Thursday, December 24, 2009

Is the Board attacking organized labor?

That's the accusation of Neil Skillman whose letter appeared in today's Courier Times. Mr. Skillman is "appalled that the Neshaminy school board threatened to hire a non-union company for its custodial work." He goes on to say "If an outside contractor comes in, they probably will not hire from our community, and pay a minimum wage without benefits. Those workers will not contribute to our community or pay local taxes; they will put a burden on local hospitals with charity cases because of not having health benefits. The only one who profits from this is the contractor hired.

At the end of his letter Mr. Skillman does throw in a statement that support workers should contribute towards their benefits, but isn't that the root cause of why we're in this situation? We have one bargaining unit that says paying for benefits has never been on the table, and another that will contribute a small amount but only if we give them raises that exceed their cost of paying for those benefits.

In just a few weeks, we will take our first look at next year's budget. The preliminary budget gap won't be as large as this year's but it will be significant. And when we're faced with cutting educational programs that our children need to be competitive with the rest of the world, what will people like Mr. Skillman say then?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Another letter opposing outsourcing

From a letter printed in Sunday's Courier Times . . .

"Nonunion janitors could save district millions," the Courier Times headline crows. How brilliant, how strategic! Neshaminy school board President Ritchie Webb wants to save money by terminating present workers and supplant with them cheap labor sans benefits. Workers who are trying to make a living and support their families, and pay taxes, too. And then Mr. Webb has the temerity and arrogance to emit, "I want to point out that the board will exhaust every effort to negotiate a fair and equitable contract for both sides . . ." What is fair and equitable about stripping away an individual's only means of earning a living!?

You can read the rest of this letter by clicking here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Board targets teacher strikes

Today's Courier carried a story of the Pennsbury School Board's resolution to oppose teacher strikes. The motion passed unanimously.

Some people believe that teachers should not be allowed to strike since children are required to receive an education in Pennsylvania. Others feel that teachers should have the right to strike just like most other union workers. Then there are those who think passing a school board resolution for a matter that must be resolved in Harrisburg is a waste of time.

What do you think? Please participate in the Reader's Poll on the right, and feel free to add your comments to this post.

Monday, December 14, 2009

NFT appeal denied

The Neshaminy School Board today issued a press release stating that a three judge panel of the Commonwealth Court issued a ruling last week favoring the Board's position that salary increases for academic credits are frozen until a new agreement is reached between the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT) and the District.

According to the Board's Negotiation Website, "In effect, the Commonwealth Court and the Labor Board have both decided, once again, that until a contract settlement is reached and ratified by both parties, no wage or salary increases are due to be paid."

Click here to read the press release in its entirety.

Clarification on board vote

In my last post about the insurance broker, I made it sound like I was the only one who opposed this motion. I failed to mention that Board President Ritchie Webb broke ranks with his fellow Republicans to join me in voting against it. The motion passed 7-2.

Doing what is right often goes unnoticed in politics, and Mr. Webb deserves some props for his leadership and independence.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

No insurance against politics

It was once said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It can also be said that absolute power often goes unchallenged, and that is the danger when one party political party dominates a public board.

I won't speculate on why Neshaminy residents voted the way they did in November, but I can tell you that it made me the lone school board member not under control of the Republican party. That lack of political diversity is certainly not good for the district. It doesn't matter which party you're talking about - nothing good comes from single party domination. And it didn't take very long for the politically empowered to prove my point.

At Monday's meeting where our newest board members were sworn in, a last-minute motion was brought before the board to vote for a new health insurance broker. The last time the issue of our insurance broker was considered was during a May 2009 meeting of the Finance & Facilities Committee when four brokers were interviewed. The Committee expressed interest in interviewing three of the brokers a second time, and that was the last time we heard or discussed the matter. Nearly six months went by with no second interviews or further consideration, and all of a sudden our new board is voting on it. But we weren't choosing from among the three finalists from the May 2009 meeting. Only one insurance broker was brought forward for a vote on this night -
The Selzer Company.

Aside from the short notice given, what made me suspicious about this vote was contained in the minutes from the F&F Committee's May 2009 meeting. As you can see at the very bottom of section 1(D) on page 2 where each board member rates their two top candidates, Selzer Company wasn't even the top vote getter:

Based on the statements made by the Committee members, the broker with the greatest support was Gallagher Benefit Services but it is clearly stated that a second round of review was necessary.

Through notes taken by F&F Committee members, I also learned that Selzer did not provide a fee schedule for their services while Gallagher stated their fees and offered to return any commissions earned. And while Gallagher freely stated some of their existing customers, Selzer would only provide such information IF they won the bid.

Despite all this, our new board saw fit to ram through a vote for Selzer. I wonder what made that company so popular that the F&F Committee would inexplicably forgo a second round of review?

There were more partisan political dynamics going on this evening than just the insurance broker issue. Watch the meeting for yourself on cable TV and take note of who spoke during public comment and what was said. All this courtesy of an election that put one party firmly back in charge.

Our school board has made tremendous strides over the past year, and I believe our political balance had much to do with that. I can only hope that the partisan behavior evident at this past meeting was an aberration, and that our Board will continue to serve the entire community rather than political interests.

2010 Committee Assignments

In my own words

A few weeks ago the Courier Times published a letter from Mary Durkin who criticized my appearance at the recent Neshaminy High School dedication. The problem is that I wasn't at the dedication, but that little oversight is no surprise given that this person is a political hack who has spread false rumors about me in the past.

