Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A welcome diversion

In the midst of our economic woes we sometimes overlook the most important reason we're here - the education of our children. I recently saw a video clip made a few years ago featuring an annual event held at Sandburg entitled Farragut's Follies. While they no longer have FF at Sandburg, this is a wonderful display of how innovation and creativity is taught in Neshaminy.


Schools face huge pension hikes

According to an article in this morning's Courier Times, "The increases needed to make up for the poor performing teacher retirement fund will cost districts and their taxpayers millions of dollars." Just what you needed to read when you're already panicked about the economy, right?

There is a solution which would ease the burden on taxpayers while maintaining the teachers' retirement benefit, and it's relatively simple to implement - allow each teacher to manage their own pension fund investments just as they do with their 403(b). This would allow teachers to manage investments based on their personal situation which would likely yield them a more favorable return (especially younger investors). Taxpayers would no longer be responsible for the ups and downs of the stock market, and the state would probably save some money from not having to pay people to come up with investment strategies.

Sounds good, right? So why have they ignored this idea in Harrisburg? Could it be because our elected officials enjoy the same pension program as the teachers?

Maybe you should email your State Rep, Frank Farry, and your State Senator, Tommy Tomlinson, and demand they introduce legislation to restructure the State's pension plan. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A lesson for teachers

It should come as no surprise that the Courier's editorial staff commented on the recent good news about District Administrators accepting our contract offer. In today's editorial, Guy Petroziello states "Maybe Neshaminy teachers will learn something from their bosses . . . Neshaminy administrators this week accepted the school board's reasoned and responsible contract offer . . . Neshaminy teachers, on the other hand, are on the taxpayer gravy train . . . Fortunately for taxpayers, the school board won't budge. It is sticking with its offer and should. Likewise, the teachers aren't budging."

You can read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Later in the editorial, the Courier zinged the board for lack of full disclosure by saying "Board members, on the advice of their attorney, would not describe slight changes in the offer to administrators . . . That's ridiculous and insulting." Well, maybe it is Mr. Petroziello but I'd ask the court for a little leniency here. For attendees at the meeting, you witnessed how Mr. Webb was answering questions posed to him by someone from the audience, but first he looked over to our solicitor, Tom Profy, for approval to address each question. Somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd question, Profy cautioned Webb not to elaborate any further.

It's not like this board is trying to hide anything. We posted details of our offer on our Negotiation Website last week, and we will consider formal acceptance of the contract at our next public meeting. This allows the public more than two weeks to review and comment on the offer before the board votes on it - that's unprecedented around these parts.

Let me put it another way - Say you're the editor of a local newspaper and you want to run a killer editorial but you have been advised by your attorney not to do so. Do you still print the editorial?

I don't want to go off on Petroziello too much since he has been very supportive of our board during these contract negotiations. He hasn't criticized our board in quite a while, and the poor guy is probably going through withdrawal. Hopefully he feels better now :-)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Admin OK's offer rejected by NFT

Board President Ritchie Webb read a brief statement at the outset of last night's meeting stating that the District Administrators had voted to accept the recent contract proposal offered by the School Board. Noting that this offer was virtually identical to the one proposed to the Teachers' Union, Webb added that he hoped this would be the impetus to bring the NFT back to the bargaining table.

Most of the audience applauded the announcement, but a few citizens still believed any salary increase offered would be too much in these tough economic times. Others acknowledged that this was a very positive step and they congratulated the board for their efforts.

My view: This is a tremendous accomplishment in light of where we started. The current contract for Administrators was basically the same as for the Teachers - generous salary increase, top tier insurance benefits with no employee contribution, free retirement benefits and perks, etc. There were many concessions made by the Administrators in accepting this new contract, and all indications are that they bargained respectfully and diligently with the Board's negotiation team. The agreement will become final pending Board acceptance at the next meeting.

I appreciate the willingness of the Administrators to cooperate fully with the Board during these negotiations. And while this was a team effort on the part of the Board, a couple of our members - Ritchie Webb and Bill Spitz - should be singled out and acknowledged for their efforts in negotiating this contract. Thank you all for taking this very important step to set Neshaminy on the path towards true fiscal reform.

You can read the Courier Times recap of last night's meeting by clicking here.

