Thursday, January 22, 2009

New proposal offered to teachers

This info courtesy of a Courier Times article . . .

During a recent negotiation session, the Neshaminy school board offered the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers a new medical and prescription drug benefits proposal, according to a message posted on the district's Web site. Officials refused to reveal specifics about the new plan because the board wants to give teachers time to review it.

Board spokesman Ritchie Webb did say this deal involves a less-restrictive Personal Choice option, compared to the old proposal, which offered a more limited HMO.

"Hopefully, we can get some movement," said Webb. "We're looking for a compromise and we're optimistic that we can get something going."

In May, the district says it proposed the following: An increase in the salary schedule from 11 to 15 steps over three years; that teachers contribute 10, 11 and 12 percent to their health insurance over three years; elimination of the retirement incentive package; an increase in work days, from 188.5 to 190.5; an increase in work hours from 7 to 7.5; and a salary increase of roughly 3 percent annually, including service and education.

The following union offer, also made in May, is posted on the district's Web site: An annual 4 percent salary increase, not including service and education; no more than three consecutive teaching periods; increased prep time, from five to seven periods per week; implementation of full-day kindergarten; implementation of a technology component at the elementary level; and an increase in the retirement incentive, from $27,500 to $30,000.

You can read the full article by clicking here.


Gabriel said...

I consider myself to be a pro education person but I choked on my sandwich at the union's earlier proposal - 4% increase? More prep time? Max of 3 consecutive teaching periods? Increase to a retirement incentive they shouldn't have to begin with? This is just plain crazy. Even if they asked for no change it would be too much but to demand inceases to an overly generous contract is absurd. Neshaminy teachers have a black eye on this one.

I left the same message on the Courier blog and encourage readers of this to do the same. I really do support our teachers but their expectations are too high. This could be a bargaining tactic on their part but they cannot expect the public to sit back and just watch all this happen.

JS said...

I will play devil's advocate and say that if you look at what the District offered back in May, you'll see both were far apart. Now we don't know if the teacher's have submitted any counter offers, but I'm guessing they've come down from that initial offer.

With that being said, I even balk at wanting the district to offer Personal Choice. Personal Choice premiums for 2009 for a married couple were roughly $20,000. Add children to that and it goes up roughly $4000 per child. I hope the board gives the public some idea of what they are truly offering before they do it. If they do not I swear there better not be a tax increase shortly after to pay for what they offered.

If the district can't afford to offer contract as the budget sits right now, then they shouldn't offer it. Anyone should understand that. If you can't afford it you shouldn't buy it.

JS said...

And one more thing, also referencing a comment on the BCCT site.

I hope the board makes NO retroactive raises. If they do then they need to make any health contributions they ultimately are responsible for retroactive as well. If not then it makes no sense for the teachers to settle quickly.

If they assume they will get retroactive pay (which usually happens when there is a raise in the first year of the contract) then why not continue working under the old contract. The entire time the district is picking up the tab for Health Benefits. If premiums have gone up, but they aren't paying for them, then it really is a raise in pay anyway.

I hope that part is publicly presented as well.

KClarinet said...

This is what's wrong with publicizing these bargaining positions. People react to them as if the proposals were final offers. Everyone at the table knows that the final result is going to be different from what either has on the table and that neither the board nor the teachers will get everything they're asking for. That's the bargaining process.

And, yes, the public *must* sit back and let the process go on. There are already enough voices with their own agendas at the table. Add many more and the cacophony can become too loud for anyone to be heard clearly.

LivininLevittown said...

Sit back and let it happen KClarinet? The last time we did that the board gave the teachers the outrageous contract that we now have. When your getting mugged you don't sit back and let it happen. You fight back.

sk.langhorne said...

Both sides have been silent until now so why is Mr. Webb making this statement all of a sudden? Sounds like the teachers aren't making concessions or counter offers. If negotiations were doing well, the board would not want to jeopardize the process by going public. We have a huge budget gap and the board must get this contract settled asap. If they don't then programs will have to get cut to make our budget.

I agree with you JS about no retroactive pay. Unions deal with ongoing fruitless negotiations because they know if the end they will be paid retroactively. Maybe if the board told them no retroactive pay no matter what the teachers would likely settle more quickly.

Erik said...

I think KClarinet is a teacher so his/her perspective is from that side of the fence. But the statement of sit back and let it happen is ridiculous. LiL was right about the last time that happened. The public has to pay for these salaries so we deserve regular updates on negotiations. If teachers don't agree with the school board's updates then they can issue their own press release. No news is not good news in this case. These negotiations should be more out in the open and the board should have been issuing updates more frequently. I went to the board web page that William gave us a link to and it has been too long a time between updates.

KClarinet said...

