Pattye Benson

Community Matters

teacher’s union

Cloaked in Secrecy Approach to Contract Negotiations Not Working … T/E Teachers Return to Classroom Without a Contract

In the T/E School District, the students have returned to school and the teachers have returned to work. However, the District teachers returned to the classroom without a settled contract. The Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) contract with the T/E School District expired on June 30, 2017. No automatic alt text available.

The teachers’ contract expired in June with absolutely no updates from the School Board – deafening silence on the status of the contract negotiations. In a conversation this summer with a recent teacher retiree of the District, I inquired about the contract negotiations. Asking if the teachers and the District were on the “same page” regarding negotiations, I was told that the sides were “not even in the same book”!

Other area districts started the 2017-18 school year without settled contracts – Lower Merion, Methacton, Coatesville, Springfield in Delaware County. And we learned this week that Lower Merion Education Association has mounted a PR campaign, including an online petition asking the public to sign “and show the School Board that you a support a fair contract for Lower Merion School District teachers and staff.” Drumming up community support for a salary increase in Lower Merion may prove challenging; given that LMSD has the highest paid teachers in Pennsylvania. (average salary is $99,253).

Below is a letter Dr. Robert DeSipio, TEEA President which was posted on its website yesterday. In reading the letter, it is obvious that the teacher contract negotiations between the District and the teachers are stalled. I suggest that both sides need to “open the door” – this “cloaked in secrecy” approach to the negotiations by the School Board is not working and is showing signs of cracking. The public deserves to see the sunlight shine on the negotiations – it would help the parents, taxpayers (and employees) better understand the process and the District’s priorities.

It’s time to turn on the lights, open the windows and the doors.

TEEA Open Negotiations Letter

A Fair Contract for TEEA, the Tredyffrin-Easttown Education Association

The teachers of the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District are currently working without a contract and it is a shame; a shame in many ways. The TEEA teachers are an enormously talented, dedicated group of educators who go beyond the expected and deliver the unexpected. Conestoga High School has been ranked the number one public high school in Pennsylvania for the last two years. Accolades of that magnitude and a number one ranking in the state are not only a reflection of the quality of education at the secondary level, but are also a testament to the dedication of the middle and elementary school teachers who prepare the students in their younger years. From top to bottom the TEEA teachers are top-notch and they deserve a fair contract!

A fair contract means the employer is not asking its employees to pay for his/her own increase in salary; certainly not contract after contract after contract. When the recession of 2008 wreaked havoc on the economy, the TEEA teachers stepped to the plate. We agreed to break the contract that was in place and under which we were working and accepted a half year salary freeze, giving back one million dollars to the district. One million dollars that had been earmarked for teacher salaries instead went into increasing the district’s fund balance. When that contract expired, we continued to give back as the economy struggled to recover from the recession. From 2012 to 2014 we accepted a 2 year TOTAL FREEZE on our salary AND we reduced the quality of our medical benefits AND we agreed to pay more for those benefits. That 2 year total freeze contract ultimately saved the district about $14 million dollars. As we continued to go above and beyond what is expected of us, that FOURTEEN MILLION DOLLARS was not added to our base or awarded to us as bonuses. Instead, it was used to increase the Fund balance of the School District. In addition to all of the above concessions, we agreed to a huge reduction in tuition reimbursement–a large sacrifice for a career that requires additional coursework to obtain permanent certification. We have continued to give back financially while continuing to provide one of the best, if not the best, kindergarten through twelfth grade educations anywhere in the country.

From 2015 to 2017, our contract that just expired on June 30, 2017, continued to reflect give backs. We increased the amount we pay for our benefits while no additional money was added to the teacher’s salary steps.

It is a shame that people who give so much of themselves, have provided so much value to this community, and have given back to the tune of 14 million dollars, are continuing to be asked to subsidize their own raises. Enough is enough! The TEEA teachers deserve a fair contract. We are asking for the support of every TE family to stand with us and to tell the members of this board that enough is enough.

