Thursday, March 12, 2009

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


Gabriel said...

These people with unrealistic expectations will turn on the board in a heart beat if/when a contract is signed. The problem is the last contract was so unbelievably favorable to the teachers that it will be difficult for this board to get much of what the public is demanding. If the teachers were to accept the board's current proposal of 3% increase with 15+% benefits contribution plus elimination of retirement perks, that would be an amazing accomplishment for this board considering where they started. Yet the senior citizens and people like Mr. Pastor will condemn the board for being too soft. I encourage Mr. Webb and the board to continue with their current negotiation strategy. The goal is not to bad mouth teachers and offer them a deal they'll never accept. This board must find a way to get an agreement in place that the teachers will accept and that paves the way for economic relief of the burden resulting from the last contract.

Pianomom said...

I do support what the board is doing but I do not like the ant-teacher sentiment that is building. As that Mr. Rotus said at one meeting, let's not confuse these negotiations with the teachers' dedication to their profession.

sk.langhorne said...

I'm with you pianomom. Yes the board should stick to its guns. Yes the teachers should settle with concessions. It's ok that the public wants to comment on the situation and support the board but let's not insult the teachers at the same time. Just because you are frustrated with their union's tactics doesn't mean that they are bad teachers. Let's all try to be a little more civil. Having said that, teachers please get your union back into negotiation with the board.

JS said...

I think the problem is that since the "Union" isn't commenting in the press, it's the teachers as a whole that are forced to take the brunt of the venom. That's who the general public thinks of when they think of Neshaminy Teachers. Not some faceless union negotiators. Until there is someone to take the heat rather than teachers in general, you will get the venom you see now.

I also don't think that you should expect the teachers to take an insanely low contract, but there is some logic to even proposing an even lower one.

As I have stated before, the only real option looming on the horizon to settle these negotiations is Arbitration. Typically the Arbitraitors pick a middle ground between the two parties. Very rarely do they pick one or the other's demands. With that being said it is then in both parties best interest to be as high/low as possible.

Think of it this way. If what the teachers are demanding is a 10, and what the Board is offering is a 4, halfway would be a 7. The board has shown that they are willing to try to close the gap with this last offer, so assume they try to negotiate and offer a 5. The teachers stand pat and the middle is now 7.5. So the Board tried to negotiate in good faith and actually would hurt their cause.

I say go as low as you possibly could fathom and make the Arbitraitor bring you back up. If you are $14 million in the red budget wise, offer a contract that saves you $14 million. That really is what we can afford after all.

JS said...

Of another note, Mr. O'Connor.

Can you post on the blog when the Administrator's contract is/was up and when the Support Staff contract will be up as well.

I know both are approaching fast and I feel we as the public deserve a bit more info on the details of their contracts as well.

Ivy League said...

Wait a second, I am totally confused by JS's comments:

"Not some faceless union negotiators. Until there is someone to take the heat rather than teachers in general, you will get the venom you see now."

????????? I thought the teachers were negotiating this contract? Have the hired an outside party to represent them?

Mr. O'Connor can you tell us if it is actually Neshaminy teachers at the table or have they asked a representative from the national teacher's union. I am not asking for specific names, but I am asking if it's Neshaminy teachers or an outsider who is representing them at the table.

And I have a question for sk.langhorne and Mr. O'Connor. What makes SK think the teachers don't want to negotiate? I thought everyone was applauding the board's ability to "stand tough and not give in", that seems more like a party that's unwilling to negotiate.

Shouldn't negotiations be give and take?

William O'Connor said...

JS - I am hopeful that an update about the other contracts will be put on the board's official negotiation website soon. Stay tuned.

Ivy League - The union negotiation team is comprised of their attorney and leadership of the NFT, who are teachers. I think what others on this blog are referring to is that the rank and file teachers (from what I understand) have not voted on the board's offers themselves. When the NFT leaders believe there is a worthy agreement, then they put it to the rank and file for a vote. I assume that the union leaders advise the teachers of what offers have been rejected. Let me again stress that this is my understanding of their process, but I do not know that for a fact. I apologize in advance if I have misrepresented something.