I submitted a response to Durkin's letter but the Courier Times chose not to publish it because they issued a correction (which I never saw) and felt printing my letter would be redundant. While I disagree with the Courier's decision, at least I can post my response on this blog. And here it is . . .

In her letter of November 22, Mary Durkin states she personally observed me present at the Neshaminy High School ribbon cutting ceremony. Either Ms. Durkin needs to get her eyes checked, or she never actually witnessed the event on TV as she states but rather submitted a letter that was prepared for her by someone else. I was not present at the ceremony and did not participate in the ribbon cutting. Ms. Durkin’s misinformed statement is not surprising since it is symptomatic of the misleading information used by those opposed to the new high school plan back in 2004.

Perhaps in the midst of her return to Neverland Ms. Durkin could have reminded us just who told our community that we could construct a good as new high school for $50 million that in fact ended up costing more than $80 million.

William O’Connor
Neshaminy School Board Director


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Notes from last night

Greetings from San Fran which is going through a bit of a rainy, cold spell this week (just my luck). In case you didn't see today's Courier, here is an article and editorial about the outsourcing information the Board recently posted . . .

Nonunion janitors could save district millions

Unreasonable demands

Gotta get back to work so there is no time to comment on this. There were a few things that happened at last night's meeting that bothered me - signs that partisan politics have come back to the district. Whatever progress we made over the last year may have been undone by Neshaminy voters in November. For now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we haven't taken a huge step backwards.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Weighing the options

While the School Board continues its negotiations with the support staff workers of NESPA, it has also begun to collect information regarding savings through outsourcing some of the support functions to outside vendors.

The first set of functions under review for outsourcing are the janitorial services for both first and second shift. According to the District's Negotiation Website, the potential for savings for outsourcing just these functions is slightly under $9 million over three years.

It should be emphasized that these savings represent the difference between the costs associated with outsourcing and the Board's current offer to NESPA. If you consider the difference between outsourcing and the NESPA counter offer to the Board, the savings of outsourcing is significantly greater than $9 million.

The Board has not set a deadline for when (or if) it will decide on whether or not to outsource support functions, but it has stated that negotiations with NESPA representatives will continue.

The Board has posted the full results of vendor bidding for janitorial services on its Negotiation Website.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chalk one up against outsourcing

Earlier this week a letter to the editor appeared in the Courier Times in which the author stated their objections to the possibility of support staff functions being outsourced to third party vendors. According to Colleen McLaughlin of Feasterville, "Once you have committed to outsourcing, it is extremely expensive to regain control of the part of your business you have allowed another entity to control. The level of service and cost, in the long run, trend in the wrong directions, with the cost going up and service going down."

Although I respect Ms. McLaughlin's opinion, I don't agree with her unsubstantiated conclusions that outsourcing will necessarily lead to increased costs and loss in quality of services. Her statements are based solely on opinion yet she presents them as if they were facts.

If you read the comments below the online edition of the Courier Times, one reader posted the following observations:

There are no facts in this letter. Colleen you cannot make assertions without backing it up. I am sure if you google it you will find pros and cons on both sides. Anyway this is not about giving jobs to any foreign firm. The firms that do this are companies that usually rehire 80% of the original employees. The board needs to be very careful about going down this path. But the Union has to be very careful about letting the board investigate outsourcing costs. These firms are desperate for SD business and will offer very reduced rates in this recession. Once the savings are public it is hard to stop boards from doing it. Especially in NSD where the budget is out of control and thy are facing more cuts in the 2010 budget.

Not sure I can say it better than that, so I won't.

You can read Ms. McLaughlin's letter in its entirety by clicking here.

Retiring board members offer parting thoughts

If you didn't observe the last meeting where we said good bye to Bill Spitz, Joe Blasch and Frank Koziol, here is a great summary courtesy of The Advance:

Three members of the Neshaminy Board of School Directors stepped down from the job Tuesday night after serving a combined 16 years on the district's nine-member governing body. Retiring members Dr. William Spitz, Frank Kozoil and Joseph Blasch will be replaced by Republicans Scott Congdon, Mike Morris and Bill Oettinger, who will be sworn into office during a special reorganization meeting on Monday, Dec. 7.

Spitz personally thanked Superintendent Dr. Louis T. Muenker and his immediate predecessors. "All of them have successfully undertaken a very difficult job and I always found each of them willing to go above and beyond what was required." He also thanked past and current board members and the board's treasurer, Joseph Paradise. "I've learned a lot from each of you." And he particularly singled out board president Ritchie Webb "who has taken the extra step this past year to bring fairness, harmony and consensus to the board" and board member William O'Connor "who has been an inspiration to me for the professional and thoughtful way he contributed to the dialogue." He thanked the employees of the Neshaminy School District, calling them "honest, hard working people who care passionately about education."

In a final gesture of thanks, Superintendent Muenker announced the purchase and dedication of nine books in honor of the retiring board members. The books will be donated to the school district libraries and include some of the members' favorite titles.

"You will all be missed greatly and I hope you will come back and visit us and be a part of the community as always," said Webb.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Out of town

Just a heads up that I'll be on the road over the next two weeks and I probably won't be updating the blog much, if at all. Any comments you submit will be published (eventually) but please be patient.