Dr. Robert DeSipio
TEEA President






T/E School Board: 2nd Vote Not to Accept Fact Finders Report

Last night was both the Board of Supervisors meeting and the special meeting of the school district. I attended the BOS meeting and Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting and kindly provided his personal notes of the meeting. Although we should not be surprised that the school board rejected the fact finders report a second time, in speaking with Ray I am troubled by something that happened. Now again — I was not there so if my interpretation is incorrect, someone please correct me.

It appears that there was a heated exchange between Sultanik (the negotiating attorney hired by TESD) and Laura Whittaker, the teacher union president. Apparently it is OK for Sultanik to make public claims against the union but Ms. Whittaker is not allowed to defend her position. Why? Because although Ms. Whittaker is a TESD teacher, she is not a T/E resident. Regardless of which side you support (TESD or TEEA) this does not seem fair.

I understand the economics of the school district, but that does not give Sultanik the right to disrespect the teachers and then offer no option for them to defend. These people teach our children, are they not entitled to respect? The school board has a policy that non-T/E residents are not permitted to comment at school board meetings and I appreciate that if there is long line of people waiting to comment, that it is fair that residents be permitted to speak first. Regardless of the union, TENIG, TEEA, etc. I am of the opinion that the union president representing his/her members should be permitted to speak at school board meetings, without a ‘residency’ requirement. I am not saying all the non-resident teachers, custodians, etc. just the presidents, should they be non-residents.

Again, I did not attend the meeting and would certainly appreciate the opinions of other who did attend. Bottom line for me … I want both sides fairly represented but I don’t like the idea of public ‘dressing-down’ from either. Here are Ray’s notes:

The School Board took advantage of the forum offered by tonight’s Board meeting to present their side of the contract negotiations and to outline the details of their three year offer suggested at the last Board meeting. Unfortunately, perhaps, they felt the need to rebut the TEEA week-end comment that “School board members have not met with us….” with Mr Sultanik recounting a minute by minute list of the emails between him and the union’s Ms Waldie, during which an offer to meet was repeatedly made, and which did in fact lead to a meeting of the parties on August 15th. At that meeting the Board presented their proposal, to which – according to Sultanik – the TEEA has not officially responded. There were shouts of “You lie!” or similar from the audience, but Ms Whittaker, not a district resident, was not permitted to speak.

Here’s the essence of the District proposal:

– Freeze matrix, step and column positions for 2 years. One step and column movement halfway through Year 3

– One time $2,500 bonus for all teachers in Year 2 and one time $1,000 bonus for all teachers on the top step in Year 3

— Sizable incentives that do not build in recurring expense (use of the fund balance!)

– 189 day calendar in Years 2 and 3, down from the current 191 days

— Locking in the 2 furlough days (1% salary reduction) in the Fact Finder report

– Two health plans with family coverage with premium share rising from 9-10% to 11-12% in Year 3. The individual dollar cost for the most expensive plan is projected at $1,743 to $2,531, compared to $1,020 under the current plan. A $50,000-$60,000 copay pool in Years 2 and 3 if the higher cost healthcare plan can be dropped due to less than half the employees selecting that plan.

The national average for premium share is 29%

— There’s a tax provision that allows employees to deduct their premium share, reducing the net cost by their marginal tax rate

– A cap on tuition reimbursement of $150,000 in Years 2 and 3 (compared to $290,000 under the current MOU and $650,000 last year)

– Radnor and Lower Merion have introduced caps on tuition reimbursement

– Prescription copays as in the Fact Finder report

– Demotions allowed for economic reasons in Years 2 and 3

– Settlement of outstanding grievances, particularly re the CHS 6 period day

— If ruled in favor of the union would require the hiring of 12 additional FTE at a cost of $1.2 million a year

Sultanik stated that the deadline for a TEEA response is August 27th at 12 noon. It’s not clear if that is a mandatory deadline per the law, but it could be, since the process is still under the aegis of the state arbitrator and law does require continuation of the negotiating process.