Regarding why the public may perceive that the teachers don't want to negotiate is that so far their leadership has not formally proposed any "give" in the give-and-take process (at least not that I am aware of).

You are correct Ivy League that this should be a give-and-take process, and to Gabriel's point, the public shouldn't expect the board to put forth a new agreement that the teachers will never accept. The worse thing to happen would be for these negotiations to drag on for years.

LivininLevittown said...

How about a 10% paycut across the board for all staff including administration and they have to kick in 50% for benefits.

acs said...

The main issue here is the extremely costly and overly rich contract they have had for at least two contract terms. Now how do you get them back to reality. The board is lucky the public does not understand this, if they did they would be storming the castle. Prior Board mismanagement and union strength has caused 20 years of massive tax increases to help cover 10% average annual healthcare cost increases for teacher's non-participatory HC contract. Teachers have to give here however they to not be interested in negotiating in good faith like the board is. They flat out shot the board offer down withzero movement to counterofer. I am not sure it isn't in their interest to drag this out for years. No raises only hurts younger teachers not the senior ones with significant influence on the union. My understanding is the NFT Union completely owns representation at negotiating table and cannot be removed by contract. Teachers only see the offer the NFT chooses to show them and expects them to acctept for most part.

Tim said...

LiL, how about NO. With a pay cut and 50% benefits, there is no incentive for the teachers to sign. The public wants to see a more reasonable contract but has to realize the board can only accomplish so much with this negotiation. Gabriel is right. The board could make incredible strides in this contract yet the public will revolt in a second if they don't see blood.

JS said...

Mr. O'Connor I strongly urge that the board be forth coming about the other contracts as well. Yes teachers are the largest number, but price per employee is highest with administrators.

I will agree that the Board in 2002 essentially gave away the store when they agreed to the last contract. Not only was it extremely generous financially, it was also generous in length. A 6 year deal was pretty much unheard of.

I believe you explained my "union faces" correctly. There are at the most a dozen people who have been involved on the teacher side with contract issues, but everyone blankets their venom towards all teachers. That is the unfair part because most haven't even had a chance to vote on it.

I really have to believe there is some legal way to prove that the district can not afford continuing even this expired contract.

I would love for even a public statement, not a negotiation, but a public statement about why the NFT feels it's only offer is appropriate. Say something, anything. If they don't then it's most likely they have no factual support for the offer, just that they don't want to give up the money.

I again say that the board better not play favorites with the administration since it will kill all the public support it sees now. Along with that it is my own personal view that the administration gets in the way of good education more often than not, so rewarding them and not teachers would be inappropriate.

acs said...

JS. I really do not see the "venom" you speak of. Just facts made public in letters like this. Teachers are adults. They know what is being demanded by the union and that it is unheard of in all other SDs in Bucks and state. You can only conclude then that they in the bckground want the union to continue to pursue the unreasonable demands and continue to fleece taxpayers. Why should teachers or teacher supporters think they get off scott free from public scrutiny and condemnation. The burden is cripling taxpayers and the school board. They are big boys and girls they should speak up and not hide behind the union if they don't agree with tactics. This is America isn't it, I guess unless you are under union control. Also I agree on adminstrator and support staff they also need to concede in their contracts.

KClarinet said...

To J.S.
I understand your logic in wanting the board in effect to low-ball the negotiation process in order to improve a position in which a settlement is dictated by an arbitrator's calculating the half-way point. But as far as I'm aware, school boards historically are unwilling to accept arbitration of any sort. It allows the arbitrator effectively to set the tax rates, which school boards regard as an abrogation of their authority.

A non-binding arbitrated settlement, I think, was already offered and rejected by both side as part of the beginning of the negotiating process.