Important dates

Announced at last night's Board meeting . . .
Last day of school (08-09 school year): Friday, June 19, 2009
Senior graduation ceremony: Thursday, June 11, 2009
Rain date: Friday, June 12, 2009

And the date that all parents are anxiously awaiting . . .
First day of school (09-10 school year): Tuesday, September 1, 2009

And the date that all students are anxiously awaiting . . .
First day off from school (09-10 school year): Friday, Monday (9/4/2009, 9/7/2009) in honor of Labor Day.

Friday, March 20, 2009

We earned a Thumbs Up!

It doesn't happen too often, so we're pleased to see that Guy Petroziello gave a thumbs up to the "Neshaminy school board members for punctuating their reasoned contract offer to teachers by pitching the same deal to administrators . . . " The editorial goes on to say "Commendations to the Neshaminy school board for trying to put the brakes on (excessive compensation costs)."

I am sure some taxpayers would have preferred that we offered less to both the teachers and the administrators, but I don't believe they are being realistic when it comes to the negotiations. There is a significant change to the benefits plan in our offer, and it is imperative we gave something to teachers and administrators as an incentive to accept. As one person wrote in a Courier Times blog, there needs to be some give in the give-and-take process or it isn't a negotiation. We are confident that our offers are fair, and many in the public agree (apparently the Courier Times concurs). We hope the teachers and administrators will see it that way, too.

If you want to read the most recent article about our offer to the Administrators, click here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Details of offer to Administrators released

The Neshaminy School Board today released details of its contract offer to the District's Administrators. According to the press release, the Board offered Administrators the same salary and benefits package proposed for teachers. If accepted, this proposal will save taxpayers over $250,000 next year. The proposal also calls for elimination of the retirement incentive program (cash payment and benefits package), and elimination of longevity payments.

The Board hopes to finalize an agreement with the Administrators (NSDAA) in the near future.

To read the complete press release, go to the Negotiation Website (look under "Current Information").

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Neshaminy unplugged

Monday's meeting was fairly benign. The only potential budget cut that gave me agita was a $226k reduction to our IT spending. If we are already lagging behind other districts in technology, then we are not properly preparing our students for the future. Technology education is every bit as important today as is English, Math, Science, History, etc. These reductions, combined with the significant technology reductions made last year, will result in us being significantly off the path of our original technology improvement plan which was approved by the Board in 2006.

Have I mentioned recently how much I hate this current economic situation?

Ms. Canelli summarized Monday's meeting in Tuesday's Courier article, Board searching to trim $14M gap.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Celebrating a milestone

Earlier today, this Blog topped over 100,000 hits in a little more than 1 year online. To all of those who stop by this site, whether it's just to read what I've posted or to add your comments to mine, I thank you for your support.

Currently there are over 200 area residents who have signed up for email alerts. If you would like to receive an email any time my blog is updated or whenever there is important information to pass along, I encourage you to sign up for email alerts by clicking on the link over to the right.

Again, thank you everyone for supporting http://neshaminyinfo.blogspot.com.

How about something nice

Excerpts from a letter to the editor in this morning's Courier . . .

Kudos to Maple Point School. I had the privilege to watch the students and faculty present "Fiddler on the Roof." They were fabulous . . . We don't hear often enough about what is happening that is right with our schools. The hard work of these talented students - actors, dancers, singers and musicians - was evident.

You can read the complete letter at the Courier online.

No major injuries in school bus incidents

From the pages of the Courier Times . . .

The substitute driver of a Neshaminy school bus reportedly hit a telephone pole and soon after drove over some kind of bump or curb Friday morning, according to an official at Bucks County Technical High School . . . The driver of Bus No. 23 allegedly drove into a telephone pole in Lower Southampton, and later hit a bump, or a curb, near the annex entrance off Woodbourne Road in Bristol Township, said an official.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fear of technology?

If you're a regular to this blog, you already know what I'm going to say about the district's policy, or lack of, regarding remote participation for board meetings. If you're a newbie, please forgive my upcoming rant . . .

Neshaminy likes to consider itself as a district that is embracing technology, and why not? Heck, we have a fairly robust website, a VoIP telephone system, and we boast our participation in the Classrooms for the Future program. Considering all this, how come our school board cannot make effective use of something that was invented over 125 years ago - the telephone?

My job occasionally calls for me to travel, sometimes overseas, making it impossible for me to attend board meetings while I'm away. I was surprised to learn that we do not have a policy which permits a board member to participate in a meeting via use of remote technology, so I asked for a policy to be created. I thought this would be a no-brainer, but instead I am encountering quite some resistance from some of my fellow board members.