To JS:

I personally would assume that retroactivity would apply to the entire contract (including insurance premiums). It's hard to see how anyone could justify making only part of the settlement retroactive.


A sort of Catch-22 in this economic environment is that while the teachers are currently benefiting from health benefits that are extended from the expired contract, the District is benefiting by not having to pay increased salaries. It's a stalemate that, if nothing else, gives everyone a chance to see what changes may take place in the economy and how transient the current problems with the district's investment income will turn out to be. One of the critical problems when everything else is more or less settled on is how long a new contract should last. The duration of a new agreement will almost certainly depend on where each side thinks the economy is headed.

I'm curious if anyone else understands what was meant by a "less-restrictive" Personal Choice option. Less-restrictive to whom? It sounds like something with fewer restrictions on where and how patients get medical services and how much they cost. That would of course be more, not less expensive. Does this have some less-than-intuitive meaning or was Richie Webb being careless with his terminology? Was the reporter paying more attention to a press deadline than to understanding what she was writing?

nostradamus said...

My predictions for February . . .
* The teachers will soundly reject the boards latest offer.
* They will make a counter proposal asking for top tier medical coverage with a small single digit contribution.
* The board will reject their counter offer. Negotiations will break down by mid February.
* With a budget crisis looming, the people will demand more updates. Both sides will claim the other is not bargaining in good faith.
* The teachers will not strike for fear of angerng the public so they will continue to work to contract.
* The Courier Times will issue an editorial slamming teachers for being greedy, blame the school board for lacking conviction, criticize taxpayers for wanting it both ways, and otherwise pointing a finger at anyone else they can point a finger at.
* The budget crisis will force the board to close Tawanka, close another school building, discontinue discussions of full time Kindergarten.

LivininLevittown said...

Catch 22? Neshaminy's teachers are still among the highest paid in the entire state so this is no bargain. We are still paying for there pension plan. They are still getting free benefits. This is a great deal for the teachers and the tax payer is still getting screwed. If this is your idea of a Catch 22 KClarinet I think most people would disagree with you.

JS said...

Well the BCCT already has an editorial in the paper today giving Neshaminy a thumbs down (no surprise given their past coverage of the district) for not giving specifics on this latest offer.

I agree. I'll ask Mr. O'Connor here directly. Why is it that the public can't know what the District is offering? If the Teacher's accept this latest offer, is that it? The taxpayers foot the bill for what ever that contract is?

Again, just asking.

time4change said...

I don't believe that the taxpayers should be left in the dark about the upcoming contract. If you look around people are losing their jobs every day, houses are not being sold, more people are at the end of their rope.The water company is raising it rates by 25% they say people are late in paying and paying with bad checks so their answer is to raise rates will that not just lead to more late payments. This is the way the school board looks at its budget to not think that if we raise peoples taxes maybe we will end up with less since many will or may fall into foreclosure. It is time to fight for our rights to see these contract before approval. I understand that no wants to see themselves make less but at the same time are not the teachers asking us to make less by pushing up our taxes every year. I don't know about you but I am not guaranteed a raise every year and this year I am guaranteed not to get a raise(head office already put this out)but I am sure my health insurance is going to go up(We already pay over 10 thousand a year) I wish my families health care was only 2 thousand cap like pennsbury.
Only just today there is an article in the newspaper saying 41% of Neshaminy kids going to college at state and community have to take remedial courses. That is not acceptable not when you pay very high school taxes(I came to this district because they say they are one of the best and we do pay them like they are) so your kids will be ready to go to college. I am tired of throwing money at things and not seeing them improve.

KClarinet said...

"The last time we did that the board gave the teachers the outrageous contract that we now have."

"But the statement of sit back and let it happen is ridiculous. LiL was right about the last time that happened. The public has to pay for these salaries so we deserve regular updates on negotiations."

My problem with the kind of public disclosure through press statements that we are getting (and have always gotten in most labor contract issues, even big profile private sector ones) isn't that there's disclosure. It's that the disclosure tends to be highly selective and usually involves a lot of posturing for public support. It's inflammatory (I think deliberately) and almost certainly incomplete. When one side starts delivering its talking points, the other must either just let them go unanswered or issue its own, probably equally selective, response so that the negotiating begins to take place in venues other than the room with the negotiating table in it. If you want full disclosure and real transparency, you'd have to open the negotiating sessions up to the public and expand the sunshine laws to include them so that no negotiating could legally be done outside those sessions. I haven't thought about this much before, but I don't think I'd have a real objection to seeing that happen.

The problem with disclosure by press is the distortion that inevitably comes into the reportage, because (a) the reporter has only what he/she is told by the conflicted sides and (b) because newspaper editorial boards often have a built-in bias against labor in general. Remember, if you will, all the discussion about the Courier's editorial attitudes months ago when the issue of PSSA scores was a hot discussion item.