Binding arbitration generally never even gets a reaction from the union involved because school boards reject it out-of-hand so the union's attitude toward it doesn't matter. So, unless our board has a different view and is willing to accept being bound to an arbitrated settlement, low-balling doesn't accomplish anything but to raise everyone's tempers.

And you're assuming an arbitration would involve averaging. It could be last-best-offer, in which case extreme positions on either side need to be moderated if either side hopes its position will be chosen.

KClarinet said...

Mr. O'Connor,

Yo your comment

"Regarding why the public may perceive that the teachers don't want to negotiate is that so far their leadership has not formally proposed any "give" in the give-and-take process (at least not that I am aware of),"

I need to ask, has there been an ongoing formal process at all recently? From what I read, there are no face to face negotiations at all. It's hard to "formally propose any 'give'" if there is not a formal process in which to make the proposal.

JS said...

I understand that making a low offer may not serve any purpose. I also know that it is true that most school boards never agree to arbitration decisions. (The Fact Finder report at the begining of negotiations wasn't arbitration as far as I know).

I'm more or less tossing things out because it looks like the Board has no where to go.

I'm beginning to think the only choice is to start laying off teachers and support staff. Cut the amount of courses offered and make sure you have the contracted amount of students in classes. You could probably lay off an administrator or two as well (though the cronyism at that level makes that highly doubtful). I still can't believe we are paying a full principal's salary to cover Tawanka. That's $110,000 to administor over 75 kids. That's almost $1500 a student. Seems a bit excessive.

I realize that laying off personel and cutting course options might not be the best educational process, but what choice do we have? You have to start showing the NFT that if they don't "negotiate" then other options will have to be explored.

We live in unusual times, and sometimes you have to utilize unusual methods to get things done.

JS said...

Mr. O'Connor are you not allowed to tell us anything about those other contracts? Even that they are being negotiated?

I first asked back on March 1st if the Administrators Contract had been settled. You said it hadn't. Are we safe to assume it is actually being negotiated and why have we not heard anything about it before now?

Yes there might be something up on the website some time, but shouldn't we know what the stakes are for the administrators too? Or... and I'll say this bluntly... is there a different sympathy on the Board for the Administrators because you work more closely with them on School issues?

You're usually pretty forthright so I hope that practice continues.

acs said...

Sadly, the board never should have started with as rich an offer for the teacher's contract. It is a contract we cannot afford as several board members have admitted. It was to avoid a very ugly outcome and maybe a strike. Now no matter what happens, taxpayers will be hurt again unless the board has the guts to pull git iven the current economic conditions where nearly everyone in the district, with the exception of public workers has been severly impacted. But school boards by definition do not have guts. So the board built a proposal that is already seen as failure to almost everyone so people like Mr. Pastor
and others do not have unrealistic expectations. The board just once again negotiated another bad deal for taxpayers. The union pulled another fast one but that is what they get paid to do.

William O'Connor said...

JS, just from a common sense perspective, the board understands we must treat the various contract groups consistently. If we acted more favorably towards one group, the other groups would certainly dig in their heels to get equal treatment.

ACS, you say that our offer to the teachers was overly generous. Before I address that statement, let me ask you this question - What offer would you make to the teachers with realistic hope that they would agree to?

JS said...

I do rather agree with ACS's logic.

Can anyone say that taxes would not have to be raised should the teachers accept the last offer from the Board? I don't think there is a $14 million savings in that offer. And since there is not then it is literally a contract the district can not afford.

Hence the fact that even if the teachers take this offer, the Board will still have to raise taxes to pay for it, and thus it will again be seen as a failure by the public.

A contract the District can afford, is one where even in this economic environment not a single additional tax mil would have to be levied.

Sadly though, simple is not how this kind of situation works.

William O'Connor said...

Your taxes will go up even if the teachers don't sign because insurance costs are going up.

acs said...

Mr. O'conner, you just proved the point. When will the board act like business people in representing taxpayers. We really need a clean sweep in the elections. Not enough txpayers are aware of the crime being committed at their expense.