Hope to see you at the Board Reorg meeting on Monday, December 7th.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saying good bye

At last night's board meeting we said good bye to our three outgoing members - Bill Spitz, Joe Blasch and Frank Koziol. All three were hard working officials who represented their constituents honorably.

My fondest memory of Frank Koziol will be the time when I commented how I only agreed with 25% of whatever came out of his mouth, to which he responded "so how does it feel to be wrong 75% of the time?" Good one, Frank.

Joe Blasch is truly one of the most decent people I've ever met in my life, and I will sorely miss his wisdom and sense of fairness on this board. It will be very hard for me to look to my immediate left at future meetings and not see him sitting there. I'll miss you, partner.

I'm not sure what I can say about Bill Spitz that our president Ritchie Webb didn't say last night. Bill was a tireless worker who dedicated himself to improving education in our district, and he has a brilliant mind for numbers. The board will really miss him. I first got to know Bill as a board member, but now I am honored to call him my friend. Thanks for everything, Bill.

To our newest board members - making campaign promises and winning elections is the easy part. Now you have to step forward and earn what the people have given you, and you have some mighty big shoes to fill. Good luck! I look forward to working with you.

To all who visit this blog, thank you for your ongoing support. Please enjoy a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday!

William O'Connor

Support Staff protest during meeting

From today's Courier Times . . .

Several members of Neshaminy's support staff were once again picketing outside Tuesday night's school board meeting at Maple Point Middle School in Middletown.

The bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers continue to protest the district's consideration of bids on custodial, transportation, maintenance and food services. Union President Mindy Anderson had no comment on Tuesday night's protest.

Mirroring what the board offered the teachers, the board is asking the support staff to contribute from 15 percent to 17 percent to the current plan over three years, or change the plan and pay 10 percent to 12 percent. The district also is offering a 3 percent annual salary increase over three years, board President Ritchie Webb previously said. The support staff counter-offered, saying they'd forgo a salary increase this year if they don't have to contribute to their health care premiums. They said they'd then contribute to their health care in increments up to 5 percent over five years. They also asked for 3 percent, 3 1/2 percent and 4 percent salary increases over five years, according to district officials.

Click here to read the entire article.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

She needs to get her eyes checked

In a letter published in today's Courier Times, Mary Durkin says she was upset by my presence at the recent high school ribbon cutting ceremony. One problem with that Ms. Durkin - I was never at the ceremony!

When it comes to the high school reconstruction, some folks will never get their facts straight. Go ahead Ms. Durkin, you and your cronies can take all the credit for the project. That's your legacy, not mine. And you can keep it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Have budget cuts hurt the students?

There was no doubt going into this school year that our students would feel some impact of the cost reductions made to our budget. Some matters, like tissues, would be minor. Other issues, like reduced bus schedules, would be more significant. Thankful that we didn't have to cut any educational programs, I was cautiously optimistic that we wouldn't see any other disruptions to our children's learning.

Over the last few weeks I have become aware of some issues that warrant further review, and I brought those up for discussion at last night's school board meeting.

First, and most important, was computer education in the elementary schools. The computer aids were eliminated with the understanding that teachers are responsible for those classes (aids were there to assist, but not run the classes). What I've heard from numerous parents is that while some elementary teachers are still having computer labs, others are not. Clearly this was not what we wanted to happen, and so I asked Dr. Muenker for a thorough review of the situation. At last night's meeting he indicated that this has already been referred to Dr. Heble (Curriculum & Instruction). Stay tuned for updates on this situation.

The next issue of concern was the high school library, specifically that it is no longer available to students before or after school. An article in the school's Playwickian newspaper stated that "With a fast-paced learning environment in High School, students who do not have means to a computer are at a significant disadvantage compared to others." I had previously spoken to students about this issue, including my own children who attended NHS, and they didn't believe the library was utilized that much outside of normal school hours. But if this Playwickian article is to be believed, then the library may be more of a resource than we considered it to be. Dr. Muenker was already aware of this article in the school paper, and he confirmed he will be looking into this matter more closely.

The final matter I discussed last night actually had nothing to do with students directly, but rather our district's ability to effectively communicate to the outside world. Previously much of the district's communication came through a public relations person (Sandy Costanzo), but that position was eliminated after her retirement and her functions were absorbed by existing staff members. Since that time, I have received numerous emails from parents saying they have a difficult time reaching anyone in district administration and that their messages are never returned. And if you read the Courier Times regularly, you may have noticed many recent articles about our district which contained the phrase "District officials were not available for comment." This situation is frustrating to all those trying to contact the district, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

As important as all these topics are, there isn't a no-brainer solution at hand. Remember our fiscal situation is very tight, and any additions to the budget will have to be offset by a corresponding reduction. This reminds me of the words of our board president, Ritchie Webb, who said last school year that we can trim the budget with a scalpel or a chain saw - we've chosen a scalpel.

Mr. Webb was absolutely right - the scalpel was the much better way to go. Unfortunately even a scalpel wound hurts.

I'll keep you posted on updates to these and other matters.

Update on Ad Hoc Facilities Committee

Our second meeting slated for last week was postponed due to scheduling conflicts of the committee participants. Given the recent election turnout, I have recommended to Board President Ritchie Webb that the committee suspend its meetings for now and resume after the December board reorganization so that new committee members may be appointed.

This all but assures that we will not be able to make decisions about any facilities effective for the 2010/2011 school year.

I'll report back to you on the progress of this committee once our meetings resume, likely in early 2010.

