Thursday, February 19, 2009

Welcome to Planet Neshaminy

In case you didn't see the Courier Times' editorial this morning, here are a few excerpts . . .

The latest contract demands are so out of sync with the real world that the union negotiators must be from another planet.

. . . it's mystifying that Neshaminy teachers have issued contract demands that make them look selfish and unreasonable - and disconnected from reality.

Could they be any more arrogant? Or dismissive of taxpayers, who, in the face of a $14 million budget deficit, could be hit with an average tax increase of $500?

The only power school boards have is to cut programs and raise taxes. Those are lousy choices and limp weapons in the battle for sensible teacher contracts.

The Courier's editorial staff did make one boo-boo when they stated that "the board's proposal (was for a) 3 percent annual salary increases, plus step raises." Our 3% increase offer included the step raises. The board has already issued a clarification to the Courier on this point.

If you want to read the entire editorial, click here.


JS said...

Are we allowed to know the other aspects of the offer?

Retirement Payout?
Benefits until 65?
Number of Steps?
Any raise in the first year?
Credit for Graduate Courses not directly tied to a degree?
Reimbursement for those courses as well?
Number of teaching Days?
Number of Teaching Periods per week?

There are a lot of other details I think the public might want to know about the proposed contract.

As the editorial stated, the public RARELY gets to know what the final offer is until it has pretty much already been agreed upon.

As a taxpayer, and the person who will pay that contract, I feel we still deserve to know more.

I do want to give the Board credit for speaking out about what they have, just don't stop there.

Bill said...

JS - All of the answers to your questions are posted on the Board's negotiations website under "Summary of District Proposal". They've been there since last May. The only thing that has changed since then is the health benefits proposal.

William Spitz
Neshaminy Board of School Directors

LivininLevittown said...

If teachers don't want to negotiate can this go on forever? If a new contract will cost them money they may just go like this for a year or 2 to let public anger die down, then start to negotiate again.

JS said...

Thank you mister Spitz.

I was not sure if those details were still current since they had been there since May.

Thank you for your timely response.

JS said...

I just had one of those cartoon "lightbulb" moments. I have no idea why I didn't think of it before.

I posted the below commment on the Phillyburbs site in respect to their editorial today.

If you use the average cost of Health Plans ($22000) and assume the District proposal of 15% contribution, that equates to $3300 of contribution for the year. If you assume the average salary of $75000 (note this is an old number since there were a lot of retirees this past year) and a 3% raise, you get an increase of $2250.

There is a $1000 net difference in favor of the Teachers by NOT taking that offer. The difference becomes even greater (and better) for the teacher the lower their actual salary.

In fact if you took a $50,000 salary, and assumed the Districts last proposal, then after two years their salary would be $53,045 and their Health contributions would be $3520 (assuming the $22k cost for premium doesn't go up).

That means some teachers could go 2 plus years before they actually start taking home more money than they are now, even with out getting a raise.

Unless the Board holds pat and makes public pressure more oppressive, the teachers actually make money by NOT signing a new contract.

Somehow that has to be illegal, forcing an employer to pay a more expensive contract by not signing a new one? That just stinks of "just plain wrong".

joe-in-bucks said...

Unfortunately health care is a sticking point with many people. But I am curious to see how teachers would react to alternatives. example: what if their healthcare was covered, but they would need to pay towards their spouse and children. Many companies cover the employee and offer a low cost contribution for other family members.

Also, I have read on other blogs from teachers that the teachers union is making the call as to accept or decline the proposal for the new contract. Shouldnt the teachers have a say or a vote on whether the proposed contract is acceptable?

KClarinet said...

To J.S.

Your analysis is very perceptive. Now, what, if you were in the teachers' position, would you do in the same situation?

JS said...

I would probably not want to take a hit monitarily, but they need to remember several things.

-Because of the Union system they are not in danger of being fired or locked out.

-They have a guaranteed pension waiting them in retirement (the cost of which the tax payers may have to anty up several hundred dollars a year extra in taxes soon).

-They have had a sweetheart deal for a while, even as other districts around require contributions.

The teachers have milked this contract to the fullest. Any other business, including Union based, has had to cut back. Just ask the Auto Workers if they wanted to cut back their wages?