JS said...

ACS, did you not read what Mr. O'Connor said? He stated that taxes will go up even if the teachers DON'T sign because of increased health insurance costs.

They are trying to cut the budget, but they can't because even with out raises the contract is costing us more money. Does that give the entire board a pass for everything, no, but at least I will give them credit for at least trying this time round.

Maybe the board can negotiate with the Administrators and then the Support Staff and convince them to take a more affordable contract. Eventually only the teachers will be left and they'll have nothing other than greed left to bargain with.

KClarinet said...

We're not talking about a business. There's no product to be sold for income. We're not even talking about a service that's really directed at the present generation of taxpayers, but toward future generations, our posterity. Treating it like a business says, essentially, that the children being taught in the schools are simply incidental by-standers. They are the whole point.

Businesses are concerned with immediate profitability. Schools should have different priorities.

acs said...

KC, Yours is the kind of logic unions salivate over when they deal with boards. Union leaders treat it like a cold hard brutal business negotiation and people like you think it is for the greater good of humanity and the kiddies. Unions hope to always deal with bleeding hearts like you as they have for 30 years and that is why they have 100% of power now. Voters like you have given it to them time and time again. The product is quality education. Nesahminy teachers get top self compensationn for a very mediocre product. Please do not insult taxpayers by saying this is not a business. Only taxpayers have lost here to incompetent boards(present company excepted) and RUTHLESS union negotiators. Sorry to say this KC but you need to grow up and live in the real world with all of us fleeced taxpayers.

William O'Connor said...

Note to readers - While I respect different views and encourage spirited debate, I must insist that we keep the comments on this blog civil, especially when conversing with each other. I would appreciate your restricting comments to the issues. Some recent comments have been a little mean-spirited, and that's not the direction I want for this blog. If you want to hurl insults at each other, please go to the Courier blog.

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to email me directly.

Thank you.

William O'Connor said...

KC - While it is true that educators provide a unique service, school districts are businesses and must run themselves with more financial discipline. What the public must remember is that the children are our investment in the future. Current physical difficulties will eventually pass, and we all must learn from this experience.

KClarinet said...

To acs;

As for my needing to growing up, I did that a very long time ago, although I'd like to think I'm still able and willing to learn from continuing life experiences.

"The product is quality education." Well, this may be a definitional problem, but the difficulty is that there's no one to sell it to, so there's no income directly to be made from it. Businesses like Honda and General Motors make something. If the public buys what they make, they're profitable and everyone's happy. If the public rejects their products, they either go bankrupt or find a way to improve the product.

One alternative way to make education itself, or at least its results, more of a "product" in a business sense, privatizing the entire education "industry," is a much bigger topic than we can really discuss here. The only way to provide the kind of profit-oriented regulation that you're suggesting is to make them all self-supporting - with private funds - and competitive with each other. It's never been really discussed as a total solution in the U.S. (vouchers are an attempt to approach it, but they still leave a public system in place that still needs to be funded). My own view is that total privatization would destroy us and make a total mockery of compulsory education in this country, which would in turn make universal education an unattainable goal. But that';s a topic for another time and place by people who have studied the problem more.

But the fact is that the differences between the way a for-profit business runs and the way a public school system does is too great to make the comparison meaningful - unless the only purpose of the school board is to provide a break-even or black ink bottom line.

Maligning teachers who are more expensive than some would like is an easy shot to take. We can legitimately argue over what's fair and what isn't in any given teacher contract (or fire fighter or police) and have honest disagreements over whether or not the system we're paying for is as effective as it could be. And, if it is ineffective in certain areas, whether that's because the teachers are lazy, greedy and mediocre or because we've tried so hard to economize that we've strangled effective instruction in some areas.

I am all grown up and, yes, I do still think that what schools and the people who work in them do is "for the greater good of humanity and the kiddies" (though without the sarcasm). Sorry, though I sometimes feel a little beleaguered here, I hope I'm not alone in believing this fundamental point.