It's worth a second look

You may recall last year when I was rallying behind the cause of the School Property Tax Elimination Act (SPTEA), referred to in proposed legislation as HB1275. While our elected officials in Harrisburg come and go, this idea is still on the table. And it's something you should take a serious look at.

The program isn't without risk since it relies on income and sales-based taxes instead of the more predictable property tax. But with foreclosures on the rise and an increasing number of residents receiving lower property assessments, not even property tax income is as predictable as it once was.
It's a radical idea to some and that can be a little scary. But that shouldn't stop you from learning more about it. Personally I am intrigued by the idea, and was very proud to speak on its behalf at a taxpayers rally in Harrisburg last year.

To learn more about the SPTEA, visit the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition (PTCC) website at And if you like the idea, contact our State Representative Frank Farry by sending him an email or calling his office at 215-752-6750, and tell him to support HB1275, the School Property Tax Elimination Act.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Home-schooled kids out of the loop

Should home-schooled children be able to receive the H1N1 vaccine from their local school district? Here is an interesting article in today's Courier Times about that very topic . . .

It appears only a handful of Bucks County school districts are sending H1N1 vaccine information and permission forms to home-schooled students. Middletown resident Cathy Gallagher breathed a sign of relief when she learned last week that Neshaminy students would get swine flu vaccines later this month. Then school district officials told her that her 17-year-old daughter Brianna wouldn't get one.

The reason, Gallagher said, is that Brianna is home schooled through a cyber charter school, meaning technically she isn't a Neshaminy student. "You should have the chance to get vaccinated," Gallagher said. "It's a sin if you go there and they have leftover vaccine because people didn't have the opportunity. I never thought it was going to be a problem."

So far, it appears only a handful of school districts are sending vaccine information and permission forms to home-schooled students. They are: Bensalem, Council Rock, Pennsbury and Palisades. The Bucks County Health Department, which is running the clinics for the 13 school districts, didn't provide specific direction regarding home-schooled children, Director David Damsker said.

The Courier Times was unsuccessful Monday in reaching the following school districts for comment about whether they're including home-schooled students in H1N1 vaccine clinics: Bristol, Centennial, Morrisville, Neshaminy, New Hope-Solebury, Pennridge and Quakertown.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Little movement in Support Staff talks

Representatives from the district's negotiation team and NESPA recently met for further discussions of a new contract. Although there was some movement, both sides remain very far apart in the key issues. Here is a summary of the major points:

Contract Length and Outsourcing
The Board proposal: 3-year contract with an agreement not to outsource any work for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 contract years.

The NESPA proposal: 5-year contract with no change to the language regarding third-party contracting.

The Board proposal: To offset increased health care costs, a reduced year 1 increase of 1%, followed by raises of 3% in each of the second and third years.

The NESPA proposal: Year 1 = 0% increase, years 2-4 = 3.5% each, year 5 = 4%

Medical Benefit Contributions
The Board proposal: A reduced-cost medical plan with monthly contributions of 10%, 11%, 12% over three years.

The NESPA proposal: Maintain its top-tier insurance coverage with monthly contributions of 0%, 2%, 3%, 4%, 5% over five years.

Retiree Benefits
Under the expired contract, eligible retirees and their spouses receive full medical, drug, dental and vision coverage until age 65 with no premium contributions.

The Board proposes to eliminate these retirement benefits, to be replaced with a provision allowing all eligible retirees to remain in the group medical plan at District cost. The Union opposes any changes to retiree benefits (except that retirees will be placed into the same base medical plan as active employees).

Sick Days
The Board proposes that sick days should no longer count as time worked for the purpose of calculating overtime. The Union opposes this proposal.

Posted on the district's negotiation website is a more detailed summary of these issues along with several statements including, "the Union's refusal to adequately address the above issues, related primarily to benefits for full-time workers, leaves us little choice but to continue to consider contracting with third parties as a partial solution to the financial challenges we face."

You can get further detail on both the Board and NESPA offers by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

School Board Election Results

Attention readers: There have been a number of comments submitted to this post that are politically-charged one way or the other, and I have been struggling with which comments to publish and which ones to edit. So I have decided not to publish any of the comments regarding yesterday's election.

For those wishing to express their gratitude to either Dr. Spitz or Mr. Blasch, please submit your comment and I will pass them along privately.

Thank you for your understanding.

- William O'Connor


Updated 10:05pm, 11/3/2009

Projected winners will be bolded

Region 1 (Lower South) - Elect One
Joe Blasch (D)* -
Scott Congdon (R)

Region 2 (Levittown) - Elect One
Melissa Kitzmiller (D) -
Mike Morris (R)

Region 3 (Langhorne) - Elect Two
William Spitz (D)*
Lisa Reiser (D) -
Irene Boyle (R)*
William Oettinger (R)

(*) Denotes incumbent


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Remember to Vote on Tuesday

The absolute worst thing you can do is convince yourself that your own vote doesn't matter. With the percentage of registered voter turnout expected somewhere in the mid teens, every single vote counts! Don't leave the future of your school board to chance.

For anyone who votes at Maple Point, I will be standing outside of the polling area all day so please stop by and say hello.

See you on Tuesday!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

First meeting of ad hoc committee held

To consolidate or not to consolidate, that is the question. And that's the purpose behind the board's Ad Hoc Facilities Committee which held its first meeting last night in the board room at Maple Point. This initial meeting lasted barely more than an hour as we discussed the guidelines and resources we would use moving forward.