The objections range from "you should be in the room" to concerns that a board member will abuse the policy by (quite literally) "phoning it in" when they could have really been at the meeting in person. I do understand that a board member should be physically present at the vast majority of meetings since that gives people an opportunity to see and meet their elected representative face-to-face. But in a world where business travel is a necessity for many, isn't it better to allow a board member to participate in a meeting remotely rather than not at all? Seems simple to me, but apparently not everyone agrees.

I'm also rather baffled why the proposed policy to allow remote participation was amended during the last Board Policies meeting when neither I nor the committee chair were present, and the only other official member of the committee said they did not recommend the changes. I'm still waiting for an explanation to that one.

One board member voiced their opinion to me the other night - "They're only objecting to the idea because it's you. They'd have passed this policy already if it were from someone else." Since I'm not really into conspiracy theories, I'll pass on the paranoia angle. Instead I believe the issue stems from a failure to truly embrace technology. Companies and associations around the world allow board members to participate remotely in meetings utilizing technology - it's how business gets done. And the last time I looked, little ol' Neshaminy was a business. But none of that matters if someone cannot understand the benefits that technology provides to business. It's a shame we can't quite bring ourselves around to using 19th century technology.

Traffic on the information highway is running fast, and either you get in the fast lane or you stay off to the side of the road.

Alexander Graham Bell must be rolling over in his grave.

If you want to read the Courier Times article regarding this issue, click here.

Will teachers stand with us?

A few excerpts from a guest opinion in today's Courier . . .

It's a relief for you to read articles, letters to the editor and guest opinions that express shared anger over teachers' avaricious demands.

You may have also noticed teachers have yet to defend their demands ... Do they continue to stand with the union against their neighbors? Or, do they now step up and support their community?

Tax increases over two decades have resulted in our teachers being among the highest paid in the state and enjoying one of the richest contracts in the country. Beyond a point of fair compensation, which our teachers contract exceeded years ago, it is proven that money has diminishing returns on improving teacher quality.

To read the rest of citizen Larry Pastor's opinion, click here.

ps - Thanks for plugging my blog, Mr. Pastor

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Board debates options for deficit

Another Canelli recap of Tuesday's board meeting . . .

Charge community groups to use buildings. Eliminate or reduce lead teachers. Decrease the number of bus routes. These are just a few of the suggestions that the Neshaminy school board debated during a strategic action committee meeting Monday night as members combed through a portion of a 70-plus-recommendation list from the public to cut the deficit.

The board voted 7-2 to let administrators further pursue charging community groups a to-be-determined utility fee to keep the heat and lights on in larger areas like gyms and cafeterias. But board members Frank Koziol and Richard Eccles voted against the motion. He (Eccles) said certified staff members should find the $14 million through union concessions and by asking teachers what programs they don't need.

Board member William O'Connor, though, called the fees the lesser of two evils since officials may need to eliminate programs. William Spitz agreed, saying it's the board's decision, not the teachers', to make cuts.

You can read the complete article by clicking here.

Residents petition board for balanced budget, no tax increase

According to the Courier Times' recap of last night's school board meeting . . .

Two district residents presented the Neshaminy school board Tuesday night with petitions totaling 150 signatures asking the board for a balanced budget and new teacher deal without raising taxes.
Lower Southampton resident Connie Patrick also walked door to door for 50 signatures from people who are financially struggling in this recession. "We're all in bad trouble," she said. "I'm angry and frustrated. They're dedicated with a special gift, but teachers have to compromise." A few more speakers also reiterated a desire for a salary freeze, staff reduction, getting politicians involved in the process, and eliminating the full retirement benefits package, which is a current board position.

To read the complete article, click here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

$200k down, $13.8 million to go

Damn economy!

When you join the school board, you have high hopes of making a positive, meaningful difference in the lives of students. During last night's Strategic Action meeting, it felt like we were doing anything but that. Unfortunately money is the issue of the day, and we had to start making cuts to programs and initiatives. So what was cut from next year's budget, you ask? . . .