The ONLY reason there is even any discussion is because ultimately you just raise taxes and the teachers get a contract. If they have ANY real thoughts of caring for their students (and the parents that feed, clothe, nurture, and guide those same students) then they will accept that they have to give a little back right now.

I actually might want to see the District wait to enter arbitration until NEXT fiscal year when they will have to raise taxes close to 10% to cover the Pension Fund losses. Let the arbitrator show that the District can afford anything then.

platypus said...

We get it - the teachers will lose something if they sign a new contract but that's only because the last one was insanely generous. Teachers must know that eventually the gravy train was going to run out but this is where they blew it by not negotiating a compromise. If they were a little more reasonable - say, 2.5% increase in exchange for benefits of 8-9-10% over 3 years - the board would have jumped at the chance and everyone would have been heroes. At least the teachers would have minimized how much they were going to lose in this newest contract. Now there is no way they can do that. Just like someone said in the Courier's blog, now that the public is aware of the teachers unrealistic demands, they won't allow the board to give in a single inch to their demands. It may take a year or two to resolve this, but in the end the teachers will lose much more including the respect of the public. Every parent I know, even the really pro education ones, are upset with the greed of the union.

Jake said...

I don't like it that teachers are wearing shirts and buttons in front of our children. Isn't it enough that they are strangling the taxpayers, is it necessary to drag the students into this mess? Maybe parents should start wearing buttons saying "2,190 days of paying for outrageous compensation"

nostradamus said...

I predict that teachers will reject the board's second offer and will infuriate the public. Oh wait..crap...they already did that. Never mind.

TFR1984 said...

Yes Jake! Make those buttons! I'll contribute $5 to the cause and will proudly wear my button.

Ha ha ha Nostradumus. Can't accuse you of not making accurate predictions lol.

TFR1984 said...

All joking aside this is a serious matter with no resolution in sight. The teachers control the destiny somewhat in that they are in no rush, and financially they're better off where they are now. The most the board can do is issue press releases, and all we parents can do is complain. The teachers can run this district into the ground and we can not stop them. More importantly it looks like the teachers can not stop themselves.

KClarinet said...

To Jake:

I've got to say that I find those shirts and buttons objectionable as well - I'm told they're making a particularly big deal about it at Maple Point, which is, so the explanation goes, where the administrators work and will see them. But it seems to me to be an unnecessarily inflammatory gesture that can only out kids in the middle of something the adults should be handling among themselves.

KClarinet said...

In the face of all the venting, without wanting to defend the position the teachers are reported to have taken, I have to say that this is exactly why I have problems with negotiation by press release. The only statement that I've read from the NFT president was that the union would make its counter-offer at the bargaining table and would not release it to the Courier (or, I assume by extension, the press in general). Maybe someone reading this blog has an actual seat at the table, but none of us who are posting has any idea if the NFT has responded with a counter-offer or, if it has, what's in it.

The public has a right to voice opinions about the bottom line of any settlement - if you would be willing to support a break-even deal for teachers or if you really feel that anything short of give-backs would be unacceptable, everyone is within their rights to say so to the board, the Courier or whoever else will listen. There's a real danger here, though, in everyone's becoming so inflamed over one or two pieces of one side's proposal when none of us has the full context (i.e. the other side's counter, if any).

Taxpayers' overriding concern, apart from educational ones, should be the bottom line - what will a new contract do to the district's budget and at what cost in taxes? The people at the table are the only ones in a position to work out how the final result is achieved, and the selective release of pieces of the puzzle without letting the public be aware of the whole picture is dangerous.

I hope there's more going on behind the scenes than the Courier is privy to. And I hope that a few months from now all of this will have been settled and put behind us. Meanwhile, reasonable people on both sides should be careful of raising such venom that the damage lasts far beyond whatever contract is finally negotiated.

neshaminy4ever said...