Neshaminy's elementary and middle schools are underutilized in terms of space, and our committee is tasked with examining data and other considerations (of which there are plenty) in order to make recommendations to the board which could include possible closure of one or more buildings. The Ad Hoc committee could also conclude that such closures are not feasible at this time, so residents should not hit the panic button just yet.

Last night's meeting was attended by myself and fellow board member Joe Blasch (Rick Eccles was absent), and district staff Jacqueline Rattigan and Paul Minotti. We were also joined last night by our business manager, Joe Paradise. There were three members of the public who were also in attendance, and we greatly appreciated their input.

We are working on a schedule for future meetings so please check back periodically for further updates.

Feds investigating claims against district

From today's front page headlines . . .

Federal officials are investigating three separate discrimination claims against the Neshaminy School District: one for alleged bias against female athletes; a second involving alleged discrimination against a student with disabilities; and a third alleging sexual harassment of a student, officials confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

Citing litigation issues, Superintendent Lou Muenker said he was unable to comment on the cases.
The first complaint, filed in August 2008, alleges the district discriminated against female athletes in regards to equipment, supplies, game schedules, practice times, locker rooms and assignment and compensation of coaches, according to Jim Bradshaw of the U.S. Department of Education's press office.

Several parents in the district have received letters asking to interview their children as possible witnesses.

The federal office received a complaint in May of this year alleging the district had denied a student with disabilities a free appropriate public education with respect to the evaluation, placement and discipline of the student, Bradshaw said.

A third case was opened in September after a complainant accused the district of subjecting a student to a sexually hostile environment and failing to address the harassment, officials said.

The investigations don't mean Neshaminy is automatically guilty of any wrongdoing, according to the Office of Civil Rights' Web Site.

Click here to read this article in its entirety.

Schools take extra precaution against spread of H1N1

Also in this morning's Courier Times . . .

Students with a fever, glassy eyes, sore throat and runny nose should not be sent to school, officials said.

Higher than normal absentee rates at two Neshaminy elementary schools and the increasing threat of the contagious H1N1 virus have prompted officials to post "preventive" messages on the schools' respective Web pages.

There's no indication that the virus, more commonly known as the swine flu, is responsible for the increased absentee rate at Oliver Heckman and Herbert Hoover elementary schools, Neshaminy Superintendent Louis Muenker said Tuesday.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Seniors ask about teacher talks

This update courtesy of the Courier Times . . .

During a forum with more than 30 residents, [Neshaminy School Board president] Webb explained the board’s position and answered questions at the Villages of Flowers Mill in Langhorne. Union President Louise Boyd was also invited to the event, but declined since the union’s policy is not to negotiate in public. She didn’t comment further.

“(Teachers are) great people, who are dedicated to the students and the community,” said Webb. “But if we can’t get them to work with the board, we’ll face even tougher decisions next budget.”

Several residents said they didn’t understand why the board’s offer’s still on the table if the educators already turned it down. Other residents said the teachers are being reasonable. A woman who did not want to give her name said, especially in this economy, the teachers need to contribute to their health insurance premiums.

You can read the complete article by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Residents frustrated over teacher protests

From the pages of today's Courier Times . . .

Some called the union's actions intimidating. Union President Louise Boyd said the events were not disruptive. Even though it's been a few weeks since Neshaminy teachers picketed the district's back to school nights, people are still talking about it. During Tuesday night's school board meeting, several residents, many of them parents, expressed their frustration and disappointment in the union's protest.

Boyd also addressed board President Ritchie Webb, saying, "We stand together and (we are) ready for real negotiations." Webb responded that if she was sincere, he was willing to try to set up a meeting.

The board claims the union's proposal remains unchanged, with a request for a total 6 percent annual salary hike, including steps, and a requirement for no change to the medical insurance package, said Webb. Boyd has denied those claims, but she hasn't revealed the union's offer.

Since I am 4,000 miles away and 6 hours ahead, I'll let you guys tell me what happened at the meeting.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Keep an eye on things for me

I'm heading out of the country on business in a couple days and therefore won't be at the October 13th board meeting.

Take good notes. Let me know what I miss.

Auf wiedersehen!

Show faith in teachers

That's the theme of a letter in this morning's Courier Times. The author of the letter said she was "appalled by Neshaminy school board President Ritchie Webb's comments that parents probably are afraid that Neshaminy teachers will retaliate against their kids if they protest recent picketing by teachers." She goes on to say that "Neshaminy teachers have shown good faith by working for more than a year without a contract" and that we should show the same good faith in them.

You can read the letter in its entirety by clicking here.

Fair or not, there is a perception by some parents that speaking out publicly against the NFT's position will lead to retaliation against their children in school. I have received more than a dozen emails from parents in this community saying exactly that. Those parents have asked my opinion if I believe teachers will retaliate, and I have responded that although some retaliation is possible simply because there are always people in any profession that lack professionalism, my belief is the vast majority of Neshaminy teachers will not hold your opinions against your students. Remember, I speak from experience in this matter.

I've been pretty clear about my feelings regarding this contract situation - I admire and respect our teachers, but I do not agree with their contractual demands. But while making my opinions known, I've avoided using insulting phrases like calling them "greedy teachers" or suggesting that they don't deserve the compensation they are receiving. The teachers may not have liked or agreed with what I said, but they have respected my views just as I have respected, but not agreed with, theirs.

