Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Unionville-Chadds Ford School District

Kudos to Unionville-Chadds Ford School District . . . For Openness & Transparency on Teacher Contract Negotiations

I have previously written about Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) and the ongoing contract negotiations between their school board and the teachers’ union, Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association (UCFEA). Although there has not been a definite agreement, both sides continue to meet and discuss.

A wide economic gap exists between what the UCFSD School Board is willing to offer and what the teachers union is willing to accept. The last round of discussion centered on an independent Fact-Finders Report from early February, which the UCFSD voted to accept, and the union rejected. The union’s rejection of the report ultimately derailed the proposed settlement and the three-year contract remained ‘up in the air’. The school district has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees and administrators time in the contract negotiation process.

However, post-Fact Finders Report, Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget cuts to public education has now forced UCFSD to reconsider and take their original offer “off the table” and replace it with a more affordable contract. However, since UCFEA had already rejected the Fact-Finders Report and UCFSD’s offer, it would seem highly unlikely that the teachers will accept the reduced contract offer from the district.

In my opinion, UCFSD School Board receives high marks on their openness and transparency in their contract negotiations with the teachers union and their willingness to share the process with the taxpayers. The UCFSD School Board has provided an updated contract negotiation statement, which presents an easy-to-understand 5-page document that includes a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section. An interesting fact – the entry-level salary for a teacher in UCFSD is $47,743; average teacher’s salary is $75,798 and maximum teacher’s salary is $101,427. Approximately 70 of the 330 teachers earn the maximum salary. If you add in the compensation package, the average teacher’s salary jumps to $97,092 and the highest paid teacher’s salary rises to $125K a year.

The UCFSD School Board believes that they have to protect the taxpayer’s money and object to the union’s contract requests for the following reasons:

1) The request is out-of-line due to the economic conditions – the teachers union is requesting a compensation increase of 4% -7%.

2) The requested contract is not economically sustainable due to Act 1 restrictions.

3) The district does not believe that they have to increase the contract to the level requested to attract excellent teachers.

The school board has determined that they cannot ignore these three objections because taxes will not sufficiently cover the contract. They do not think that given the economic climate, a special voter referendum would pass with voter support.

Interesting, that the UCFSD update includes TESD in their budget and teacher union contract discussion:

“One only need look a few miles north to Tredyffrin / Easttown School District (TESD) to see what happens when an economically unsustainable teacher contract is signed. The preliminary budget submitted by TESD reflects a 4.2% tax increase, which is the maximum they are allowed by law, and will result in drastic educational program cuts and still leave a budget shortfall of more that $8 million. The UCFSD School Board will not put our district in that predicament with an unaffordable contract.”

The current offer from UCFSD to the UCFEA for a three-year contract includes a salary freeze for Year 1, 1% increase, full step movement mid-year for Year 2 plus a 10% employee contribution for health care, 1% increase, full step movement mid-year for Year 3 plus a 15% employee contribution for health care. The gap between USCFSD and USFEA is obvious.

What impresses me about the USFSD School Board is their willingness to keep the community involved in the contract negotiation process. Because taxpayers are updated on the contract negotiations, there appears to be greater public dialogue during the process. I know in the past, contract negotiations have always occurred behind closed doors; I am hopeful that TESD School Board will similarly keep our community informed as the calendar moves ever closer to contract negotiation season.

Looking at Local School Districts, Does the Buck Stop with Taxpayers?

As Tredyffrin-Easttown School District works through the 2011-12 budget, it is interesting to watch how other school districts are handling their budget shortfalls, particularly in light of the public education cuts in Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget.

This week the Radnor School District and the Radnor Township Education Association reached a tentative agreement for a new teacher contract. The collective bargaining negotiations between the school district and the teacher union have been going on for over a year. Details of the contract will not be released until after the teachers union presents the contract to its members for ratification early next week. As our school district neighbor, I wonder if their contract will have any influence on TESD teacher contract discussions.

Another neighbor to TESD, the Phoenixville Area School District (PASD) has major budget issues. As the dust settles from the cuts contained in Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget, a tax hike of 8.75% is needed to close the gap – twice as much as the district had anticipated. Previously, the school district budget included a 4.43% tax increase but with the loss of state funding, they will require an additional 4.32% . . . a tax hike of 8.75%!

At the Pottstown School District meeting this week, their school board took a stand with three interesting votes:

  1. The school board rejected the idea of “forward borrowing” of $23 million without voter approval. (The district has authorization for $28 million for work on the district’s elementary schools and the vote would have increased that borrowing amount by $23 million).
  2. The school board approved the extension of a contract for mid-level administrators and principals that freeze their salary for one-year. (Cost savings: $30K)
  3. The school board accepted an offer by the district’s three top administrators to freeze their salaries for one-year. (Cost savings: $15K)

Prior to the vote, the school district was considering a 4-year contract for administrators and principals to include a minimum 1.5% salary increase plus potential merit pay increases. According to the district superintendent, following the announced funding loss from the state was announced, these employees volunteered to take pay freezes for one-year. Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget will provide $3.1 million less state funding to the Pottstown School District.

