Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Pennsylvania State Education Association

Sen. Dinniman Speaks out re State Teacher Union, Pennsylvania State Education Assocation (PSEA). . . Where’s the Cooperation . . . Is this an Indicator of the Future?

I think that we all agree that there is a looming pension funding problem in the Commonwealth. Knowing this, I read with interest of the Harrisburg meeting yesterday calling to attention ongoing issues between the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the State Education Committee. Sen. Dinniman is the minority chair of the Education Committee and is obviously frustrated and spoke out regarding the lack of cooperation on part of the teacher union. (Article on this subject appears in today’s PA Independent, see below).

For those that are interested, here is the link for the TESD teacher’s collective bargaining agreement, 2008-2012. I am not sure exactly when contract negotiations begin for the next contract but in review of the contract, I found the following which may indicate that discussions on the next contract would start in 2011. Is this correct? Tomorrow is the scheduled date for Methacton School District teacher’s strike . . . however, in an effort to ward off the strike there is a negotiation session scheduled for 8 PM tonight between the Methacton School District and teacher union representatives. I’m guessing that the Tredyffrin-Easttown teacher local president Peter DePiano will be closely watching Methacton.

MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING ON SALARY SCHEDULES
Understanding that the demographics of the District will impact the matrix, the parties agree to a joint labor-management committee which will convene in the 4th year of the agreement to discuss possible strategies to keep increment costs down.

With our own school district beginning to have serious discussions about funding next year’s school budget, the article is timely. We know that the funding deficit in the school district for 2011-12 may be as high as $8.5 million, based on this week’s Finance Committee meeting. Understanding ways to handle the school district deficit . . . increasing property taxes, cutting school district programs and staff or imposing an Earned Income Tax (EIT); the upcoming School District meeting on Monday is important. The School Board has arranged a public EIT presentation by the Pennsylvania Economy League at Conestoga HS auditorium, 7:30 – 9 PM, Monday, October 18.

Education reform debate foreshadowed in Pa. legislative meeting
October 14, 2010
By Eric Boehm PA Independent

HARRISBURG, Pa. — If Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Education Committee is any indication, education reform could be an explosive issue in Harrisburg next year.

During a day-long hearing on the potential expansion of school choice options in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester), told representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) that reforms would only be possible with cooperation from the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Apparently, such cooperation has been difficult to come by. “We can’t engage in a dialogue with you guys,” said Dinniman, minority chairman of the committee. “Either we talk or we don’t talk. Because if we all pass in the night saying we care about kids, and we never come together to talk, then the kids of this commonwealth are going to suffer.”

Dinniman told PSEA Treasurer Jerry Oleksiak committee members were very frustrated at being stonewalled by the union for several months. He said repeated attempts to set up a meeting with union leaders have been cancelled or ignored, and lobbyists hired by PSEA have publically “made nasty comments” about himself and Senate Education Committee Chair Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin), another supporter of school choice programs.

The PSEA opposes expanding school choice initiatives, including vouchers and charter schools, because the organization claims they put traditional public schools at a disadvantage for funding.

“We know what works,” said Oleksiak, who pointed to several successful public school districts in the state. “We need targeted, direct resources into what we know works. Long-term, bi-partisan commitment, put the ideology aside. We need to address public education as a key civil right for the students in our Commonwealth.”

Dinniman said it took him nine months to get a list of educational priorities from PSEA when he was working to craft legislation, which he said made him wonder if PSEA’s commitment to students was “only window dressing.”

Wednesday’s hearing was meant as a preview for what is likely to be a major policy issue next year. Both major gubernatorial candidates have signaled their intent to pursue school choice initiatives if elected. Piccola said the cost of public education has become too much for the state’s taxpayers to bear. On average, Pennsylvania taxpayers spend more than $13,000 per student in the state’s public schools, and funding has increased by 40 percent over the last eight years. Despite the increase in spending, Piccola said student achievement has been flat statewide.