By the way, I think several of those board members who negotiated and approved the last contract are still on the board. It's small consolation after they've done something you don't like, but the obvious recourse is not to vote for politicians again if you don't like the actions they've taken. I think the current board members who were on the board six years ago must have been re-elected - more than once?

KClarinet said...

To time4change:

See my comment above about my feelings toward disclosure of negotiating positions (the one about opening the sessions to the public).

If the problem were as simple as having "thrown money" at the schools and having gotten poor results in return, the view you express would be completely valid and there could be little debate. But the fact is that for much of the school program, expenditures have either been held in place or actually cut so that a great deal of the resources available can be focused on one goal: "improving" PSSA scores. It's important to keep in mind that what this really means is keeping up with Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks dictated by the Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. To continue the explication, what keeping up with AYP means is that those students who are not currently scoring at a "Proficient" level (someone try to tell any of us what that means) on either the English or Math PSSA tests for their grade level must be remediated to enable them to achieve a "Proficient" score. Nothing is included in NCLB about kids who are already Proficient and could, with more resources concentrated on them, reach a Superior level, or about the ones already testing Superior who need very special nurturing to bring out the best they are capable of. So, most of the money we've been "throwing" at schools over the past several years has been targeted at getting a relatively small part of the student population to score better on state tests. The goal of improving education for those students is laudable and important. Trouble is, it can't be pursued without either increasing overall spending much more than our taxpayers are willing to support, or by taking funding away from everything else, including education for the already Proficient and the gifted, but also from building maintenance, adequate non-instructional service staffing, administrative staffing and other expenses that don't contribute directly to satisfying AYP requirements.

As for those college students who require remediation to be able to do college work, how many of those realistically are coming from among the ranks of the kids we've needed to help to become Proficient to achieve AYP, and how many come from among those whose educations have been limited by the flow of so many dollars to comply with NCLB? Chances are the brighter students - the ones not benefiting from (being hurt by) NCLB expenditures - are not getting what they need. The public only hears about the broad issue of equal opportunity for every child and rarely about the internal sacrifices and balancing acts elsewhere in the system that are the necessary outcome of meeting NCLB's requirements.

The bad news is that if you want to provide maximal opportunity for failing students to improve and maximize the abilities of the bright students who are most likely to end up in a college classroom (and making future breakthrough discoveries as adults), you may need to spend more, not less money on the overall program. That's not just for teachers' salaries and health benefits, although that's mostly all you read about in a contract year.

This is the kind of issue that almost certainly must influence the discussions at the bargaining table, because it's a basic money issue for the District, although it rarely if ever gets consideration in public discussions, especially in the local press. There's a huge difference between blindly, carelessly and purposelessly "throwing money at schools" and trying to balance the various needs of the many areas a school system tries to serve within the restrictions of publicly funded budgets.

In response to Erik, I am not a teacher, although several members of my family are. I am a Neshaminy taxpayer to the tune of several thousand dollars a year, so I am subject to the same tax increases everyone else on this blog may face.

IrishFarm said...

I don't think Neshaminy is blindly throwing money around. We have a good school system and we want to improve on our fine tradition. For that to happen we must anticipate there will be tax increases. If your household expenses go up, if it costs more for food at the cash register, then the school district is subject to the same inflationary factors all of us are. For those of you who always condemn every tax increase, get real. Our children are the future, and that is a cost we are obligated to pay.

There is another side to this story however. The teachers' benefits and salary is not in proportion to what the market is paying, and that is happening at a time when we cannot afford it. Prolonged negotiations are to be expected in these cases, but for the union's going in approach to be no contribution to bennies and increases to other expenses was just plain greedy and, forgive my bluntness, STUPID! They have lost any support they may have gotten from the public. I understand they wouldn't want to come to the first bargaining session with their bottom line offer in hand, but to even throw that first offer out there just made them look out of touch with reality.

If the school board was smart they would just go public now that the teachers are not negotiating in good faith. The public will believe and support them, and ultimately that may be the quickest way to kick this process into full gear. It certainly ain't happening the old fashioned way.

William O'Connor said...

To JS - To some extent I really cannot answer as I have not been a part of the negotiations. It was only recently that Pennsy State Ethics ruled that board members like myself, with immediate family members employed in the district, could be involved in the negoatiations. But you've asked a fair question so let me give you my best shot at an answer.

With negotiations, much like a boxing match, the first few rounds tend to be a feeling out process. Like it or not, one side always comes in high while the other comes in low. Then they start working to see if they can meet some place closer to the middle. During this time, negotiators tend to want to keep bargaining discussions confidential so as not to provoke the other side. I think (again, this is just MY OPINION) this is where we are with the negotiations.

