Friday, December 31, 2010

Mediator hoping to meet union, district

According to the Courier Times, state mediator John Cairns is intending to set up separate meetings with the Board's negotiation team and representatives from the NFT. The article noted that "Board President Ritchie Webb said that Cairns' intention is to discuss the economy and the district's ability to pay for a contract. After Cairns meets with the union and the board, he could call for another joint bargaining session, Webb said."

In previous statements to the newspaper, Louise Boyd claimed that the board's proposal has remained unchanged for more than two years, while the teachers have offered compromises, including narrowing talking points to exclude issues like class size and considering the board's suggested money-saving, self-insured prescription plan.

Ritchie Webb has countered by saying the board doesn't see those issues as concessions.

To see Mr. Webb's entire response to the Courier Times, visit the board's negotiation website.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

He said/she said, and a modest proposal

It must be confusing to Neshaminy residents to figure out exactly what happened Tuesday night. School Board president Ritchie Webb says that, according to the state appointed mediator, the NFT was not willing to discuss health care. Teacher's union boss Louise Boyd says they were ready to discuss anything and everything. Yet no meeting took place.

It's hard to imagine how two sides can say they are ready to talk about the same things but somehow Tuesday's negotiation meeting never took place. Quoting from a famous movie, an editorial in today's Courier Times refers to it as a failure to communicate. Any way you look at it, this isn't the first time that both sides have had different stories about the exact same meeting. There is a possible solution to this, but I'll save that for later in this post.

Yesterday the NFT's PR firm issued a press release saying that one of the contributors to Tuesday's debacle was a "Blogosphere Sideshow" (sounds suspiciously like "freak show" to me), and that the board is being “Egged on by the teacher-bashing crowd whose venom up to now has been confined to blogs and websites" and that "the district’s negotiators conjured a confrontation that didn't exist, suggesting that teachers are unwilling to compromise.” Ms. Boyd then insisted that their history of negotiations demonstrates their willingness to compromise.

The press release also attempted to explain Boyd's comment to the Inquirer where she said the NFT would not be making concessions as a give-back to the community. According to their PR guru, "Boyd merely stated the belief of NFT members that it is not fair or equitable for the school district to expect teachers to take a cut in overall compensation when their duties and responsibilities are expanding."

But isn't a net reduction in overall compensation exactly what the board and community are looking for? Teachers haven't been asked to take a pay cut or freeze, but they have been asked to start kicking in for health care premiums, and to give up some of the exorbitant benefits they've enjoyed like a $27.5k retirement perk or a very liberal salary step plan. The NFT sees these as cuts while the board/public view it as bringing our costs into line with other districts.

Next year's Act 1 inflationary limit is 1.4%, which means roughly $1.6 million to our budget - that is how much we can increase tax millage in Neshaminy next school year without a referendum. I seriously doubt a referendum would pass, so that doesn't leave us with many options. Either we find ways to reduce our greatest cost driver - labor, or we start cutting student programs. And as you've heard me say time and time again, I am not prepared to do the latter.

So where do we go from here? My suggestion is that we schedule another meeting but let's agree on the agenda prior to the meeting. The agenda should be an official document that is made available to the public so there can be no doubt what is to be discussed. And that leads me to the last point I want to make - how to avoid any more he said/she said incidents . . .

Up until now, I believed that negotiations should take place in private with public updates following afterwards. It's been nearly three years and that hasn't worked, not at all. So now I believe it is time we open up negotiations to the public. I would like to see a small group of observers, including 3 random members of the public and a Courier Times reporter, be invited to all future negotiations. The panel can only observe the proceedings and are not allowed to comment during. However, all are free to speak publicly about what they observed.

Don't get too excited about this idea because it won't likely happen. Even if my fellow board members liked the concept, I'm not so sure that the state mediator or NFT would agree.

So 2010 will end the same way the previous two years did - no progress. Maybe if both sides can agree to change how we negotiate, perhaps 2011 might hold a chance for change.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Talks break down

The following statement was just issued on the Neshaminy School Board's Negotiation Website . . .

