Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association

Kudos to Unionville-Chadds Ford School District . . . For Openness & Transparency on Teacher Contract Negotiations

I have previously written about Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) and the ongoing contract negotiations between their school board and the teachers’ union, Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association (UCFEA). Although there has not been a definite agreement, both sides continue to meet and discuss.

A wide economic gap exists between what the UCFSD School Board is willing to offer and what the teachers union is willing to accept. The last round of discussion centered on an independent Fact-Finders Report from early February, which the UCFSD voted to accept, and the union rejected. The union’s rejection of the report ultimately derailed the proposed settlement and the three-year contract remained ‘up in the air’. The school district has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees and administrators time in the contract negotiation process.

However, post-Fact Finders Report, Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget cuts to public education has now forced UCFSD to reconsider and take their original offer “off the table” and replace it with a more affordable contract. However, since UCFEA had already rejected the Fact-Finders Report and UCFSD’s offer, it would seem highly unlikely that the teachers will accept the reduced contract offer from the district.

In my opinion, UCFSD School Board receives high marks on their openness and transparency in their contract negotiations with the teachers union and their willingness to share the process with the taxpayers. The UCFSD School Board has provided an updated contract negotiation statement, which presents an easy-to-understand 5-page document that includes a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section. An interesting fact – the entry-level salary for a teacher in UCFSD is $47,743; average teacher’s salary is $75,798 and maximum teacher’s salary is $101,427. Approximately 70 of the 330 teachers earn the maximum salary. If you add in the compensation package, the average teacher’s salary jumps to $97,092 and the highest paid teacher’s salary rises to $125K a year.

The UCFSD School Board believes that they have to protect the taxpayer’s money and object to the union’s contract requests for the following reasons:

1) The request is out-of-line due to the economic conditions – the teachers union is requesting a compensation increase of 4% -7%.

2) The requested contract is not economically sustainable due to Act 1 restrictions.

3) The district does not believe that they have to increase the contract to the level requested to attract excellent teachers.

The school board has determined that they cannot ignore these three objections because taxes will not sufficiently cover the contract. They do not think that given the economic climate, a special voter referendum would pass with voter support.

Interesting, that the UCFSD update includes TESD in their budget and teacher union contract discussion:

“One only need look a few miles north to Tredyffrin / Easttown School District (TESD) to see what happens when an economically unsustainable teacher contract is signed. The preliminary budget submitted by TESD reflects a 4.2% tax increase, which is the maximum they are allowed by law, and will result in drastic educational program cuts and still leave a budget shortfall of more that $8 million. The UCFSD School Board will not put our district in that predicament with an unaffordable contract.”

The current offer from UCFSD to the UCFEA for a three-year contract includes a salary freeze for Year 1, 1% increase, full step movement mid-year for Year 2 plus a 10% employee contribution for health care, 1% increase, full step movement mid-year for Year 3 plus a 15% employee contribution for health care. The gap between USCFSD and USFEA is obvious.

What impresses me about the USFSD School Board is their willingness to keep the community involved in the contract negotiation process. Because taxpayers are updated on the contract negotiations, there appears to be greater public dialogue during the process. I know in the past, contract negotiations have always occurred behind closed doors; I am hopeful that TESD School Board will similarly keep our community informed as the calendar moves ever closer to contract negotiation season.

Local Teacher Union Gives 48-Hour Strike Notice

We have been following the Unionville-Chadds Ford (U-CF) School District this week; their ongoing teacher contract negotiations and independent fact-finding report. (The teacher’s contract expired last June). The school board voted unanimously to accept the report and the school district union, Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association voted not to accept. How long can the teachers continue to work without a contract? Until a new contract is signed, do the teachers work under the conditions of the old contract? If both sides are at a stalemate, I am curious what the next step is.

Teachers in Montgomery County’s Perkiomen Valley School District have likewise been working without a contract since last June. The school board and the teachers union in this Collegeville school district also received a fact-finding report from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board last month. Like U-CF school board, the Perkiomen Valley School Board unanimously approved the fact-finding report; and like the U-CF teacher’s union, their union, Perkiomen Valley Education Association (PVEA) rejected the fact-finding report. The report recommended a three-year contract, with an average in $6.564 in raises over the three years and changes in the amount teachers are reimbursed for tuition.

Negotiations between school administrators and the teachers union reached an impasse. Late today, the teachers in the Perkiomen Valley School District gave notice that they intend to strike next week if no deal is reached this weekend. The PVEA issued a 48-hour strike notice, which means a strike could begin on Tuesday.

The teachers’ union and school administrators in Perkiomen Valley School District are meeting with a state mediator over the next few days in homes of reaching a “fair and reasonable” settlement. I visited the PVEA union website and it was interesting to note that the Perkiomen Valley School District has spent $55K to date on legal fees regarding the current teacher contract negotiations.

I am certain that the administration and teachers in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District are closely monitoring the strike threat in Collegeville.

Is this a sign of our times or evidence of what is to come . . . ?

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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