Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Surprise — T/E Reaches Tentative Early Bird 3-year Contract Agreement With Teachers — Didn’t Know Negotiations Were Underway

Who knew? Interesting that the public found out on Friday that our school district has worked out a tentative early bird contract with the teachers union – the current contract with TEEA runs to June 30, 2020. The public was not informed that negotiations were underway, let alone that they are complete and the school board will vote on the tentative three-year contract on Monday night (seven months before the existing contract ends).

Question for the school board, where’s the transparency? In the past, the public was at least notified that the contract negotiation process was underway. So who is representing the public at the negotiating table? Which school board directors? Or … is this another case where all roads lead back to the District’s business manager and he is our chief negotiator?

Just a few short weeks ago, leading up to Election Day, some school board candidates spoke of increasing public communication and transparency. Not sure that telling the public afterwards that you have an early bird teachers contract ready to be signed can be viewed as transparency.

With the school board voting on the tentative TEEA contract tomorrow night there is a small window for the public to review – thanks to Ray Clarke for the following analysis! Much appreciated!

A surprise on Friday evening along with the Agenda for Monday’s School Board meeting – a proposed new three year contract with the TEEA. In essence, base salaries will increase 1.5% every year, teachers below the top step will move up a step every year, and the District and employee contributions to benefits costs will remain the same.

This is a significant improvement for the TEEA over the last contract, which contained base salary increases of 0.5 to 1.0% and an increased employee contribution to healthcare premiums.

The district did not provide the contract or any underlying detail – teachers have to ratify the agreement before taxpayers can see it. However they provided a set of statistics:

– The agreement commits 65% of the Act 1 Index

– Individual annual salary increases range from 3.5% to 3.0% over the 3 years

– The net expense increase is about 1.7% of the total district budget

No surprise, it’s difficult to see how all these can be true, even with herculean assumptions about healthcare cost inflation, PSERS projections, retirements, distribution of teachers on the matrix, etc. Those with time on their hands can try to reconcile them (given that, per 2019/20 budget workshops, TEEA salaries were budgeted at ~$46 million, real estate tax revenue at ~$115 million and total expenditures ~$150 million. The Act 1 Index for 2020/21 is 2.6%.

If the Administration provided any detail or had earned any trust maybe we would not have to wrack our brains to figure this out. I wonder if the Board will ask any questions about a contract for one third of the expense base that seems to consume at least two thirds of an Index tax increase that is already the highest since the 2.9% in 2010/11? How will other expenses be contained to offset this?

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  1. THANK-YOU Pattye and Ray.

    Just another example of the outlandish way taxpayers are treated.

    We have no say in anything.

    Committee meetings and especially Board meetings are dog and pony shows, orchestrated to give the appearance taxpaying citizens have a voice when in reality, we don’t.

    Every decision is made before the issue attached to it is revealed to the public. The outcomes benefit the Teachers/Administrators while taxpayers, parents and kids are treated like second class citizens.

  2. The TE Board’s efforts at transparency fall short. For real transparency look towards Unionville’s last teacher contract passed on April 18, 2018. One full week before the voting meeting a tentative agreement with a costing out worksheet (below) was publicized. The public had plenty of time to assess affordability by examining what assumptions were built into the model covering attrition, horizontal/vertical movement on the salary matrix and healthcare inflation. Three days before the voting meeting the full contract was publicized.

    TE in contrast has no costing out information nor the full contract nor any way to assess affordability and the publication of the summary was done only 3 days before the voting meeting.

    Unless there was some secret communication about costing from the TE administration to the Board it would be impossible for the Board to assess whether the contract was affordable.

    Statements from the administration like, “Estimated revenue commitment of 65% of the Act 1 Index in each year
    of the contract” should strike fear into school directors. Is the remaining 35% of the Act 1 Index sufficient to give raises to the other employees, pay to hire additional teachers to satisfy enrollment increases and pay for new construction?

  3. Why don’t we use T-E’s CAFR to set up a fund to end taxation?
    Every school district produces a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) every year. It lists the money and assets owned by the district. It includes bank accounts, investments and enterprise activities, and is typically 4 to 8 times the amount listed in the budget, which is the document most people are familiar with. In essence the CAFR is a second set of books. There is so much money there that a fund could be set up to end taxation forever.
    It is our money and we should take it back. Actuaries and mathematicians will be very interested in the CAFR. For more information go to
    Great Valley School District CAFR:

  4. Why so early, why so secretive? Is anyone on the negotiating team going to get this increase? Business manager? This passes no smell test.

    1. Yes, I would like to know why the public was not informed that negotiations were underway until AFTER there was a contract between the school district and the teachers union. All that’s left to do is for the school board to vote tomorrow night.

  5. And why such secrecy until after the election? Would the results have been diffrent. Would like to know each director, outgoing & incoming, would vote. This is the same old, same old.

  6. My prediction is that Rev. Dorsey will advise that not every negotiation is publicized, and the parties were able to first talk informally … and from there things accelerated for both parties and a deal was struck.

    I am not a fan of the teacher’s union – I thought the teachers lost credibility by the walkouts/sitins/whatever they called it – as it only hurt the kids. But now is the time to get to work. As I don’t think the new board has taken effect, perhaps they lost out on a better deal.

  7. Supposedly the union wanted this to get done while they still had republicans on the board. Didn’t want to put the decision on the all Democrat board. Seems odd?