Tonight’s 27th meeting between the Board and NFT negotiation teams ended before it began as representatives from the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers refused to discuss the subject of health care, despite recent comments by NFT President Louise Boyd to the contrary

According to School Board President Ritchie Webb, the meeting started out with both parties in separate rooms as is always the case, and the Board directed the State-appointed mediator to ask the NFT to enter the meeting to discuss health care and retro pay. Neshaminy’s solicitor, Chuck Sweet, also asked the mediator to seek clarification from Ms. Boyd on her recent quote to the Philadelphia Inquirer in which she stated that the NFT would not make any concessions.

The mediator left the room and met with the NFT team to propose the Board’s agenda. A few minutes later, the mediator returned and told the Board the NFT did not want to discuss any of those issues, and the mediator said that there was no reason to stay. No meeting was going to take place.

Earlier this evening the NFT, through its PR firm, issued a statement that the Board cancelled tonight’s meeting. Mr. Webb insisted that is completely untrue. “We only proposed a couple of discussion items through the mediator, and we expected the NFT would comply given Ms. Boyd’s recent statements,” Webb said. “I am at a loss to explain why the NFT would say they were open to discussing health care, only to refuse to talk about it tonight, and then blame the meeting cancellation on the Board,” he said.

No new talks have been scheduled.

“The Board remains open to negotiations with the teachers,” Webb continued, “but at some point we have to discuss the issues that the NFT doesn’t seem to want to talk about.”


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Students get head start in a digital art world

From an article appearing in today's Courier Times . . .


That's the first word that came out of Neshaminy High School senior Natalie Tocatlian's mouth when she walked into the revamped digital art computer lab in September.

Twenty-eight brand new, state-of-the-art Apple iMac computers - each containing software designed for digital photo editing, illustration, filmmaking, Web design and 2D and 3D animation - were at her disposal as well as the rest of her classmates.

For the 17-year-old who plans to apply to Drexel University to study computer science, it was like coming downstairs on Christmas morning.

"They are just so nice and smooth and they run real easy," she said last week. "They really help me, program-wise. With the old PCs there were viruses and a lot of restrictions. I can tell they will give me a head start for when I get to college."

You can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Boyd on concessions: "We're not doing that"

Still hoping that the NFT will make concessions? Here is what Louise Boyd had to say about that in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article . . .

Boyd, the union leader in Neshaminy, said teachers merely wanted to maintain their standard of living, and she rejected the notion of giving back to help the community. "We're not doing that," she said. "I don't want to make less. I don't want to ask you to make less this year than last year."

Not much I can add to that.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lots of talk, no concessions

School Board Prez Ritchie Webb just issued this statement about Thursday's meeting with the NFT . . .

"Negotiating session #26 took place last night and lasted about two hours. The main agenda item was the Board's proposal for self insurance, which the NFT did not yet agree to but said they will consider. They did not indicate when they will render a decision on the Board's proposal that will offer the district significant savings.

The major issues have not changed. Health care plan options, employee contributions to health care premiums, retro pay, and salary increases were discussed but neither side made concessions.

Both agreed to meet again on December 28, 2010, 6pm at Maple Point."

Maybe I should be happy that both sides continue to talk, but talks without progress translate into a waste of time in my book. Maybe I'm disappointed that Louise Boyd didn't make at least some token gesture to show that employee health care contributions were truly on the bargaining table. Yes, I naïvely hoped she might throw out some sort of lowball number, like 5%-7%, just to inject some life into these stalled negotiations. But alas, that was not to be. And it looks like my cautious optimism will remain just that - cautious, perhaps with the growing sentiment of skepticism mixed in.

A quick note of thanks to all of you who continue to write emails of support to me and my fellow board members. Your kind words of praise have helped us maintain our focus during these lengthy, exhaustive negotiations.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Board, NFT review self insurance proposal

The following statement was just posted on the Board's Negotiation Website . . .

Negotiation teams from both the Board and NFT met for 3-1/2 hours this evening to discuss the Board's self insurance proposal which would maintain the teachers' prescription benefits while significantly reducing costs. Following presentations from two vendors, both sides had questions which required further research.