Art McDonnell presented two slides that provided the current status quo budget/3 year projection and the Fact Finder report. As presented, the Fact Finder report reduced the Year 1 and 2 deficits by about $300,000, but the year 3 (and 4) deficits increased by the same amount. He did not show how the latest Board proposal would stack up under the same model, but in response to my question there were general comments from the Board that the deficits would still not be eliminated under likely tax scenarios. (I think that there may be enough data to model the impact ourselves, and with some time over the next couple of days I’ll take a shot at that, but it will be difficult to account for all the inter-relations of salary, PSERS, etc.)

Ann Crowley and Kris Graham explained their August 9th votes to accept the Fact Finder report largely on the basis of expediency and on the intangible impact of an unsettled contract on home values, teacher stress, need for students to continue to out-perform, and so on. Mrs Graham thought there was now benefit to the teachers to get the 3 year deal and so changed her vote tonight, in order to get the parties back to the negotiating table. Mrs Crowley abstained from voting in protest of the email litany recounted by Mr Sultanik. Dr Motel reminded the audience that salaries for all other employees have been flat for three years, and at some point increases may need to be found. President Cruickshank also noted this and the give backs from TENIG employees and separately custodians. She noted that the Board has to balance the budget and recounted the last three years total of $10 million expense cuts, maximum tax increases and falling real estate assessments. Remaining options are to cut kindergarten, transportation and extra-curriculars. She made a plea for “two austere years to right the financial ship”.

The Board voted 8 to 0 with one abstention to reject the Fact Finder report.

The audience seemed to be largely teachers, with little public comment. Andrea advocated rationalizing the healthcare benefit craziness by providing a defined contribution rather than a Blue Cross-specific defined benefit; another resident supported the Fact Finder report on the basis of retaining qualified teachers and supporting property prices. ABC News was there, also.

T/E School District and Teacher’s Union … ‘Status Quo’

The June 30, 2012 contract deadline for the T/E teachers came and went with no new contract signed. Therefore, as of July 1, the School District and the teachers union, TEEA are now in status quo. This means that the T/E teachers’ salaries will be frozen at their salary level based on their 2011-12 salary until a new contract is signed.

According to the School District website, “… the teachers will continue to receive their salary at the current rate until the earlier of (1) a strike or lockout within the terms of Act 88 of 1992; or (2) the entry into a new contract.”

Also during the status quo period, the teachers health care benefit plan remains intact based on the expired contract, until a new contract is signed between the School Board and TEEA.

The School Board passed the 2012-13 TESD budget in June, which includes a property tax increase of 3.3%, or .6154 mills – equating to approx. $3 million revenue. The 3% tax increase will translate to an annual increase to homeowners in T/E of about $155.

Former T/E School Board member Andrea Felkins created the following graphs with descriptions below each graph for Community Matters readers. When we discuss the benefits, salary and pension costs of the District, it is difficult for some (myself included) to fully grasp the magnitude of the situation. Through the use of the graphs, the data is more organized and easier to understand. When you view the data through Andrea’s graphs, it is much clearer the role that each of the three components play in the budget, especially as the School District moves forward. It should be noted that these graphs assume no salary increases.

Based on the final budget presentation, this is just a depiction of the PSERS and the BENEFITS numbers for the next few years. It’s why I advocate a major change in the benefit plan – knocking $5M off the expenditures annually.


Based on holding salaries constant, while PSERS is climbing, benefits stay well ahead of the PSERS contribution.


Each piece of the budget deserves scrutiny. This graph shows that PSERS takes a bigger piece each year, but the other components dwarf the PSERS costs.

TEEA States T/E $1.5 million Deficit Will be Reduced by Teacher Retirements!