  8. Teachers enjoy market-level wages plus retirement benefits vastly exceeding those of private-sector workers. Salary increases, are the wrong solution to a non-problem.

  9. Optics. They can say “republicans voted for it, so it can’t be that bad”. Waiting to negotiate the deal with a full board of democrats would look too obvious. They will go slow. Wait for the next contract negotiation, then they will pull out all of the tricks.

    1. School Board Directors were always nothing more than an extension of the Administration. Now, with 2 teachers and an Administrator on the School Board, the Board is literally the Administration.

      I note the agreement is for 3 years. Board terms are 4 years. The Administration will literally grant themselves big raises, bonuses and whatever else they dream of in 3 short years while taxpayers, students, and parents continue to be bullied, intimidated, laughed at and treated worse than second class citizens and after thoughts…….all because voters don’t like Donald Trump. Wow.

  10. Completely agree. Quietly pass it through now with no “earth shattering” asks and then in 3 years, with the new board in place including 2 teachers and former administrator, pull out all stops, demand more then most of us in this district could ever imagine.

    Voters around here are stuck on stupid, voting on “feelings about that bad scary man” while their local schools and government are being overrun by opportunists. Everything they ever worked for and sacrificed to live in the area/school district will be unrecognizable in a half a dozen years unless there is a course correction. Mark my words.

  11. Update from the School Board meeting:

    – Contract is based on the increases being awarded in neighboring districts, not on T/E’s budget, other expense priorities, desire to limit tax increases, or general ability to pay
    – By negotiating “informally” on the “Early Bird” contract the district avoided any risk that formal negotiations would end up with a fact finder who would, for example, remove the limit on the tuition reimbursement cap
    – The negotiating team was multi-party: Dorsey, Sweeney, Whitlow. The Board was advised by lawyer Jeffery Sultanik, used in prior negotiations
    – The vote was hurriedly scheduled so that the full negotiating team and current Board could vote on it.
    – The Board vote was unanimous. Comments in favor included references to teachers who have departed for higher salaries (not sure where – only Lower Merion is higher?).
    – Of course there was no further detail provided that would allow the public (or the Board?) to reconcile the apparent contradictions in the summary numbers provided in the contract material.
    – Included in the meeting handouts was a copy of the proposed matrix: At the top step, only those with just a Bachelors are below $100,000 per year (per 10 months, of course, plus benefits), at $95,555 in 2020/2021.

    Ed Sweeney made a relevant comment: collective bargaining in this area is complex. That’s certainly true: many political and subjective factors make negotiations far removed from anything resembling market-based.

    This was the last Board meeting for Kate Murphy and Ed Sweeney, and the Board and the audience spoke warmly in appreciation for their service. Their independent and critical thinking will indeed be missed. In one positive indicator at the very end of the meeting, though, Mary Garrett Itin made specific suggestions to improve the budget process, so let’s hope that those and others will be pursued.

    1. Ray,

      Is it a forgone conclusion that employees of the District will receive raises every contract negotiation cycle? It’s a matter of how much they receive not if they will receive raises?

      Why would we be afraid to use a fact finder? It sounds like that was used as a threat to hurry the decision in a way to make the Board feel afraid if they didn’t go along with their demands, “something worse might happen.” What is the role of a fact finder? If fact finders aren’t neutral and would use information against taxpayers, why would the Board call on them to join the process?

      I don’t think it’s complicsted. The Board simply has to stand up to the bullies and say enough. We won’t be strong armed or intimidated anymore.

    2. Two comments:

      1) The board used the excuse, “By negotiating “informally” on the “Early Bird” contract the district avoided any risk that formal negotiations would end up with a fact finder who would, for example, remove the limit on the tuition reimbursement cap”. One has to look at the savings value of the “tuition reimbursement cap” in relationship to what the district gave up in salary increases and foregone savings in healthcare costs. This is a poor excuse. Further, there is no reason to fear the fact finding process. The fact finders report is only a suggestion and is not binding on either party. If the board doesn’t like the fact finding suggestion it can be dismissed.

      2) The board used the excuse of “teachers who have departed for higher salaries”. A minute number of teachers do depart for higher salaries, but they don’t go to other districts (because there is only one in the area with higher salaries). They go into the private sector where school districts cannot and should not compete on salary.

      Overall, this is not a terrible contract, but with a bit more effort the board could have done better.

      1. Thank-you Keith and Ray.

        Ray says:

        ——-Contract is based on the increases being awarded in neighboring districts, not on T/E’s budget, other expense priorities, desire to limit tax increases, or general ability to pay.——-

        If we use Lower Merion as reason to incresse teacher salaries, why not make TE teacher contract length 4 years instead of 3 years?

        It’s because we have 2 teachers and an Administrator on the Board. Terms are 4 years. The 3 year contract length is huge.

        I think it’s s good question.

        Is it a forgone conclusion that teachers/ Administrators automatically get raises at every contract period?

        Parents, ask your school age children if teachers are good. Snap them out of their “yes, it’s fine” trance, by having a real conversation about it. I have done this with students 1 to 10 years out. The answers are pretty much the same. There are a few good ones, but overall they’re not good at all.

        If we’re going to name call kids, bully kids, intimidate them and make them doubt themselves and question their worth, let’s be honest about it on both sides.

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