“We have to figure out how to spend the money we do have more efficiently. And it is quite clear to me, and I think it is quite clear to Sen. Williams and Sen. Dinniman, that the systems we have created called public schools are not performing,” said Piccola.

Piccola, Dinniman and state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) plan to introduce legislation in January to expand the number of charter schools in the state and create a voucher program to give more families access to alternative public schools.

Both major gubernatorial candidates in Pennsylvania have promised to make school choice a priority of their administrations.

Important Decisions Await TESD School Board . . . Finance Committee Meeting Date Changed . . . EIT vs PIT . . .Teacher Contracts . . . Many issues, where does this leave the taxpayers?

Community Matters has been focused on Mt. Pleasant and sidewalks lately, but I think it is probably time to re-focus attention on TESD and the 2010-11 budget. The Finance Committee Meeting has been changed from April 12 to April 19, 7:30 PM at Conestoga HS, please note the change. Click here for the District’s update on the March 22 School Board Meeting.

At the District Budget Meeting held earlier this month, there was EIT vs. PIT (Earned Income Tax vs. Personal Income Tax) discussion. School Board member Debbie Bookstaber asked whether a PIT could be considered under Act 511 – a personal income tax that taxes all income, earned and unearned with social security and pension income exempt. Debbie was a member of the Tax Study Commission and sees the PIT as a fairer tax if an income-based tax were adopted. It was agreed there would be follow-up information provided at the April 19 Finance Committee Meeting. I wonder if the District solicitor has weighed in on the discussion. Here are some questions that might generate discussion:

  • Can the school district impose a PIT on the residents?
  • Does Act 511 permit the District imposing PIT?
  • Would imposing PIT require voter referendum?
  • Would the imposition of PIT reduce property taxes?
  • Is a voter referendum required for EIT?
  • If there was an EIT, how would the split of revenue work between Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships?
  • Does an EIT reduce the property tax bill?
  • Would both townships be required to have an EIT in place to receive the revenue? Or, would the townships receive their portion of the school district’s EIT revenue?
  • Would there be a difference to the teacher unions in regards to an EIT or PIT?

Remember, the TESD 2010-11 budget has a substantial deficit — salaries and escalating pensions and health care benefits are driving the expenses upwards. The District has some hard decisions to make about these current and future District benefits. I recently received an email from Malvern resident Ray Clarke, which offers interesting information:

” . . In many NJ school districts the unions have accepted salary freezes and contributions to health benefits costs. The Governor has piled on, calling on unions in all districts to do so. At the state level the NJEA is resisting the call, framing Christie as “the rich man’s governor” because he is not imposing a surtax on incomes over $400,000. Locally, though, 64% of districts are talking to their teachers about re-opening contracts, while nearly all the rest are at the end of contracts and negotiating new ones. . . “

  • Where does our School Board stand on the issue of the teacher’s contract?
  • Should the TEEA (Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association) teachers union be asked to help with the budget resolution?
  • Has the TEEA made formal suggestions to the School Board on ways to help reduce teacher-related expenses?
  • What about the state, . . . does the Governor have an obligation to the school districts and their residents?

Governor Rendell's Proposed Budget Includes $354 Million in Increased School Funding

Governor Ed Rendell released his 2010-11 budget proposal yesterday. His budget proposes over $11 billion of taxpayer funding for educational services, which includes an increase of $354 million for school funding. Several reasons were cited for the funding increase including advances in achievement scores. In Governor Rendell’s proposed budget, education support services would receive $31.8 million in funding; basic education spending would receive $9.5 billion, for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade; and $1.8 billion for higher education with nearly $424 million of that allotted for financial assistance for students. State-aided private schools – including Drexel University and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia – would lose all their funding under the proposal. The exception is the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak offered that Pennsylvania was leading the nation in achievement improvements. Mr. Zaharchak emphasized a focus on increasing enrollment at a pre-kindergarten level. He feels that that there is an adequacy gap between where students should be performing and where they are currently performing which needs to be corrected. Mr. Zaharchak is suggesting that the gap would need to be filled by taxpayer funded state-subsidies. Accordingly, more than 300 Pennsylvania school districts would require more than $2,000 of taxpayer funding per student from the state to close this gap.

