Thursday, December 24, 2009

Is the Board attacking organized labor?

That's the accusation of Neil Skillman whose letter appeared in today's Courier Times. Mr. Skillman is "appalled that the Neshaminy school board threatened to hire a non-union company for its custodial work." He goes on to say "If an outside contractor comes in, they probably will not hire from our community, and pay a minimum wage without benefits. Those workers will not contribute to our community or pay local taxes; they will put a burden on local hospitals with charity cases because of not having health benefits. The only one who profits from this is the contractor hired.

At the end of his letter Mr. Skillman does throw in a statement that support workers should contribute towards their benefits, but isn't that the root cause of why we're in this situation? We have one bargaining unit that says paying for benefits has never been on the table, and another that will contribute a small amount but only if we give them raises that exceed their cost of paying for those benefits.

In just a few weeks, we will take our first look at next year's budget. The preliminary budget gap won't be as large as this year's but it will be significant. And when we're faced with cutting educational programs that our children need to be competitive with the rest of the world, what will people like Mr. Skillman say then?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Another letter opposing outsourcing

From a letter printed in Sunday's Courier Times . . .

"Nonunion janitors could save district millions," the Courier Times headline crows. How brilliant, how strategic! Neshaminy school board President Ritchie Webb wants to save money by terminating present workers and supplant with them cheap labor sans benefits. Workers who are trying to make a living and support their families, and pay taxes, too. And then Mr. Webb has the temerity and arrogance to emit, "I want to point out that the board will exhaust every effort to negotiate a fair and equitable contract for both sides . . ." What is fair and equitable about stripping away an individual's only means of earning a living!?

You can read the rest of this letter by clicking here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Board targets teacher strikes

Today's Courier carried a story of the Pennsbury School Board's resolution to oppose teacher strikes. The motion passed unanimously.

Some people believe that teachers should not be allowed to strike since children are required to receive an education in Pennsylvania. Others feel that teachers should have the right to strike just like most other union workers. Then there are those who think passing a school board resolution for a matter that must be resolved in Harrisburg is a waste of time.

What do you think? Please participate in the Reader's Poll on the right, and feel free to add your comments to this post.

Monday, December 14, 2009

NFT appeal denied

The Neshaminy School Board today issued a press release stating that a three judge panel of the Commonwealth Court issued a ruling last week favoring the Board's position that salary increases for academic credits are frozen until a new agreement is reached between the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT) and the District.

According to the Board's Negotiation Website, "In effect, the Commonwealth Court and the Labor Board have both decided, once again, that until a contract settlement is reached and ratified by both parties, no wage or salary increases are due to be paid."

Click here to read the press release in its entirety.

Clarification on board vote

In my last post about the insurance broker, I made it sound like I was the only one who opposed this motion. I failed to mention that Board President Ritchie Webb broke ranks with his fellow Republicans to join me in voting against it. The motion passed 7-2.

Doing what is right often goes unnoticed in politics, and Mr. Webb deserves some props for his leadership and independence.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

No insurance against politics

It was once said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It can also be said that absolute power often goes unchallenged, and that is the danger when one party political party dominates a public board.

I won't speculate on why Neshaminy residents voted the way they did in November, but I can tell you that it made me the lone school board member not under control of the Republican party. That lack of political diversity is certainly not good for the district. It doesn't matter which party you're talking about - nothing good comes from single party domination. And it didn't take very long for the politically empowered to prove my point.

At Monday's meeting where our newest board members were sworn in, a last-minute motion was brought before the board to vote for a new health insurance broker. The last time the issue of our insurance broker was considered was during a May 2009 meeting of the Finance & Facilities Committee when four brokers were interviewed. The Committee expressed interest in interviewing three of the brokers a second time, and that was the last time we heard or discussed the matter. Nearly six months went by with no second interviews or further consideration, and all of a sudden our new board is voting on it. But we weren't choosing from among the three finalists from the May 2009 meeting. Only one insurance broker was brought forward for a vote on this night -
The Selzer Company.

Aside from the short notice given, what made me suspicious about this vote was contained in the minutes from the F&F Committee's May 2009 meeting. As you can see at the very bottom of section 1(D) on page 2 where each board member rates their two top candidates, Selzer Company wasn't even the top vote getter:

Based on the statements made by the Committee members, the broker with the greatest support was Gallagher Benefit Services but it is clearly stated that a second round of review was necessary.

Through notes taken by F&F Committee members, I also learned that Selzer did not provide a fee schedule for their services while Gallagher stated their fees and offered to return any commissions earned. And while Gallagher freely stated some of their existing customers, Selzer would only provide such information IF they won the bid.

Despite all this, our new board saw fit to ram through a vote for Selzer. I wonder what made that company so popular that the F&F Committee would inexplicably forgo a second round of review?

There were more partisan political dynamics going on this evening than just the insurance broker issue. Watch the meeting for yourself on cable TV and take note of who spoke during public comment and what was said. All this courtesy of an election that put one party firmly back in charge.

Our school board has made tremendous strides over the past year, and I believe our political balance had much to do with that. I can only hope that the partisan behavior evident at this past meeting was an aberration, and that our Board will continue to serve the entire community rather than political interests.

