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.