The pressures faced by school districts will result in local property tax hikes unless the state continues its commitment to close the adequacy gap, the Governor said. “On average, it would take a 40-percent increase in local property taxes to generate the same investment as the state will contribute over the course of our multi-year funding formula,” the Governor said. “When the state pays its fair share, school districts can keep property tax increases to a bare minimum.”

Here is Pennsylvania Department of Education 2010-11 Budget if you would like to read the details.

In case you are interested, here is Governor Rendell’s Executive Budget 2010-11 if you would like to see the entire proposed budget.

Will Governor Rendell’s proposed state budget have an impact on TESD’s 2010-11 budget? Comments Anyone?

Should TESD Follow Downingtown School Board 's Lead and Urge Teacher Pension Reform?

One of our neighbors, the Downingtown School Board recently approved a resolution that calls for the state to change Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). Driving their decision is the predicted dramatic increase in PSERS contribution from school districts. Looking ahead to the upcoming years, the teacher’s pension increase will greatly affect the school district’s budget and then the taxpayers.

According to one of the Downingtown School Board members, their PSERS contribution is going from a little over 4% to about 31% in 2012! School Board member Robert Yorcyk, who introduced the resolution to the other board members explained, “Considering that salary and benefits make up about 70 percent of the budget, the increase to 31 percent would represent about 15 percent of the budget or half of what we have left to support education.” The Downingtown School District pays about $4 million in teacher pension contributions – that number will rise to $7 million in 2011 and by 2014-15 retirement contributions are expected to hit $36 million! The school district estimates that in just 5 years, PSERS contributions will increase nine-fold.

If I understand the PSERS plan correctly, employees and employers alike contribute and that money is then invested, . . . the pension payout is guaranteed (regardless of the market economics). The real problem is that due to the volatility of the market, school districts are being forced to pay larger pension contributions because the pension investments have not kept pace with what is guaranteed in the payouts of the pensions.

The state House of Representatives is reviewing changes in the PSER bill. The new plan would actually put a cap on the school district contributions. If the pension payout required additional funds, the bill would require the state to be responsible for the difference. The Downingtown School Board signed their recent resolution to urge the state to lessen the burden on taxpayers and the school district (understanding that the teacher benefits will remain the same).

Should the Tredyffrin Easttown School District take a similar stand? Should our school board members be encouraged to follow Downingtown’s lead?

Is the Teachers Union Aiding in the Fact vs. Fiction Component of the TESD Budget Crisis

Reading comments from teachers, school board members and taxpayers, it would seem that the teachers union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is adding to the element of confusion and misunderstanding. I am struggling to figure out if the misinformation is ‘by design’ from the PSEA to confuse the teachers (and therefore confuse the taxpayers). It is well understood that this school district like so many in this country is facing a financial crisis. It would appear that this is the time for all of us to work together instead of against each other. As a good first step, I would propose that the information disseminated be supported. Unfortunately when situations reach a crisis level within an organization (whether it is the school district, local government, corporations, etc) rumor mills explode and before you know it, things are out of control.

I certainly do not claim to be an expert on the school district or its budget by any stretch. Our daughter was not in the public school system so I admit to not being as involved as I should have been as a taxpayer. So I am coming at this subject at a distinct disadvantage with minimal background of experience. However, I am beginning to think that the teachers union is coloring the picture to its membership slightly different from reality. Or am I just reading the situation wrong? What is your opinion of the teacher unions . . . are they helping the case for the teachers or are they a contributing factor to the current budget crisis (and unrest) in the community? Is it unthinkable that teachers unions may re-open their teacher contracts for additional negotiations in light of the economic crisis? Or is that simply pie in the sky thinking?

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