For comparison sake, I checked on the salaries of administrators in the Pottstown School District. The top 10 highest paid administrators in the Pottstown School District earn in the range of $102K – $119K per year; their superintendent has a base salary of $152K.

The Pottstown school board hopes that the administration’s one-year pay freeze sends a message to the teacher union, Pottstown Federation of Teachers. According to Pottstown Mercury, , Pottstown School District president thanked the administrators for the one-year salary freeze, “I want to thank you for pulling your belts a little tighter for us, I hope some of the other school districts around here see what you’re doing for us, how you lead by example.” There is an unresolved contract between the district and the teachers union. The teachers are currently without contract and last month rejected the independent fact-finders report that the school board accepted unanimously. Sound familiar . . . Unionville-Chadds Ford School District currently have a similar situation with their teachers union.

I guess TESD can take solace in knowing that we are not alone. With school districts facing looming deficits in their budgets and increasing expenses, Corbett’s proposed budget does not offer much hope for help from the state.

Corbett’s campaign promises included no tax increase but it seems to me that he has just pushed that job down to the local school districts. School districts are expected to balance their school budgets, but how? Not much in the way of choices . . . school boards are forced to make education cuts or they raise taxes. Does no responsibility lie in the shoulders of our elected officials in Harrisburg? How can they expect citizens to pay more in property taxes than they can afford?

Or . . . does the buck just stop with the taxpayers?

Looking at Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, is the ‘Handwriting on the Wall’ for T/E?

A Community Matters reader suggested it would be interesting to compare the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (UCF) with Tredyffrin-Easttown School District (TESD).

TESD has approximately 6300 students and the UCF school district approximately 4100 students. The 2011-12 TESD budget is $112M with approximately $17.7K per student spending. The proposed tax increase is 4.2% with expenditures exceeding revenues by approximately $8.9M. The budget gap is narrowed with the Act 1 tax increase and the Act 1 exception to $5.3M. Using suggested Level 1 budget strategies, the deficit is further reduced by $1M and the imbalance drops to $4.3M.

The proposed 2011-12 UCF budget is $71.4M with approximately $17K per student spending. The UCF school district intends to hold their tax increase at or below the Act 1 limit of 1.4%. Of the $71.4M, almost 72% of the budget goes to personnel costs (salaries and benefits).

Students from the UCF and TESD school districts enjoy similar academic performance; both top performing school districts. On Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) performance, both school districts score in the top 1% statewide. Tredyffrin-Easttown School District ranks #2 for SAT scores and Unionville-Chadds Ford School District is ranked at #5 on the SAT.

The PSSA is an assessment-testing tool given to every Pennsylvania student in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 in reading and math. Every Pennsylvania student in grades 5, 8 and 11 is assessed in writing and all students in grades 4, 8 and 11 are assessed in science. Checking the 11th grade statewide assessment, finds that TESD is #2 and UCF #3.

The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District teacher’s contract expired June 30, 2010; talks between the school board and the teachers union, Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association have continued. In late December, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board appointed attorney Mariann E. Schick to help resolve the bargaining impasse through a Fact-Finder report. (This is a formal process where a neutral arbitrator is appointed to review the respective bargaining positions of both parties and recommend provisions for a possible settlement. The process is non-binding and either side can accept or reject the final report.)

The results of the fact-finding report on the UCF district were released last week. The UCF School Board voted unanimously to accept the findings of the report whereas the teachers union rejected the report. There were two major suggestions contained in the report. There is a provision for each member of the union to receive a one-time, nonrecurring payment in lieu of a raise in year one and an increase in the final two years of the contract and secondly, the suggestion that all union members move to a new, cost-saving healthcare plan, Keystone Direct, in the second year of the contract.

The UCF school board argues that its proposals look to maintain quality health care at a reduced rate and compensation for its teachers. They suggest that the economic times are hard and that the teacher union has benefited greatly when times were good but they must now share in the sacrifice as the others. However, the teacher union rejected the independent report and recommendations.

What’s that saying about the ‘handwriting on the wall’? In the UCF school district, the school board and the union have been working for more than a year to reach a new contract without success. The parents and students are frustrated because the gap between the two sides has not changed dramatically since the talks began.

The T/E school district has one year remaining in the teacher contract . . . can we expect similar conflict with the teacher union? Should residents accept bigger tax increases to ward off teacher union conflict? Is there a relationship between teachers working without a contract and the academic performance of the school district?

Looking ahead to next year, as the TESD school board begins to discuss the teacher contract, will demand negotiating skills and expertise from our elected officials. The terms of five of the nine TESD school board members are up this year . . . Karen Cruickshank, Pete Motel, Debbie Bookstaber, Jim Bruce and Kevin Mahoney. It is my understanding that Cruickshank will see re-election. Unfortunately, for the taxpayers, Bookstaber and Mahoney will not seek to be re-elected. I do not have information on the plans of Motel and Bruce. We hope that all school board candidates do their homework and come prepared to meet the enormous challenges ahead.

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