The reason for negotiating by "press release" is because the union wasn't negotiating at all. They want a 6% increase, no benefits contribution, an increase to the lumpsum retirement payment (I think it's $30,000). Where is the give-and-take in that, KClarinet? If after a year of negotiating and that's all the school board could get, I think the board had no choice but to go public.
Why on Earth should the public trust private negotiations when the last time it happened six years ago it resulted in the unaffordable agreement we now have?
The teachers had the benefit of secret negotiations with the board but they have lost that privilege through their greed. Now they must negotiate in the light of day where everyone can see. If they don't like it, they have only themselves to blame.

JS said...

KC, I have to agree with N4E.

You can keep negotiations private when there actually ARE negotiations. The teachers aren't negotiating. As I stated it almost serves their best interest to NOT sign a contract, so public pressure is pretty much the only route the Board has.

The Union head had a chance to "Correct" the "inaccuracies" in the Courier's article, but failed to do so. Why? Probably it serves them better just to sit and do nothing.

Remember something, the teachers have not had a pay raise since September 2007, yet the District still paid an extra $1.8 million in health benefits this year. So even with them not negotiating they are still costing us more money.

I'm sorry, the teachers are going to give back. It only seems more drastic because of how great the last contract was.

Also those shirts and buttons aren't only at Maple Point. They've been at every other school in the district.

Blume said...

I stumbled on your web site for the first time today and I really like it. I was more surprised to find out you were a school board member. My compliments to you for keeping parents, taxpayers and your constituents informed.
I have to agree with what most others have said. I support the teachers generally but I am frustrated with their tactics in these negotiations. They put a wedge between themselves and the rest of the community. If any teachers are out there reading this I hope you will take it to heart and will demand that your union leaders start negotiating in good faith.

Jose said...

can you tell me sir how much the district paid to all the retirees last year?

KClarinet said...

Make no mistake, I am disappointed if there has truly been no negotiating at all (and it frustrates me that the NFT is so tightly withholding any public comment on this in the face of the board's news releases and the predictable public reaction to them). It sounds as if both sides have dug in their heels on the point of health insurance and nothing else will get done until one side or the other blinks on that one issue.

I'm also puzzled that the state mediator, who is getting paid to move these (and I'm sure other) labor negotiations along, has had so little effect. Given the lack of credible weapons on either side, some intervention seems called for. History says that the board can't accept binding arbitration and non-binding arbitration seems to be an exercise in futility whenever it's tried. I don't know exactly what the state mediator's legal mandate is, but it seems to me he/she is getting paid to find a way to move stalemates like this off of dead center.

Unions don't fundamentally exist to offer sacrifice, "give-backs," on their members' behalf, and school boards are saddled with real financial limits they can't ignore. The teachers can't effectively strike (for long enough to actually cost the district instructional time) and the board can't legally lock the schools or, for legal and practical reasons, fire the entire staff and start from scratch. Regardless of who is the more responsible for blocking progress, it seems clear that a push is going to have to come from somewhere - the mediator, the NLRB or someone with a legal position in all this and no vested interest in the outcome (parents marching on schools to protest would only disrupt education that at least for now seems to be going on smoothly, with or without the silly shirts and buttons).

Mr. O'Connor (or Mr. Spitz, since you occasionally post to this blog, or any other knowledgeable source), what processes are available in case of a really protracted stalemate in which the two sides actually aren't talking directly to each other at all? What is the mediator's job? Does the NLRB have a place in the process? Are court injunctions of any kind (like the one in 1980, when real strikes were legal, that eventually led to a judge's arbitrated settlement) possible on any grounds?

William O'Connor said...

Jose, I assume you're referring to the $27.5k benefit paid to retirees which is remitted over consecutive years in 2 equal installments. The cost to taxpayers for last year's retirees is (will be) $2.07 million.

Jose said...

that is alot of cash. is the reason for it to move higher paid teachers out to make room for younger teachers at the lower end of the pay scale, so in a few years we would make back that 27.5k and more?

William O'Connor said...

That's the theory behind a retirement incentive, Jose. The problem we have here in Neshaminy is that the salary tiers, or steps, are so aggressive that we lose the benefit of savings in a relatively short amount of time.

Jose said...

thank you for the information as i am trying to get my facts straight. i have friends who are teachers telling me one thing, and my neighbors are saying something else. the true shame is they all think neshaminy is a great place but these negotiations may tear us apart. thank you again for your help and for this wonderful web account. sincerely, jose.