IrishFarm said...

I want the deficit gap to be reduced of course, but the board cannot gut our educational programs either. Aside from our children, the greatest investment we have is our property value - and both will be hurt if the board cuts too much. I trust Mr. O'Connor that you will use great discretion in making sure that we have a responsible budget that supports our students.

acs said...

Mr. O'Conner,
Just a question on the teacher contract terms. How did the city of LA recently lay off 9000 teachers under their collective bargining agreement. I thought that was not allowedor that their were severe restictions on how and what could be done?

William O'Connor said...

ACS - different state, different laws. All I know is the teachers can continue to work under the existing agreement for as long as they choose. Our hands are pretty much bound.

Dagonet said...

Mr OConnor,

Can you comment on the options here (good or bad)...

Is there no lock-out option?

Are we simply hostage to the union - we can't do anything except propose an deal and hope they take it?

Is there no next step now that the union decided that the current contract is the best they can do, so they are going to sit on their hands?

William O'Connor said...

Dagonet, as I understand applicable rules/law in PA, these negotiations could go on indefinitely. Last night I was told of one particular negotiation in this state that lasted nearly 7 years. To me, the "bad" option you ask of would be if nothing happens. Although the teachers' salaries are frozen at this moment, our costs to maintain their health insurance increases (I've heard estimates it will climb in the area of $1.5 million next year). Aside from the finances, the relationship between the teachers and public is taking a real beating over all this, and that is not good for our students.

The "good" option would be for the Board's latest offer to be accepted (in my humble opinion, of course). The 3% raise would offer some incentive for the teachers to agree to the new contract, and we will have made some significant progress on the costly benefits created by the last contract. I know some members of the public would like to see no raise and the teachers contribute to 50% of their healthcare costs, but I personally cannot see that happening in this contract.

Despite feelings by some taxpayers that the board take a harder line in these negotiations, I hope the public continues to support our efforts and understands that negotiations require both sides to make concessions - and I believe our latest offer is a fair one. It's really the only way that we end up with the "good" scenario I mentioned above.

JS said...

Is there any way to furlough teachers, compress classes, etc. I realize this is not the best tactic educationally for the long term, but in the short term it may spur some dissent among the Union ranks and force the leaders to take the deal.

Again I think the Teachers have shown no desire to negotiate in good faith. I feel the only two options are to cave in to them, or start making things slightly less comfortable.

If you are going to have to cut other programs or make students pay for activities, you should start making the teachers feel the cuts as well.

William O'Connor said...

JS, short answer to your question . . . NO

acs said...

JS, You cannot forget that the union is totally bullet proof in the case of teachers. For many many years they have lobbied congress at state and national level to ensure collective bargining is slanted to protect teacher's non-performance based full employment and benefits. You simply cannot fire them and it is brutal to try and get any give backs. An unfortuanate fact of life. Over many years we all voted the Union political shills into office in Harrisburg, so in the end it is our fault. Also we allow the last School board to literally sell taxpayers down the river. These particular teachers and the NFT have no shame, so it will go on and on. The board is taking a stand for once which is outstanding and with the recent Admin deal just made public the teachers should really be humiliated if they continue to insist on their proposal. The union didn't count on the fact that the board has 99% support from the community to hold firm.

JS said...

I'm not talking about firing anyone. You are allowed to furlough or "lay off" contracted employees if there is an apparent surplus or financial need. L.A. just laid off 9,000 teachers so it is contractually possible.

Sadly one of those who sold us down the river still has his position on the Board.

William O'Connor said...

Maybe if Ahhhnold was our governator, things would be different. But the answer is still nope.

acs said...

JS, I used the word fire as a synonym for laid-off so we are on same page. I still can't figure out how LA did it but we should be so lucky to have laws like that. As I have said taxpayers cannot afford either proposal on the table. We need a freeze and significantly more offload of Health Ins cost to employees.