Confident that the answers would be available next week, the Board and NFT agreed to meet again on Thursday, December 9th at 6pm.


NFT is on the air

Earlier today, the NFT unveiled some new wrinkles in their PR campaign. A radio commercial has been playing throughout the day on NJ101.5, and a new website has merged onto the information highway.

The message follows suit to what we've been hearing over the past couple of weeks - the NFT is confident that the Neshaminy community will reunite ... the NFT is proposing solutions to the challenges our schools face ... the NFT calls upon the Board to support their proposed solutions.

First it was a full page Ad in the Courier, then hiring a PR advisor, and now it's a new website and radio commercials. Must be nice to have all that money.

Despite the efforts of an expensive and impressive PR campaign, it's too little, too late. Had the NFT used this tactic 2+ years ago, it might have deflected public attention away from the unaffordable costs of the teachers contract. But the public has become informed and involved, and there's nothing that the PR guy can do to spin that.

You can change the conversation, but you can't change reality.

Pardon their spin

From the movie Shrek . . .

Princess Fiona (referring to Donkey): It talks!
Shrek: Yeah, it's getting him to shut up that's the trick!

For more than two years, residents of Neshaminy anxiously awaited an explanation from the NFT of its contract demands. Now with a hired spin doctor on their payroll, the NFT has suddenly become quite talkative. Unfortunately for the public, the NFT's newly-found verbosity offers little more than fluff and smokescreens.

On Tuesday afternoon the NFT issued a highly critical press release which accused District Administration of not wanting to bother making time to discuss educational priorities. Then just yesterday, another NFT statement called on the District to "bring the spirit of compromise" to tonight's negotiation session. First they slap us in the face, and now they want to be friends. A rather curious tactic heading into this evening's meeting, don't you think?

In response to Tuesday's press release, the always-eloquent Dr. Muenker made several very important points . . .

1) The District had already begun work on a strategic plan prior to the NFT calling for one
2) If not for the WTC distraction, the strategic plan might have already been completed
3) Educational priorities should have nothing to do with contract negotiations

Board President Ritchie Webb was less diplomatic in his reply, referring to the NFT's sudden concern about educational priorities as a "stunt."

You can see more reaction to this NFT press release by reading today's Courier Times.

On the heels of Tuesday's statement came another one last night as the NFT challenged the District to come up with another offer. According to NFT President Louise Boyd, "Teachers have already offered two counter-proposals that have included significant compromises ... If school district officials are serious about reaching an agreement, the next proposal needs to come from them."

Ms. Boyd then lists all the NFT's concessions from their counter proposals including:

1) Reducing the cost of the salary proposal, shifting from 4 percent annual raises throughout the term of the contract to a staggered schedule beginning at 2.75 percent.
2) Withdrawing a teacher scheduling proposal, limiting back-to-back-to-back classes.
3) Withdrawing a proposal to embed professional development programs into the job site.
4) Withdrawing a proposal to implement full-day kindergarten, which would be a significant cost saving for the district.
5) Withdrawing a proposal to require reductions in class sizes, saving certified personnel costs.
6) Withdrawing a proposal for co-teaching planning periods, saving certified personnel costs.
7) Withdrawing a proposal to hire additional certified technology teachers.
8) Withdrawing proposed increases in vision care benefits.
9) Proposing increases in employee co-payments for nearly all medical services.

Should I even bother pointing out the fallacies of this argument? Oh heck, why not?

Regarding #1: 2.75% doesn't equal 2.75% - remember the steps? The NFT salary proposal will cost tax payers $11 million just for retro pay, and it will give teachers a 35% pay hike by the 5th year of the agreement. It's completely unaffordable and therefore is no more palatable than their original offer.

Regarding #'s 2, and 4-8: In most of these the NFT has either proposed things that will only inflate the costs of an already expensive contract, or they are asking for things they really have no business asking for in the first place (like Full Day Kindergarten should be a contract issue?).