Clearly both sides are far apart and the board is awaiting a response to their latest offer. After the NFT responds (regardless of the response), my guess is that you will start seeing more frequent public updates.

Sorry I can't be more specific but I have been kept out of the loop on this stuff (in compliance with the law until that point), and I often learned of developments at about the same time as you did.

LivininLevittown said...

The Courier gave you a thumbs down this week for not telling the public about your offer. Its time that the tax payers knew what was being offered. The board may think there offer is fair and the teachers will think its cheap but the people actually paying the bills may think it is to much. We have a right to know and you should have Mr. Webb tell us the offer now that you have influence in the process Mr. O'Connor.

Living in Langhorne said...

Based on the information I have read....Back in May both the district and the NFT came up with proposals. As Gabriel said it is systematic for one to aim high, one to aim low and then...the negotiations begin. This went right to fact finder. The fact finder's report is posted on the district website. The FACT FINDER proposed no change in the health insurance package...
You are telling me it has taken the board more than six months to come up with another proposal for the teachers to respond to? Why did the board wait until the last possible minute (January 10) to continue with negotiations? What we are reading in the paper is not a "response" to the districts offer but the ORIGINAL PROPOSAL from May 2008. You are right Gabriel..there has been no counter offer from the NFT because this is the first step forward the board has presented! THis information has been on the district website all school year long. People are just now "reacting"...Get with the program, stay informed and make sure you are able to sort through the wordiness of the Courier to create chaos and disconnect. The Courier thrives both financially and metaphorically by playing our district like a bunch of fools through what has happened with our school board and now, of course the upcoming contract negotiations..."Black eyes for the teachers", "fire them" and the rest of your knee jerk reactions confirm the public puppetry our district is so famous for.
Please READ the fine print...including the date of the information offered.
Everyone has their right to an opinion but an educated one...not a knee-jerk due to poor comprehension.
Wait and see what February 12 brings....I have faith in the board and the NFT to handle this differently than Pennsbury's train wreck...

Living in Langhorne said...

This is the first OFFER since May the teachers have received...It is not a matter of them not proposing a counter offer....the board has not given them any thing to COUNTER! Please stay onboard!

Gabriel said...

Dear Langhorne, what law says the teachers can only react to district offers? Do you mean to say they are powerless to make new offers of their own?

The Fact Finders recommendation was based on their belief more negotiation was needed between both sides. Nothing about what they said even hints that the teachers are entitled to free benefits.

You quoted my statement about aiming high and low going into negotiations, but I wish you would have quoted me completely from everything I said. The teachers going-in proposal is absolutely out of touch and is the reason the public majority doesn't support them. We appreciate and need good teachers, but every market has its limits and the current contract is well beyond that limit.

If the teachers had first proposed something like a 2% annual increase with 8% benefits contribution, that would have been rejected by the board (rightfully so) but it would have made the teachers' demands seem much more reasonable, and they would have increased public support.

You can be critical of this board's tactics, and the public will agree with you but not for the reasons you stated. People are angry about closed-door negotiations (look what happened the last time) and feel the board should have disclosed their latest offer. The public wants the board to take a harder line with the teachers.

JS said...

If you also bother to read the updates, apparently most of the negotiating is centered around Health Benefits. Also they were waiting for new information from Blue Cross on plan costs/information. Anyone who has ever dealt with them when it's not you paying them money knows they are slower than molasses with info.

That being said I also don't know why Teacher's aren't able to counter offer on their own? Both original offers were put out at essentially the same time back in May. Either group could have countered, but neither did. I have a sneaky suspicion the teachers aren't in a big hurray to finalize a contract (even without raises this old contract is pretty sweet, including those now retiring and still getting the $27k in payout money).

As has been stated before, most contracts entail a basic raise in the first year, what ever the percentage may be. Since most contracts are finalized during that first year, retroactive raises usually (I say usually, because that's the reality) occur. Since the teacher's know they will end up paying for health benefits (they aren't blind to that fact), but also know they will most likely get a retroactive raise, there is no reason to settle because it just means they go longer with out having to pay into health benefits.

I say again that if the Board states that there are no retroactive raises, or that they will make them pay retroactive health benefits (what ever the contribution level) you will see a settlement quickly.

Regardless of who offers what and when, and who counters with what when, people just want to know what is going on. You don't want to negotiate in public opinion, but the public has a right to know what their pockets are being offered to pay for.

I'm never going to condone the BCCT reporting methods, they couldn't report their own building burning down correctly. They didn't report anything that wasn't true, the NFT offer they quoted WAS the last offer they made. Seems accurate to me.