The teachers union in T/E School District, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) held a members meeting today. I am assuming that the press released that I just received (below) was a result of their meeting. The teachers union is coming out strong in opposition to school board using demotion of professional staff as a budget strategy for the $1.5 million budget deficit.

According to this press release, TEEA is suggesting that the 2012-13 budget deficit could be reduced by nearly $1.5 million due to the retirement of 17 teachers. According to the teachers union, these retirements were not factored into the budget. If this is true, problem solved and no need for further discussion of demotion. Surely, it cannot be that simple. Or, can it?

Looks like another showdown may be coming at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. I have received a number of phone calls and emails from concerned residents since the School Board meeting. Many of the conversations have been in support of my call for greater transparency in the teacher contract negotiation process. Comments have continued to be posted on Community Matters suggesting that the school board is fully aware of the negotiations, etc. etc.. and that it is perfectly OK that elected school board members are not sitting at the negotiating table. Sorry, I am still standing on the fact that the taxpayer needs to be represented in the room, sitting at the table, not hearing the conversation secondhand. I want someone with ‘skin in the game’ representing me — the taxpayer. And unless someone can tell me otherwise, I do not think any of the 4 people negotiating on behalf of the school district lives in either Tredyffrin or Easttown Townships.

All four school district representatives are paid by the taxpayers – one is professional negotiator Jeff Sultanik and the other three are school district administrators — Superintendent Dan Waters, Human Resource Director Sue Tiede and Business Manager Art McDonnell. Where is the Tredyffrin or Easttown taxpayer? Again, unless some tells me differently, these four individuals are not personally affected by the outcome of next year’s budget or the contract negotiations because they do not live here. The District negotiating team (Sultanik, Waters, Tiede and McDonnell) will not be affected by the increase of property taxes or the possible diminishing quality of the TESD educational program — certainly not like the taxpayers, parents and students!

I know that I sound like a broken record, but where is ‘our voice’? I think that is why I am stuck on the transparency issue; I can’t helping thinking that the taxpayers are the ‘third wheel’. We have the teachers union and the school board appointed negotiators but the parents and the taxpayers are not represented but left with a lot of questions.

Here’s the latest TEEA press release:

T/E Teachers: Demotions Unnecessary, Destructive; Existing Resources Sufficient to Preserve Program

The T/E community recently spoke out against teacher demotions at the April 23rd School Board meeting. The central concern: should the Board use existing resources to protect our best and brightest teachers – the core of an exceptional T/E school system – or cut these dedicated educators from our program?

One truth remains clear: no parties involved have created the financial challenges affecting T/E. Rather, these challenges result from a confluence of economic and legislative factors beyond the control of our local officials, residents, and teachers.

The manner in which these challenges are resolved, however, still remain in the Board’s control.

While the School Board has recently proposed the demotion of our most successful teachers as a viable cost reduction strategy, T/E teachers believe strongly that this proposal will be extremely destructive to the T/E educational program and that more reasonable solutions exist.

The recent Board meeting and a TEEA review of District finances reveal several important factors related to demotion alternatives:

  • The Board revised downward its projected deficit to 1.5M based upon allowable Act I tax increases not included in its original assumptions, revised instructional expenditures and newly accepted budget strategies.
  • 17 retiring teachers, also excluded from the Board’s initial assumptions, will reduce the projected deficit further. TEEA estimates savings of nearly $1M from teacher retirements.
  • The Board has designated much of its substantial 31M fund balance – one of the largest in the state – to rising PSERS obligations, a major external legislative challenge causing this year’s deficit. But it has not considered the use of these funds to offset next year’s increased obligation. The projected deficit is larger as a result.
  • The Board regularly uses the general fund balance to resolve budget deficits.
  • The Board’s own internal policy is the only measure preventing the use of the $31M general fund balance as a bridge that would protect the excellence of our program. The Board regularly changes its own policies, and has the authority to use these funds. The Board is not prevented by PA School Code.