Regarding #9: This is the one true concession made by the NFT. But what they fail to mention is that due to the implications of the "me too" clauses in the agreements we have with the other labor groups, any cost savings is more than lost. So in essence, this small concession in combination with keeping the Rolls Royce plan will actually cost tax payers more money.

This leaves us with #3, professional development. I actually think ongoing training is a worthy idea. However, training needs are ultimately determined by District Administration, and they can only happen when there is money in the budget to pay for them. So unfortunately for the NFT, this really cannot be a contractual item either, but at least it has some merit.

You can read yesterday's NFT statement by clicking here.

I didn't know what to expect going into tonight's negotiation session, but I was remaining cautiously optimistic given Louise Boyd's recent statements that the NFT was willing to discuss health care. But now reading her latest decree that the next offer must come the Board tells me she has little intention of driving this issue further. She'd rather wait to see if the Board will flinch. I can't wait to read what the NFT spin doctor says about that.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NFT press release criticizes district administration

The NFT issued the following press release earlier this evening . . .

Neshaminy School Administration Can't Find Time To Discuss Education Priorities With Teachers

LANGHORNE, Pa., Nov. 30, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- As teachers prepare for their next contract negotiating session with the school district on Thursday, leaders of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers today said they are disappointed that administrators so far have refused to meet with them to discuss the school system's educational priorities.

"Teachers are dismayed that the school administration can't seem to find time for this important discussion," said Louise Boyd, president of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers. "Setting educational priorities is crucial to improving student achievement and making sure Neshaminy kids get the best education possible. We have made three requests for a meeting and have offered to meet on any day that works for the administrators involved. So far, they only have said that they are working on a document that will address the district's priorities."

Throughout the contract talks, Neshaminy teachers have repeatedly said it is essential that the school board and administrators identify their educational priorities and fully inform teachers and the community of those goals. With goals in place, teachers believe both sides will be able to focus on the education agenda in negotiations and make the current talks an opportunity to work together to define the steps needed to achieve those goals.

"That is the spirit of collaboration that we will bring to the next bargaining session on Thursday," Boyd said. "Teachers have indicated our willingness to make compromises that are fair. We want Neshaminy schools to be a great place to learn and to work. We hope that the school district's bargaining team comes to the table prepared to negotiate. If they do that, we are ready to make progress together."

Neshaminy teachers have been working under a contract that expired in July 2008.

SOURCE: PR Newswire

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Does the public buy what the NFT is selling?

Two letters of interest in today's Courier Times. The first was a guest opinion from NFT President Louise Boyd in which she criticizes the newspaper because she believes they have "repeatedly chosen to stir up anger and resentment against Neshaminy teachers."

Ms. Boyd also sticks to the script of the new PR campaign to directly link educational goals to contract negotiations by saying "Neshaminy's teachers are ready to discuss the issues and programs that help them help the children in their classrooms. That process will identify the costs of the district's educational goals and will inform discussions on how resources are allocated."

Although I am not on the Board's negotiation team, I don't foresee discussions about educational goals becoming a part of our ongoing contract discussions. In my opinion, the two are separate topics and should be discussed accordingly.

Another letter in today's Courier is from activist Matt Pileggi who questions Is this the kind of leadership teachers want? Mr. Pileggi points out that "The NFT leadership has sacrificed two years of the service of its members. It has exhausted a wealth of community good will. It has played hardball with taxpayer money and stood firm on unrealistic demands during negotiations. It has sabotaged the education and learning experience of more than 9,000 children."

If anything is evident from the reaction by the public to the NFT's latest strategy, it is that parents are grateful that WTC has ended, but they still do not trust the teachers' union leader nor do they believe in the sincerity of her latest message.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cautious optimism

The Courier Times editorial staff gave the NFT a thumbs up for indicating that employee health care contributions were finally on the table, but they hedged their compliments by noting NFT prez Louise Boyd was "characteristically unclear" in her comments.