When I went to the NHS back-to-school night last week and I saw many of the teachers I have known for years, there was no shortage of handshakes or hugs. And I've not seen any sort of teacher retaliation against my high schooler. From my own perspective, this matter has been handled completely professionally.

So here's a little advice to anyone who wishes to speak out about the contract situation. Regardless of your opinion, no matter who you support, make your statements respectful and void of unnecessary and insulting comments. Stick to the facts as you see them and don't react emotionally. Your opinion matters, and you should feel free to voice your beliefs to the board and the teachers without fear of retaliation.

It's just like your parents always told you . . . treat others with respect, and they'll treat you the same way in return.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Students adjust to new home

From today's Courier Times . . .

The former Tawanka Learning Center moved into a renovated portion of the high school this year.

Even though the Tawanka Learning Center has a different home and a new name, students and staff said the Neshaminy School District's alternative program still has got plenty of TLC.

Now just The Learning Center, the school moved from an elementary building on Brownsville Road in Lower Southampton to a renovated portion of the high school that otherwise would've been demolished.

"This is a great community," said senior Julian Santos, 18. "I liked the other building better because we could do more there, but the teachers make it seem like it's still Tawanka."

You can read the rest of this Courier Times article by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Seeing Red

There was a new presence at tonight's NHS Back-to-School night. We had protesters, but I'm not referring to NFT members picketing on district property (although they were there, too). A group of a dozen or so Neshaminy parents demonstrated outside of the school grounds to protest what they believe are outrageous contract demands from the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers. Though their numbers were small, the group was committed to and enthusiastic about their support of the School Board's handling of contract negotiations with the teachers.

Now that back-to-school nights are over for this year, hopefully all future protests will be held at more appropriate events like school board meetings. But as for tonight's appearance of this new group, at least they obeyed the law and respected district property.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of attending Back-to-School night as a parent instead of as a board member. It was enjoyable saying hello to all those teachers I've known over the years as they were an important part of my children's lives. And I am especially pleased with the team my high schooler has for this year - not a weak one in the bunch. It reminds me of the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher . . . a good teacher educates a student, and a great teacher inspires them.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Controversy sparks new record

Community interest in the teacher's contract led to a single-day record number of hits to this blog on Friday as 626 unique visits were tallied before the day was through. Many of those visitors are new to, so welcome aboard!

If you would like to be keep track of updates to this blog, now would be a good time to sign up for email alerts.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

NFT protests continue

Despite a notice from the school board which advised that picketing on district property was unlawful, protesting teachers ventured onto school grounds at several elementary buildings during back-to-school night to show their displeasure with the status of contract negotiations; protesters at Heckman remained on the sidewalk rather than picketing on the grounds.

According to the Board's Contract Negotiation site, The NFT's proclaimed concerns about "fair" negotiating ring hollow in light of their insistence on breaking the law in order to publicize their views.The District's final Back to School Night activities for the year will be held next Wednesday, September 30 at Neshaminy High School. Once again the Board asks the NFT to respect State law and refrain from picketing on school property.

In today's Courier Times is a recap of last night's protests as well as a Thumbs Down editorial. After you've digested all this reading material, take a moment to participate in the Readers Survey over to the right.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Inhouse or outsource?

As members of the Support Staff union (NESPA) picketed outside of last night's school board meeting, several parents inside voiced their support for the Support Staff and Teachers. They stated that the board should not consider outsourcing of support positions because those workers won't know and understand the children the way the current staff does. A couple of other speakers countered those opinions by raising concerns over the pending tax increases resulting from the State workers pension fund, and added that if teachers accepted the Board's offer then perhaps outsourcing wouldn't become necessary.

You can catch a synopsis of last night's meeting by reading this morning's Courier Times article by George Mattar.

Also last night the NESPA president, Mindy Anderson, presented the Board with another petition, noting that she now had collected 600 signatures. During her speech, Ms. Anderson quoted from my blog post where I said something along the lines of the petitions being a demand that we not outsource support staff jobs. I'm not sure if she was amplifying what I said or correcting it, but she went on to say what they were demanding were fair negotiations. Just to be sure I didn't misunderstand what the petitions demanded, I went back and re-read them. I kinda think I nailed it . . .

We, the taxpayers, of Neshaminy School District petition the Neshaminy School Board of School Directors to STOP all actions of threatening the School Support Staff with Sub-Contracting of their jobs. We do not support hiring for PROFIT companies and/or eliminating or reducing livelihoods of the Neshaminy Support Employees.

I do give the NESPA picketers credit for respecting district property last night and restricting their activities to the outer fringe of school grounds by standing near the bottom of the driveway entrances. I hope the NFT follows this same example at Thursday's elementary back-to-school night meetings and other district-sponsored events.

To be clear on the matter of outsourcing, the Board continues to negotiate with NESPA on a new labor agreement but we are also keeping our options open by inviting in bids from external vendors. Our hope is that we can successfully negotiate a deal with the Support Staff, but the current economic climate forces us to look down other possible avenues no matter how unpopular they may be.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

District, teachers still at odds

From today's Courier Times . . .