* No more mid day Kindergarten bus runs (savings = $85k)
* Assess "energy use reimbursement" fees for organizations utilizing our facilities (savings = $112k)
* No implementation of full day Kindergarten (no cost savings since it was not yet budgeted, but this move avoids increased expenditures)

Other considerations . . .
* Increase in-class time for Lead Teachers
* Assess student participation fees for extra curricular activities
* Reduce daily bus runs by increasing walking distance requirements
* Eliminate the 5:15pm late bus run
Perhaps most frustrating of all was that it took us 2-1/2 hours last night to agree upon savings that amounted to just under $200k, and we were only able to get through 17 of the 70+ cost savings ideas we are reviewing. This is going to be a long, painful process, and we're not even close to the finish line yet.

There was a pretty large crowd on hand for the meeting, with most of the attendees being senior citizens - many of them from the group who met in Lower South last week. During public comment they voiced their support of the Board's stand in the contract negotiations, and expressed their desire for a flat budget - yup, you got it - ZERO increase ... NADA ... BUPKIS! Sorry to disappoint those folks, but that's not going to happen. Or as my friends from the South would say, that dog won't hunt.

You can click here to read the Courier Times recap of last night's meeting. And just in case you're interested, here's another irate letter to the editor.

Our next Strategic Action meeting is Monday, March 16th, where I'm sure there will be more debate, anxiety and painful budget cuts. Sounds like fun, heh? See ya' there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Budget talks continue

Last Monday's Strategic Action meeting has been rescheduled for Monday, March 9th, beginning at 7pm in Maple Point. If you want a reminder of what could be at stake click here.

Was it greed or just capitalism?

As reported in the Courier times on Friday, some Neshaminy High School students were scalping their Gym Night tickets. Tickets originally purchased for $8 were being sold for $20. While parents and administrators were appalled by these actions, The Courier's JD Mullane had another take on the matter.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Seniors urge board to hold its ground

Enough is enough. They're asking our kids, not the teachers, to take cuts. But our kids are more important.

I don't have a problem paying taxes . . . It's the amount that's rubbing me raw! It's too much. It's got to end. Period.

I'm tearing my hair out . . . The board has to stop this now. If they don't, every time you bargain, it's going to be the same damn thing.

These are some of the reactions from senior citizens captured in today's Courier Times. If that wasn't enough, there was also another letter to the editor printed from a senior who said, "Thumbs up to school board President Ritchie Webb and the Neshaminy school board for their stand . . . The union president and her union members need to get REALISTIC."

Anyone out there listening? Hello, McFly?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The fan mail continues

More and more angry citizens are expressing their views in the pages of the Courier Times . . .

Shame on the Neshaminy teachers and double shame on the union that represents them. Too bad they can't be pink-slipped like the rest of the world.

Face up to it, people! The days of champagne and prime rib are over. You're going to have to learn how to make do with pizza and beer, just like the rest of us.

I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the Neshaminy District Teachers and Neshaminy teachers union for giving their students another valuable learning opportunity, i.e., that greed and self enrichment are worthy goals.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Strategic Action Meeting Rescheduled

In case you were planning to attend tonight's meeting, you can stay home and enjoy TV instead. The inclement weather has forced us to postpone tonight's session to next Monday, March 9th, same time and place.

See you next Monday!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What will be cut???

With a budget deficit looming in the $14 million range for next year, a poor investment market, and stalled contract negotiations, this truly is a perfect storm for Neshaminy. Now the Board must tackle this issue head on as we plan for the 2009/2010 school year budget.

The next Strategic Action Meeting planned for tomorrow night (Monday, March 2) will feature a frank discussion by the Board of what must be done to offset some of this deficit. In times like these, nothing can be considered sacred - not fulltime kindergarten, not extracurricular activities, not even educational programs. This isn't something that any of us on the Board are looking forward to, but it isn't something we can avoid either.

As parents and taxpayers, you'll want to pay close attention to what decisions the Board makes in the coming weeks. Your attendance at upcoming meetings is strongly encouraged.

Public reaction to union demands

In today's Courier Times were two letters in which citizens voiced their displeasure with the teachers' contract demands. Here are a few quotes from those letters . . .
* Maybe these teachers have been out of the real world for so long that they have no grip on reality. When is the last time you had a 6 percent raise or didn't have your medical insurance cost go up?
* The union leadership should wear masks when they negotiate and the school board needs to stick to its guns.
* It is an absolute insult to all the taxpayers in the district who are pinching pennies wherever they can to make it through the current crisis . . .
* Congratulations to the Neshaminy school board for sticking to its guns.
You can read both letters by clicking here and here.