Pattye Benson

Community Matters

teacher furloughs

Milestone Agreement Between T/E Teachers and School District: Is it a ‘Salary Freeze’ or a ‘Pay Waiver’. . . Does it Really Matter What We Call It?

There was a milestone agreement between the T/E teachers and the school district last night. I am not sure whether we call the TEEA-TESD agreement a salary ‘freeze’ or a ‘pay waiver’ but, . . . if both sides are happy, does it really matter what we call it?

The school board members presented the details of the new teacher union offer. The offer from Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) was read and the discussion opened for public questions. The board voted on the proposal and the agreement won unanimous support from the school board.

To read a copy of the TEEA-TESD agreement, click here. If I understand the agreement, here are the important points:

  • The teachers will have their salaries frozen for the first 6 months of the 2011-12 school year based on their final paycheck of the 2010-11 school year.
  • For the second 6 months of the 2011-12 school year, the teachers salaries will ‘unfreeze’ and they will advance.
  • With this agreement, the T/E school district agrees there will be no involuntary furloughing or involuntary demotion of teachers for 2011-12.
  • This agreement is a one-time cost savings for the 2011-12 school year only and is not precedent setting. The agreement does not extend the current contract and negotiations for the next contract will be on schedule.

I asked Pete DePiano, union president of TEEA for his thoughts on the TEEA-TESD agreement. He writes,

“I am so proud of the membership of TEEA for stepping up with this offer during these difficult times. Likewise, I am happy that the Board was able to accept. A special note of gratitude must be extended to Mrs. Cruickshank, for we were in constant communication behind the scenes for a VERY long time working on this – even prior to the Corbett announcement. It was that continued line of open dialogue that made this all possible. We are looking forward to a wonderful conclusion of the school year as we continue to serve the greatest students in the greatest district in the Commonwealth of PA.”

Pete DePiano
President, TEEA


Ray Clarke attended last night’s school board meeting and at my request kindly shares his thoughts below.

Re the Earned Income Tax Study Group, I want to personally thank Kevin Mahoney for suggesting that the group members be apolitical. The school board members made it clear that no one from the school board would be on the study group and I applaud their efforts in making the selection process open and transparent!

Important developments at tonight’s School Board meeting
  1. The Board voted to accept an offer from the TEEA to defer next year’s contracted pay increase for six months with no change to the contract termination date. After six months, salaries will increase to the contracted 2011/12 levels, with step and level movement. There will be no furloughs or demotions during 2011/12, and 2012 retirees will be protected. This is expected to save the District $917,000 in 2011/12. The five year model, which assumes no salary increase in the next contract, claimed that these savings versus the previous projection continue into the out years – although I remain puzzled about that, since the matrix and distribution in place at 6/30/2012 is unchanged under the offer. It may be important to understand expectations on this going into the next contract negotiations.
  2. The impact on next year’s budget is fairly clear, though. The board approved a budget that has a 3.8% property tax increase and a $2.2 million draw down of the fund balance, with an additional $1.9 million possible in the event of specific contingencies. There was no appetite for an Activity Fee for next year, and very different philosophies from all Board members that spoke. Only Kevin Buraks voted against an amendment to remove it from the preliminary budget. Worth looking at the tape to review the issues.
  3. The Board defined the process for obtaining citizen input on the pros and cons of an EIT, through a Tax Study Group. They will select 9 residents for the Group based on information to be requested in a May 16th mailing to residents. Work to be completed by October, for a November decision by the Board whether to move the process forward towards an April 2012 referendum. Important difference from the 2006 effort: the group’s role is not to present a recommendation, but to help educate the Board and the public. The Board is looking for representation from across T/E, and wants the group to be apolitical. All meetings to be open to the public; not sure if that’s very conducive to a deep dive into the economics, but maybe that’s not the purpose.
  4. Per Dr Brake’s legislative report, there seems to be some likelihood that the Legislature will reverse or limit the Governor’s proposed capricious Social Security reimbursement cut, so that may help TESD’s budget (at best, by $1 million). It also seems probable that the local ability to increase taxes beyond the Act 1 limit will not be completely eliminated, retaining at least the possibility of PSERS and special education Exceptions.
A final pet peeve: once again this year the gaming rebate was used in the context of an offset to the property tax increase. If the rebate was increasing by $171 that would be true, but in fact it’s just the same ~$180 it has been for every year since 2008/9. At least it wasn’t Dr Waters this time, but rather Dr Brake, who I thought might know better.

Teacher Furloughs for Economic Reasons . . . Could it happen in Pennsylvania?

The recent discussion of Union-Chadds Ford School District’s fact-finding report and their teachers union vote not to accept plus the potential of a teacher’s strike in the Perkiomen Valley School District continues to challenge me to understand the process and the ‘what if’s’.

In my last post, I asked some questions to which several of you kindly responded. However, one question lingers. With many of the school districts (not necessarily T/E) in an economic crisis, what happens if a school district simply does not have the money to meet the demands of a teachers union?

I understand that once a teacher’s contract ends, the teachers continue to work to the ‘old’ contract. However, perhaps 3 years ago when the last contract was written, the school district’s economic outlook was far different. If you set aside an increase in teacher salaries and/or benefits, what if a school district has no fund balance and cannot meet the current teacher contract requirements. What happens? How do these school districts maintain a status quo of the old teacher’s contract? Historically, I do not think that the current economic climate coupled with the pension crisis has existed during the last couple of decades (if ever) in Pennsylvania. Without a precedent, legally what can be done — what is the solution?

Pennsylvania state law permits staff reduction in a school district under very specific conditions – if a program is eliminated or if a school consolidates or school district reorganization requires it. Currently, the state law does not permit teacher furloughs for economic necessity reasons.

State Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon County) is looking to change the state law on teacher furlough and give school boards the ability to reduce staff for ‘economic reasons’. For obvious reasons, teacher unions strongly oppose this idea whereas a number of economically challenged school districts support Folmer’s idea. This issue is rising to the forefront as school districts could face the possibility of severe cutbacks from state funding next year. Pennsylvania is facing a $4 billion budget deficit next year.

To meet the demands of the enormous budget gap, school districts across the Commonwealth are no doubt going to see a steep drop in state aid. What alternatives currently exist for school districts to fund their deficit? Assuming a school district does not have a fund balance (or at a minimum, a diminishing fund balance) their options are limited. They can raise property taxes, cut programs, or do a little bit of both. However, we know that state law compels school districts to limit property tax increases to a cap set by the state or seek voter approval for higher tax increases. Folmer hopes his legislation will allow more flexibility for the school districts; they could avoid program cuts by teacher furloughs based on economic necessity.

It is interesting to look at the arguments on both sides of the issue. The teachers unions argue that furloughing teachers could affect the integrity of the education program, lead to larger class sizes and put disadvantaged students at greater risk. There is a feeling among the teacher unions that the students would be shortchanged with the reduction in staff.

The argument from the other side (the school boards) is that this tool created by Folmer’s legislation could help the school districts avoid eliminating programs as a means of cutting expenses. Some school districts in Pennsylvania (fortunately not T/E) are in extreme financial situations. Economic hardship has backed some school districts in to a corner; how they are going to resolve their financial issues. For those school districts, maybe Folmer’s legislation to furlough teachers for economic reason is their only lifeline.

Problems are inherent in this kind of legislation . . . . How do school districts resolve the challenge of determining which teachers or administrators to furlough? How would school districts avoid the pitfall of arbitrary or subjective decisions in the furlough process?

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