The Courier's ed staff concluded, "But since Boyd consistently refuses to clarify her ambivalent statements, taxpayers will have to wait until the Dec. 2 negotiating session to see exactly what Boyd means. Meanwhile, union negotiators should take note that taxpayers remain solidly behind the school board, members of which have said over and over again that they must live within the constraints of the district's state-imposed taxing limit."

At least one Neshaminy resident doesn't share in the Courier's optimism. Also in today's paper was a letter from one parent who referred to the NFT's recent change in strategy as an "elaborate smokescreen" to distract the public. The author later says, "Boyd must think the community is stupid enough to believe her latest PR spin, just like the one she tried in a recent full-page newspaper advertisement that accused the school board of lying to teachers for 35 years!"


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sincere gesture or PR stunt?

That's the debate Neshaminy residents are asking themselves after Friday's NFT press release which suggests that the issue of employee health care contributions are now on the table.

Undoubtedly the timing of such an announcement raises doubt given the emergence of the new NFT public relations campaign. The blogs and Facebook pages are full of comments from citizens warning the board not to be fooled by what they deem to be elaborate NFT trickery. Yet there are others who are cautiously optimistic, hoping that NFT leadership has finally seen the light after 2+ years of fruitless negotiations.

Let me say something that will hopefully give comfort to both sides . . .

First, why not be optimistic? There's no harm in allowing ourselves to feel hopeful that maybe we've turned a corner here. And the Board's negotiation team should head into the next session ready and willing to hear what the NFT has to say.

But while we bask in the joy of our newly-found good feeling, we must remember that the numbers haven't changed; the Act 1 inflationary limit for next year is still just 1.4% (about $1.6 million), we still have $40 million worth of badly needed building upgrades, and the economy is still not in good shape. The desire to settle a contract dispute cannot trump an unaffordable situation.

If there is a danger to all of this, it would be if the whole thing is a PR stunt after the NFT created the expectation that employee health care contributions are on the table. The Teacher's union already lacks credibility with the public, and if Louise Boyd wasn't being sincere in her gesture, then the NFT will have made a strategic blunder from which they can never recover.


Fox 29 editorial applauds end of WTC

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Board, NFT respond to questions from students

The Neshaminy High School newspaper, The Playwickian, asked the Board and the NFT to respond to several questions related to the teachers contract negotiations. The Playwickian editorial board also wrote an op ed critical of the local media coverage of the impasse. Both pieces appeared in yesterday's edition of the newspaper.

Playwickian Article 11192010

Play Wickian Op Ed 11192010

Friday, November 19, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: NFT to negotiate on health care

Earlier today the NFT issued a press release to the Courier Times that as a show of good faith they will discuss health care at the December 2nd.

Here is a link to a news brief on the Courier Times Now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In the 'Land of Oz'

Today's Courier Times editorial follows on the heels of their meeting with NFT President Louise Boyd on Monday in which she is described as being "Obtuse, circuitous, secretive, evasive, rambling and dismissive." That behavior in combination with the economic reality of the situation undoubtedly fueled the Courier's editorial staff to voice strong criticism of the NFT's ongoing position.

Even the NFT's PR-driven course change to suddenly emphasize educational goals is met with skepticism as the Courier Times adds, "We find it curious - surreal? - that a union which ordered an academically damaging work slowdown now wants to focus on education."

The NFT strategy to shift the public discussion away from the cost of their contract demands is in full swing. An article in today's newspaper notes that the NFT called for a meeting with district administrators to talk about educational priorities. There is also another article in which a Courier Times reporter asks a few random residents their opinion of the contract negotiations.