2010 Committee Assignments

In my own words

A few weeks ago the Courier Times published a letter from Mary Durkin who criticized my appearance at the recent Neshaminy High School dedication. The problem is that I wasn't at the dedication, but that little oversight is no surprise given that this person is a political hack who has spread false rumors about me in the past.

I submitted a response to Durkin's letter but the Courier Times chose not to publish it because they issued a correction (which I never saw) and felt printing my letter would be redundant. While I disagree with the Courier's decision, at least I can post my response on this blog. And here it is . . .

In her letter of November 22, Mary Durkin states she personally observed me present at the Neshaminy High School ribbon cutting ceremony. Either Ms. Durkin needs to get her eyes checked, or she never actually witnessed the event on TV as she states but rather submitted a letter that was prepared for her by someone else. I was not present at the ceremony and did not participate in the ribbon cutting. Ms. Durkin’s misinformed statement is not surprising since it is symptomatic of the misleading information used by those opposed to the new high school plan back in 2004.

Perhaps in the midst of her return to Neverland Ms. Durkin could have reminded us just who told our community that we could construct a good as new high school for $50 million that in fact ended up costing more than $80 million.

William O’Connor
Neshaminy School Board Director


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Notes from last night

Greetings from San Fran which is going through a bit of a rainy, cold spell this week (just my luck). In case you didn't see today's Courier, here is an article and editorial about the outsourcing information the Board recently posted . . .

Nonunion janitors could save district millions

Unreasonable demands

Gotta get back to work so there is no time to comment on this. There were a few things that happened at last night's meeting that bothered me - signs that partisan politics have come back to the district. Whatever progress we made over the last year may have been undone by Neshaminy voters in November. For now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we haven't taken a huge step backwards.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Weighing the options

While the School Board continues its negotiations with the support staff workers of NESPA, it has also begun to collect information regarding savings through outsourcing some of the support functions to outside vendors.

The first set of functions under review for outsourcing are the janitorial services for both first and second shift. According to the District's Negotiation Website, the potential for savings for outsourcing just these functions is slightly under $9 million over three years.

It should be emphasized that these savings represent the difference between the costs associated with outsourcing and the Board's current offer to NESPA. If you consider the difference between outsourcing and the NESPA counter offer to the Board, the savings of outsourcing is significantly greater than $9 million.

The Board has not set a deadline for when (or if) it will decide on whether or not to outsource support functions, but it has stated that negotiations with NESPA representatives will continue.

The Board has posted the full results of vendor bidding for janitorial services on its Negotiation Website.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chalk one up against outsourcing

Earlier this week a letter to the editor appeared in the Courier Times in which the author stated their objections to the possibility of support staff functions being outsourced to third party vendors. According to Colleen McLaughlin of Feasterville, "Once you have committed to outsourcing, it is extremely expensive to regain control of the part of your business you have allowed another entity to control. The level of service and cost, in the long run, trend in the wrong directions, with the cost going up and service going down."

Although I respect Ms. McLaughlin's opinion, I don't agree with her unsubstantiated conclusions that outsourcing will necessarily lead to increased costs and loss in quality of services. Her statements are based solely on opinion yet she presents them as if they were facts.

If you read the comments below the online edition of the Courier Times, one reader posted the following observations:

There are no facts in this letter. Colleen you cannot make assertions without backing it up. I am sure if you google it you will find pros and cons on both sides. Anyway this is not about giving jobs to any foreign firm. The firms that do this are companies that usually rehire 80% of the original employees. The board needs to be very careful about going down this path. But the Union has to be very careful about letting the board investigate outsourcing costs. These firms are desperate for SD business and will offer very reduced rates in this recession. Once the savings are public it is hard to stop boards from doing it. Especially in NSD where the budget is out of control and thy are facing more cuts in the 2010 budget.

Not sure I can say it better than that, so I won't.

You can read Ms. McLaughlin's letter in its entirety by clicking here.

Retiring board members offer parting thoughts

If you didn't observe the last meeting where we said good bye to Bill Spitz, Joe Blasch and Frank Koziol, here is a great summary courtesy of The Advance:

Three members of the Neshaminy Board of School Directors stepped down from the job Tuesday night after serving a combined 16 years on the district's nine-member governing body. Retiring members Dr. William Spitz, Frank Kozoil and Joseph Blasch will be replaced by Republicans Scott Congdon, Mike Morris and Bill Oettinger, who will be sworn into office during a special reorganization meeting on Monday, Dec. 7.

Spitz personally thanked Superintendent Dr. Louis T. Muenker and his immediate predecessors. "All of them have successfully undertaken a very difficult job and I always found each of them willing to go above and beyond what was required." He also thanked past and current board members and the board's treasurer, Joseph Paradise. "I've learned a lot from each of you." And he particularly singled out board president Ritchie Webb "who has taken the extra step this past year to bring fairness, harmony and consensus to the board" and board member William O'Connor "who has been an inspiration to me for the professional and thoughtful way he contributed to the dialogue." He thanked the employees of the Neshaminy School District, calling them "honest, hard working people who care passionately about education."

In a final gesture of thanks, Superintendent Muenker announced the purchase and dedication of nine books in honor of the retiring board members. The books will be donated to the school district libraries and include some of the members' favorite titles.

"You will all be missed greatly and I hope you will come back and visit us and be a part of the community as always," said Webb.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.