When parents attended back-to-school nights at Neshaminy middle schools Thursday night, their son's or daughter's classroom teacher wasn't the only educator greeting them.
Other members of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers were outside the middle schools, wearing their union shirts and handing out fliers regarding contract negotiations with the school board.
While the educators' handouts encouraged parents to urge the district and school board members to negotiate a fair deal, board President Ritchie Webb said he was embarrassed for the teachers.
Union President Louise Boyd, though, said the educators' goal was to get out information to the community and she was proud of her members for doing so.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A tutorial on fairness

*** Updated at 2:50pm ***
Click here to read the official School Board response

It was Back To School night at Neshaminy’s middle schools yesterday, and parents were greeted by picketing teachers who ventured onto school grounds to hand out literature explaining their position in the ongoing contract negotiations.

The lit piece (click on the image to enlarge it) was called a free 60-second course on how to negotiate a “fair” contract and it told a story of how the district isn’t negotiating fairly while the NFT helplessly waits for us to come around in our thinking.

Of course I find this piece of literature to be just a tad one-sided, so I’ve prepared a supplemental tutorial entitled Sounds fair to me . . .

We are in a jobless recovery with record unemployment, but the NFT is demanding what amounts to an annual average 6% - 7% raise. We offered them in excess of 3%. Sounds fair to me.

We are in the midst of a national debate on health care as millions of Americans have no insurance at all. Those who have insurance through their employer contribute minimally 25% - 35% or more to the monthly costs, but the NFT insists that teachers contribute nothing towards their top tier coverage. We asked for contributions of 15% - 17%. Sounds fair to me.

As taxpayers are about to be burdened (again) with
funding the shortfall in the State workers pension plan (which covers the teachers), the NFT says that isn’t enough and believes each teacher is entitled to retirement perks like a $30,000 payout and free health insurance until Medicare kicks in. We think that’s excessive and have said there should be no extra retirement perks at all. Sounds fair to me.

The NFT complains that this is a “teachers lose on all points” negotiation, but what about the last two contracts where the taxpayers lost on all points? Sounds fair to me.

Unfortunately for the teachers, the NFT isn’t interpreting public reaction correctly. They confuse the public’s desire for settlement of this dispute as partial support for their demands, and apparently they think picketing on school grounds will put more pressure on the Board to back down. That kind of thinking is as out of touch with reality as is the continued demand for free benefits, and that’s what the NFT doesn’t seem to get.


Tighten the belt

This is timely news in light of the previous post . . .

The State just issued its Act 1 index for 2010-2011 . . . 2.9%. This is considerably less than this year’s 4.1% limit. So once again we must sharpen our pencils and strengthen our resolve in holding the line on expenditures while still providing a good education to our students.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it???


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Editorial 180

Today's editorial in the Courier Times very appropriately questions the flaws in PSSA's and NCLB standards. Here are a few poignant quotes . . .

"Failed grading system"
"PSSA seeks unrealistic student performance and produces a distorted picture of how schools are doing."
"What the numbers don't show is that the methodology for determining the progress rates is flawed."
"In our view, the state Department of Education needs to re-evaluate its one-size-fits-all approach because it doesn't provide an accurate overall assessment of our schools' proficiency."

My only problem with this editorial is where was it this time last year? For those with short memories, the Courier went out of its way last year to call out Neshaminy for not achieving AYP and said that many local districts were flawed in their thinking for not tracking graduation rates against AYP proficiency. Area superintendents argued that the shortcomings in PSSA and NCLB measurements render it a fairly ineffective tool for assessing student learning, but the Courier's editorial staff felt much differently. In their 8/19/2008 editorial entitled Empty Diplomas the Courier countered one superintendent's opinion that the assessments don't paint an accurate picture of students' abilities by saying "Really? Seems to us that kids who don't pass the assessment tests haven't learned the least they need to know to function effectively in the real world."

In an effort to bring a little perspective to the situation, fellow school board member Bill Spitz set the record straight in his 9/1/2008 letter to the editor, pointing out that the Courier's stance "reflected a deep misunderstanding of the meaning of the districtwide AYP designations."

Maybe this is just sour grapes on my part, but I still vividly recall the frustration we experienced in trying to point out errors in the Courier's reporting last year. And even when we were able to prove their inaccuracies, the Courier refused to print a retraction or clarification. I haven't thought about this for quite a long time, but reading this morning's editorial brought back a lot of last year's bad memories. I guess now it's time to close the book on this and move on.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cozy or Crowded at NHS?

In a recent Courier Times feature, two Neshaminy students lamented over what they believe is overcrowding at the high school. Here are a few excerpts:

"it’s not exactly a comfortable living environment"
"Having extensive construction plans in progress for what seems to be forever, or at least since the rejection of a proposed new school (thanks, grandma and gramps!)"
"In place of enjoying the year with our tight-knit friends and big plans, we’re being forced into insanely small quarters"
"Neshaminy [high school] is clearly too small for us to be here"

You can read the entire feature article by clicking here.

There's no question that things are a little more crowded at NHS than we'd prefer (just as Maple Point was last year), and I hope that the congestion will ease a bit when the students become more familiar with the new layout of the building. My high schooler has told me that the congestion in the hallways is still not good but it is getting a little better, and I've heard similar reports from others.

This is a difficult transition year for the high school considering the final stages of the reconstruction project, the new hallway traffic patterns, incorporation of 9th grade, addition of the Learning Center students. For what it's worth, I truly appreciate the patience and commitment of our students, faculty and administration during this time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama-Drama: Much ado about nothing

Obama's address to students came and went without any negative impact on the children. No mass hysteria or "indoctrination" occurred. America's children didn't flood the streets shouting Marxist propaganda. All kidding aside, children were never the issue with Obama's speech - it was always about the adults. More on that in a moment, but first a recap of last night's school board meeting . . .

