Tredyffrin Easttown School District is struggling with the budget crisis much as other school districts across the state and the country. Serious budget issues escalated last month with Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget, which contained massive cuts to public education funding.
School districts nationwide are looking for ways to balance their budgets in the face of looming deficits. Often budget discussions focus on teacher unions, which quickly turn into a debate about whether they have given too much or not enough at a time when school dollars are scarce. There are those that vilify teacher unions as the cause of escalating school district budgets, claiming that their pensions, health care coverage and guaranteed salary raises have increased the property taxes of those who pay the teacher salaries. Counter to this attitude are public school teachers and their supporters who claim that politicians are looking to balance budgets on their backs.
School districts and the teachers unions are vying to make their individual cases to the public. As budget discussions become more heated, often times the divide increases between the two sides. School district officials are looking to balance their budgets and teacher union leaders struggle to protect the rights of their workers. There are always two sides to a story but there is a very important third party, whose rights are often overlooked in the debate . . . the taxpayer.
“ . . . It is well understood that this school district [TESD] 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.” Community Matters, January 18, 2010
I wrote these words 15 months ago in the post, ‘Is the Teacher Union aiding in the Fact vs. Fiction Component of the TESD Budget Crisis” and they are just as important today.
I believe in the value of transparency and availability of information from government to the public. To understand a situation and to make an informed decision requires knowing the truth. As I said in January 2010, “. . . when situations reach a crisis level . . . rumor mills explode and before you know it, things are out of control.” Nothing could be closer to the truth.
Residents in the T/E School District were told by the T/E School Board that letters (dated April 6, 2011) had gone to the two district unions, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association, TEEA the teachers union and Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group, TENIG. According to the school board, the letters could not be made public for legal reasons. It is my understanding that the school board letters contained a request to both unions for a pay increase waiver for next year. If you recall, Gov. Corbett had suggested that teachers unions in Pennsylvania encourage their members to take a salary ‘freeze’ for next year to help their budget shortfalls. Several residents have contacted me and some have spoken up at the school board meetings to ask about the TESD letters, and if there has been a response from either union. With hands apparently tied legally, our school board was not able to provide much detail. I was told last week that members of TENIG were considering some kind of ‘give-back’ offer to the district and were to vote yesterday on their offer.
Until earlier this week, I assumed that the teachers union was not considering any type of ‘give-back’ offer or concession. My impression from attending district budget, finance and school board meetings was certainly that no response (or offer) had been received by the district. During the course of this week however, I have had phone calls and emails from numerous sources suggesting that a salary freeze offer was made to the T/E School Board but that the offer was rejected. To clarify, these sources of information were not TEEA union leadership.
Clearly confused but believing in the publics ‘right to know’, yesterday I contacted via email the members of the TESD school board and Pete DePiano, TEEA union president. The following email was sent to the School Board and DePiano asking for clarification:
I am in receipt of information that indicates, among other things, that there was an offer made from Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association teachers union for salary freezes for next year, in advance of the negotiations for the next contract. According to several sources, the TESD school board rejected the teacher union’s salary freeze offer, citing that such an offer would only be acceptable if the current teacher’s contract were opened and renegotiated.
I am working on an article on this topic and I am affording you the opportunity to comment on this matter. If you wish to comment, I will need the information within 24 hours, by 10 AM Friday, April 29, 2011.
From the President of TEEA, I received the following email response:
On April 15, 2011, TEEA formally offered a salary schedule pay freeze to the T/E Board of School Directors. The Board formally has responded to TEEA that they cannot accept the offer. As the T/E School District prepares to finalize its budget for 2011-12, TEEA will continue to work diligently with its members behind the scenes to attempt to reach another cost savings offer.
In response to my request, I received the following response from T/E School Board President Karen Cruickshank:
Many thanks for contacting the T/E School Board about a teacher offer in T/E. As you know we are in a significant budget crisis, and have asked both of our unions in a sense of shared sacrifice to participate in a pay waiver. At our Monday night Finance meeting we will provide a detailed presentation about why we can not accept a pay freeze but would welcome a pay waiver. I would encourage you to attend the meeting so that you can see the entire presentation and ask any questions that you have of the board.
Many thanks for your commitment to providing information to our community.
T/E School Board President
Karen Cruickshank sent a follow-up email:
In regards to your request for information about union offers in the T/E School District, the TESD School Board does not negotiate in public. We continue to remain in close communications with both of our unions.
As I did say in my earlier e-mail there is confusion over the difference between a pay waiver and a pay freeze, and we will clearly point out the financial differences between them at our Monday night Finance Committee meeting. The Board as always will be most happy to take questions from the community at the meeting.
T/E School Board President
Although we learn from these responses that there was an ‘offer’ from the teachers union and a ‘rejection’ from the school district, what did the offer letter and the rejection letter actually say . . . ? It is obvious there is confusion between a salary ‘freeze’ and a salary ‘waiver’ and it is noted from both of Cruikshank’s responses, that the school board intends to clarify those distinctions at TESD’s upcoming Finance Committee meeting on Monday night.
I did not receive copies of either the TEEA letter to T/E School Board or the letter from the T/E School Board to TEEA. However, with a bit of research online I was able to track down both letters. The letters are available online (and therefore public) and can be found at www.teeacher.org .
In addition to the TEEA and TESD letters, there is a note to the teachers from DePiano:
To all TEEA members:
Below are two letters. The first, dated April 15, 2011, is TEEA’s response to the TE School Board’s request that we waive the fourth year of our contract. It consists of a refusal to waive the contract and an offer to freeze the contract for one year and extend it.
The second, dated April 27, 2011, is the District’s response, a refusal to consider any agreement that involves extending our contract.
To clarify: A waiver would cancel the fourth year of our collectively bargained contract and put us into immediate negotiations for a new agreement. A freeze is essentially a one-year pause. We would work in 2011-2012 under the same provisions we have this year. We would then realize the negotiated final year of our contract in 2012-2013.
Yours in solidarity,
Pete DePiano, President TEEA
You will note that the TEEA offer letter dated April 15, 2011 to TESD states in part,
“ . . . In an attempt to prevent more painful cuts from having to occur (including program cuts, increases in class size, or an outsourcing of the custodial staff) yet also honor the contract that was negotiated in good faith, the Representative Council of TEEA has authorized a salary freeze proposal for the Board’s consideration. This includes a salary step freeze for 2011-12 based on the current 2010-11 salary schedule, with the final year of the originally bargained contract realized in 2012-13, including step movement and salaries. It provides PSERs clemency to staff that will be retiring next year, and maintains status quo on all other provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. . . . I estimate this proposal will generate over $2.5 million in savings for FY 2011-12. . . “
The T/E School District response of April 27, 2011 rejected the TEEA offer stating that their letter of April 6, 2011 called upon the unions to accept a
“. . . one-year pay increase waiver as their contribution to the shared sacrifice to support T/E students. After June 30, 2011, a waiver indicates that there will be no movement vertically or horizontally on the matrix for the 2011-12 school year. The settlement of the new bargaining agreement effective July 1, 2012 will direct the placement of staff on the salary matrix for future years. A one-year pay increase waiver would waive contract raises for the two unions’ employees for the 2011-12 school year and would result in a cost savings of approximately $3,000,000. . . “
Again, as I said more than a year ago, “rumor mills explode” and there is only one way to correct misinformation and that is with the facts.
The budget crisis facing the school district and our community should not be about ‘picking sides’ . . . it should be about providing transparency, factual information and letting the public draw their own conclusions.