If the decision to be made is between the core of our educational program or a small fraction of the fund balance, then the decision should be clear.

The Board should table the demotion measure and, instead, fully participate in comprehensive, two-way, productive contract negotiations – one of several important paths to sustainability. Why destroy our award-winning program when the resources to protect it exist?

“Don’t Read my Lips; Read my Budget” . . . so said Gov. Corbett at today’s Budget Address

Gov. Tom Corbett delivered his budget speech at midday to a joint assembly of the House and Senate, suggesting “Don’t read my lips; read my budget.” For a full text of his speech, click here:

In his opening remarks, Corbett’s presented an overview of his budget including “ . . The substance of this budget is built on four core principles: Fiscal discipline, limited government, free enterprise and reform. . . ” Corbett’s fiscal year 2011-12 budget totals $27.3 billion, but no new taxes.

There has been much discussion concerning the economic woes facing school districts across the state. In his budget address, the Governor supports letting the taxpayers decide . . .

” . . . Now, we all know that there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to education funding: The property tax. Too often we have seen school boards raise property taxes to avoid hard and necessary choices. It’s human nature. When you’re spending someone else’s money it’s easier to say yes than no. I believe any new property tax increases beyond inflation should be put on the ballot. If school boards can’t say no, maybe the taxpayers will. Let’s listen to the taxpayers on this one. . . “

The governor takes on the teacher unions with teacher furlough remarks,

” . . . At the same time we need to give school boards some breathing room. There are too many mandates that tie the hands of local school boards. This administration is committed to curbing these mandates, including one that violates every law of economics: the inability to furlough employees when there isn’t the money to pay them. It puts the entire enterprise of public education at risk. . . “

Specifically, how did the Department of Education fair in Corbett’s budget? A quick review indicates that education will receive an expected major cut in funding. The proposed cuts to education include a 10 percent cut in basic education (K-12), which is a loss of $550 million across the state. The budget also eliminates all $260 million in grants that are being given this year to school districts to invest in learning, including pre-K, full-day kindergarten and class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade.

In his speech, Corbett asked public school officials to consider pay freezes; calculating that each year of this cost-saving measure would save school districts $400 million. Corbett said that he was returning the state education funding to the pre-stimulus funding level.

Addressing the state workers, unions, pensions and collective bargaining, Corbett’s approach was direct –

” . . . In Pennsylvania, we will be looking for salary roll backs and freezes from state employees as well as asking them to increase their contributions for healthcare benefits. We also need to start the conversation about the necessary repairs to our public retirement system.

I want to be clear about this to our union leaders. Collective bargaining doesn’t mean some ill-defined middle ground. It means finding the spot where things work. In this case it is going to have to work to the good of the taxpayer or it’s not going to work at all. Let’s find that place and meet there. Let’s keep things working. Neither side need lose for the taxpayers to win. We need to act on our financial challenges now, before they act on us. . . “

Although Corbett did not use the word, ‘voucher’ in his budget address, he was specific about his desire for school choice . . .

” . . . Pennsylvania needs to re-think how best to educate our children. We simply can’t work within a broken system. We need to change the whole system. We need a new set of priorities: child, parent, and teacher – and in that order. What we have now in too many places are schools that don’t work. Families are trapped in failing schools, or schools that are a bad fit. We need to develop a system of portable education funding; something a student can take with him or her to the school that best fits their needs. One size does not fit all. But as it now stands, not all get to choose. Let’s give them school choice. . . “

During his budget address, the Governor referred to the ‘Budget Dashboard’ available online. The dashboard is on the state website, is user-friendly and provides an easy access for information of individual state agencies. Here is a link to that reference:

If you are interested, here is a link to the entire budget — all 1,182 pages. If you decide up upload the file, remember this is very large file and suggest patience.

Community Matters © 2024 Frontier Theme