* During public comment, the head of the Neshaminy of the Support Staff union presented the board with another petition demanding that support workers' jobs should not be outsourced.
* A Levittown woman said that she was concerned by the sharing of specialist teachers between multiple schools and the effect it might have on events such as concerts, plays, art shows, etc. She encouraged parents to get more involved in their school's PTO to support these events.
* Dr. Muenker acknowledged that schools opened successfully in the district.
* Bill Spitz announced that detailed results of our recent PSSA scores would be discussed at the next Education Development Committee meeting (9/21).
* Ritchie Webb updated the audience on negotiations with the teachers union; basically nothing new to report as the two sides remain far apart on key issues. Board Pez Webb also announced that a 3-person ad hoc board committee was formed to evaluate our building utilization (yours truly being named committee chair).
* We expect to hear what the State's Act 1 inflationary limit will be for the next school year later this week; rumor has it the magic number will be around 2%.

A quick note about the ad hoc facilities committee . . . I have already heard rumors of a secret decision of which building(s) will be closed, and that this committee is just window dressing. WRONG! Anyone who tells you that they know the final outcome is just mongering gossip. There is no guarantee that we will even decide to close another building at this point. The best way for you to follow developments of this committee is to attend the meetings (dates tbd).

Now let's talk about President Obama's address to the students. I received nearly a dozen emails last week from parents concerned about the nature of the President's address. Most of the people writing to me were not yet aware of what was being discussed, and they simply wanted reassurance that the board would not allow the speech to be broadcast if it were about political issues such as health care reform. However some of our neighbors took a much different view about President Obama's speech. They saw it as an opportunity for Obama to indoctrinate the children into what they perceive to be a liberal agenda, and they didn't care what the subject was because Obama's very presence was potentially harmful to the children. Think I'm exaggerating? Here are a few excerpts from some of the emails I received last week:

"I am contacting you regarding the Obama speech scheduled to be broadcast to our children next week . . . If necessary, my children will not attend school on Tuesday."

"Do not further the socialistic/fascistic/communistic ideaologies of this administration."

"... this is propaganda and against the Constitution of the United States."

"This man is evil and cannot be allowed to corrupt the young innocents of our community. You must protect our children!"

"Obama is a communist and you are a communist if you allow him to spread his left wing liberal filth to the children."

"... he is intent on indoctrinating our youth into his marxist agenda just like Hitler."

So there you have it - real comments from some of your neighbors. I didn't realize that Joe McCarthy was still alive and apparently living right here in Bucks County.

I have no problem with parents wanting to know what the President was going to discuss with our students. These are political times, and parents should take an active role in understanding what is being taught to their children. And it shouldn't matter which political party our president belongs to - It was ok by me that Bush 41 spoke to kids on the evils of illegal drugs back in the early 90's, and it's ok by me that Obama talked to our children now about the importance of a good education. Unfortunately there are too many people out there who don't care about the topic because they can only focus on the politics.

I do find it ironic and somewhat amusing that conservatives and liberals criticize each other on their behavior yet they act exactly the same during moments such as this. And during such moments they provide a valuable lesson to our children on how NOT to behave as an adult.

Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Strictly personnel

Last night we welcomed 5 new administrators to fill the void of several open positions; 2 of the 5 were promoted up from within the ranks of current employees while the other 3 came from other school districts. They are:

Kathleen Brewster - Principal at Schweitzer
Lisa Pennington - Assistant Principal at NHS
Anthony Rybarczyk - Principal at Hoover (from Pennridge)
Lynn Knots - Assistant Principal at NHS (from Reading)
Charles D'Alfonso - Principal at Lower South (from North Penn)

Congratulations all on their new assignments (and welcome to Neshaminy for the newbies).

In other personnel news, the Board approved labor agreements last night with the Neshaminy Administrative Support Association and the Confidential Secretaries. Both agreements covered the same ground as others recently approved and are consistent with the offers made to the NFT and the Support Staff workers.

Just prior to last night's meeting, the Support Staff workers staged what they referred to as an "informal protest" by holding up signs and collecting signatures of support at the entrances to Maple Point. The Support Staff is objecting to the District's decision to entertain bids from outside contractors in addition to negotiating with them. The Group's president, Mindy Anderson, spoke to the Board during public comment restating her objections to the District's consideration of external bids and presented the board with a petition reinforcing that position.

Moving on to non-personnel matters, last night I restated a previous request for the formation of an ad hoc committee to review building utilization in the district, specifically to focus on our elementary schools. Recent facilities studies suggest that our elementary buildings may be underutilized, and I am suggesting that we obtain updated information to confirm or disprove the earlier reports now rather than make a mad scramble in January when we're stuck behind the budget 8-ball again. Ultimately I prefer not to close another building in the district but prudent business practices dictate that we do a little due diligence. Board Prez Ritchie Webb agreed to appoint 3 board members, 1 from each region, to the ad hoc committee.

Citizen attendance at the meeting was disappointing to me. We had about 75 people there, most being Neshaminy staff. Aside from the usual attendees, I didn't see too many parents in the crowd. Hey, I know it's the end of summer but let's get ourselves into good habits early. So suck it up and show up. I'll expect to see more of you at the next meeting OR ELSE . . .
You can read the Courier Times' recap of last night's meeting by clicking here.