Pattye Benson

Community Matters


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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