Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tredyffri Township

T/E School Board’s Special Meeting on June 1 includes Amended TENIG Agreement . . . No Custodial Outsourcing but What about the $800K Proposed Savings?

The TESD 2011-12 budget process started in late 2010 and has included multiple budget, finance and school board meetings and updates to the public. The school board and administration have worked to present a timeline of budget information and to keep us informed on budget strategies. Hearing the ‘shared sacrifice’ appeal from the Board to the Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) teachers union, both sides were able to come to an agreement for the 2011-12 school year, which included a salary wage freeze. The process was tedious and both TESD and TEEA appeared satisfied with the results.

Throughout the budget process, the administration and Board supported TESD’s educational standard as its focus and priority. Any budget strategies requiring cuts to educational programming was only with much discussion. One such expense reduction decision was the budget strategy that included eliminating Latin and German in the middle school . . . a difficult decision, but one that was required to help bridge the budget deficit. Generally, I have observed willingness on the Board’s part to fully disseminate the budget information and to keep the budget process as transparent as possible. It is for that very reason that I find this week’s special board meeting and the notification of agenda items (or lack of notification) somewhat troubling.

I received email notification last week of TESD’s upcoming special board meeting on Wednesday, June 1 at 5:30 PM. The stated purpose of the meeting is to approve the Conestoga High School graduating Class of 2011. There was no mention of any other agenda items at the meeting – and I probably would not have bothered to check further except that a township resident alerted me. In review, the June 1 agenda includes a “proposal to amend the TENIG collective bargaining agreement”. Contained in the agenda materials is the proposed amended TENIG agreement and schedule of wages, effective 4/29/11 – 6/30/14. (Click Here for meeting agenda, see pgs. 5-7 for TENIG agreement and schedule of wages).

I will discuss the contents of the TENIG agreement and wages later in this post, but first I will address TESD process as it relates to the outsourcing of custodial services. For months, there has been discussion at the budget, finance and regular school board meetings about the possibility of outsourcing of custodial services as a budget strategy option. At each meeting where details of the budget were presented, there was always a slide indicating the possible savings of $800K for custodial outsourcing. To quantify the District savings, the administration sent out a RFP for custodial outsourcing earlier in the year. According to the School Board Meeting Minutes of 3/21/11, “. . . the results of bidding on outsourcing custodial services will be available on April 4 and will be provided to TENIG for review. The committee will evaluate the bid results as an option to balance the budget”.

The School Board Meeting Minutes of 4/25/11 further reflected that “. . . The District is in the process of analyzing bid results for the outsourcing of custodial staff. These bid results have been shared with TENIG, and we continue discussions with TENIG on alternatives to outsourcing. . . “

At the May 9 School Board Meeting, the 2011-12 Final Budget was presented; (Click Here for Final Budget) Page 15 shows the following:

*Remaining Budget Shortfall ($2,183,448)
Options to Close Shortfall:
1. Outsourcing Custodial Services: $800,000
2. Pay Increase Waiver TENIG only: $300,000
3. Additional Budget Strategies $0
4. Use of Fund Balance $2,183,448
(Tentative for Proposed Final Budget on May 9th)
*Includes TEEA Proposal of 50% Pay Increase Waiver of May 6th

Contained in the proposed final budget is the salary freeze offer from the teachers union, TEEA. There was no mention in the budget presentation of the status of the custodial services outsourcing or of TENIG’s contract.

After the meeting, I mentioned to a couple of Board members that I was surprised that custodial outsourcing was not on the agenda nor was there any mention made of the results of the bids for the outsourcing; but received no response. There was indication in the final budget (see above chart) that one of the few options remaining to close the shortfall was outsourcing of custodial services — an expected savings of $800K. How many outsource bids were received? What were the offers? How did the custodial outsourcing bids stack up against TENIG’s contract for custodial services?

Following the May 9 school board meeting, the TESD released a press release summarizing the proposed final budget:

Highlights of the proposed 2011-12 proposed final budget includes:
(1) Property tax increase of 3.77%, which equates to an average increase of $171 to T/E homeowners;
(2) $3.85 million in expense reductions and revenue increases;
(3) And $2.25 million in fund balance contribution to address the $8.9 million budget gap between revenues and expenditures.

The press release further explained that the proposed final budget includes the offer from the T/E instructional collective bargaining unit (TEEA). As was the case at the TESD Board Meeting, the summary does not (1) address the projected savings resulting from outsourcing custodial services ($800K) or (2) pay increase waiver from non-instructional collective bargaining unit, TENIG ($300K). According to the May 9 School Board Meeting Minutes these are the only remaining options to close the budget shortfall

What I find fascinating in the May 9 press release is the statement that the Board is “still evaluating other options to close the budget shortfall and will present the final budget on June 13”.

We now fast forward to tomorrow’s special board meeting and find that negotiations between TESD and TENIG have apparently already taken place and there is now a proposal for an amended TENIG agreement.

Questions: What happened with the custodial outsourcing bid process? What were the results of the bids? Why did the notification for tomorrow’s special board meeting not include any mention of the TENIG amended agreement proposal?

The custodial services outsourcing process began correctly but somehow the Board lost the transparency in the process and now we are left with the end product – the amended TENG contract. Although the Board continued to say meeting after meeting that there were looking at the final remaining budget savings options, we skip over the $800K option to outsource custodial services without explanation. To be fair, it is entirely possible that after reviewing the bids for outsourcing, the Board decided for any number of reasons (cost, student security, etc.) that they wanted to keep the custodial service ‘as is’ and covered by TENIG. These reasons could be valid – but why not let the public know why and how that decision was made?

Now we if look at the amended TENIG agreement; I have received several questions and concerns from taxpayers on this matter. Yes, TENIG has agreed to a salary freeze for 2011-12 year and I think that savings may be $300K. However, there are two additional years to the TENIG contract with increases of 4.5% each year. Was there any attempt by the Board to negotiate those increases? Is it possible that the District is (1) losing the cost savings of outsourcing custodial services and (2) additionally giving a pay increase to custodial staff?

The Board has been so diligent in their budget review process when cutting educational programs and increasing student fees (increased student parking fees and driver’s education training), I am surprised that non-education wages of TENIG are increased.

In closing, I have a couple of problems: (1) where was the transparency in the outsourcing process, and (2) understanding there remains a $2+ million budget shortfall in TESD, how can the Board rationalize an increase in TENIG wages in 2012 and 13 when the District has been forced to cut educational programming and increase fees.

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