, and grief is personal. But employers don’t need to underwrite time off to grieve.

  12. .” And of course taking banks’ cut out of the process helps. ”

    Ray — I keep hearing that is how it is supposed to work nowadays, but I have had a parent federal loan and for the first time, just this year, the government no longer gets the payments — there is now a 3rd party, a bank, and the rate went up to 7.9%. Previously it was known as “Direct Loan” and was on the government’s website. Sallie Mae was always 3rd party. Bikini Boy is right that debt for college is a hard pill to swallow, but my view for my kids was always to “keep it affordable” — which means we can make the payments. We had saved what we thought would cover at least one of the kid’s tuition, but it barely covered 2 years…but they all have good paying jobs, so my parent job is almost done….and they can and will take on the balance when we ask them to.

    Carla — did your Four Horsemen comment add anything here? Just wondering what your Candy Crowley moment was meant to offer?

  13. Geeze…you guys are wandering though some interesting topics…

    Student Loans-against gov’t take-over of the program. Moved it from a credit culture (banks and lending institutions) to an entitlement culture. Default rate is nearing 10% (lots of reasons for that including lack of jobs) for “recent” loans and the gov’t take-over is less than 3 years old. It’s the newest debt bomb as student debt, it total, is surpassing credit card debt for US households. Not comfortable with the Fed’l Gov’t monopolizing that market…they have not proven themselves to be a good lender…or borrower for that matter.

    Teachers contract-we killed that one…no more comment.

    TESD–let’s keep on this one. Still haven’t changed enough of the cost drivers to stop the cycle of max tax increases allowed by law and deficit budgets. Still running 3-5% spending increases in a District with no significant enrollment growth in the last 3 years. Fund Balance Reserve was $31 MM last year with $15. 3MM in reserve to off-set future PSERS increases…today, Fund Balance is just over $15 MM with a little more than $3 MM in the PSERS off-set account. $93 MM in taxes being levied on our community and growing…citizen vigilance required. Thanks for being here…sure enjoy the discussion!! I’ll catch up with the Horsemen reference eventually.

    Don Quixote (with a pet daschund) out…
    Windmill still stands…

  14. How is it that with all the posturing by the board during negotiations, it now comes out that the fund balance increased by close to $4 million? Please reference page 97 of the finance committe agenda for this week. Aren’t these our tax dollars??

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