As I told the Courier Times on Monday, the Board is pleased that the NFT wants to speak with administration about educational goals, and those discussions can and should occur independently of contract negotiations. But if there are ideas or programs that arise from the discussions of education that cost money, then the issue of our expensive labor contract once again will come front and center. And the solution to that problem is one that the NFT doesn't want to speak about.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The NFT Roadshow: All sizzle, no steak

With her PR advisor in tow, Louise Boyd started a media blitz by giving interviews with the Courier Times and Fox 29 News in separate meetings yesterday. Although the NFT Prez has now started to talk, there is really nothing new to report. If you read today's Courier Times article or watched last night's Fox 29 News report (see below), it's abundantly clear that Ms. Boyd still has no intention of ever agreeing to employee health care contributions. (photo credit: Steve Gengler, Courier Times photographer)

As a further display that she really has no sense of what is going on around her, Ms. Boyd referred to the throngs of frustrated parents and tax payers as a vocal minority. And she says that people are concerned about the health and safety of the NFT Negotiation Team because of the venom of this "very small, but angry group." Furthermore, Boyd insists that the community has largely been supportive of the NFT position.

The "highlight" of yesterday for me came during a meeting with the Courier Times when Ritchie Webb, Chuck Sweet and I were given an opportunity to address Ms. Boyd's statements from earlier in the day (photo credit: Steve Gengler, Courier Times photographer). We were told that once again the NFT President accused the Board of distorting numbers, withholding information, and misleading the public. Of course she wouldn't/couldn't provide any specifics, but why should she let something as inconvenient as facts get in the way of her baseless charges?

There is one take-away from everything that happened yesterday - Clearly the NFT, probably on advice from their PR advisor, has shifted their talking points away from the dollars and cents of the contract and is now highlighting educational goals instead. Undoubtedly this an attempt to look like the kinder, gentler NFT. You know, the kind of people who wouldn't put their contract ahead of our kids and wouldn't be mired down in something as unproductive as a work-to-contract action. And since you can't expect the public to believe something unless you're willing to believe it yourself, the NFT has started feeding this altruistic message to the rank and file, as is evident from this professional quality brochure (courtesy of the PR guy, I'm sure) making its way around the district offices . . .

NFT Brochure 11162010

To be clear, I have no doubt whatsoever that the majority of our teachers are greatly concerned about the quality of our children's education. But when NFT leadership waves that banner around like it's all that matters, it's nothing more than a clever strategy crafted by a highly-skilled, and I'd guess highly-compensated, public relations professional.

In the meantime, all eyes are focused on the December 2nd negotiation session where self-insured Rx is the focus. Let's see which NFT shows up for that meeting.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Where to begin?

There is no shortage of Neshaminy in today's news, that's for sure. I won't bother summarizing all of it for you but instead provide you with a few links in case you feel like doing a little reading on this Sunday . . .

1. Rachel Canelli's article on the end of WTC
2. Andy Vineberg's recap of yesterday's parent rally outside NFT headquarters
3. A Courier Times editorial encouraging nonbinding arbitration
4. A letter to the editor commenting on the NFT full-page ad

Further down below is a Fox 29 News report on yesterday's developments.

I am pleased that the teachers ended WTC but my appreciation falls short of saying "thank you." The WTC was an attack focused on children and should never have happened in the first place.

So why did the teachers agree to end WTC? My opinion is that too many teachers couldn't stand not doing the job they wanted to do. Most of our teachers value the relationship with their students dearly, and this working strike wasn't helping the students or the teachers. This stalemate will likely go on for a while, but at least now the teachers can look forward to their day without the constant disapproving looks and comments from angry parents.

In case you didn't notice in Canelli's article, the NFT has hired a PR firm. I've also heard that Louise Boyd and her PR person will be meeting with the Courier Times Editorial Board and with Fox 29 News sometime on Monday to begin sharing their perspectives on the contract impasse. I also believe you will start to see an increase in the number of pro-teacher comments appearing in the various blogs and Facebook pages as part of a public relations blitz.

Among Ms. Boyd's more telling comments was that the NFT was not willing to contribute 17% for health care premiums (the Board's last offer), immediately followed by her usual but-we-will not-negotiate-in-public disclaimer. If anyone thought that the ending of WTC was a sign that NFT leaders have come back down to earth, Ms. Boyd's statement suggests otherwise.

I'm sure after reading today's Courier Times editorial that the public will be asking for nonbinding arbitration. I know we should be open to any and all negotiation paths but I'm a little skeptical of the results of each side presenting its argument to a panel and awaiting their findings. Sounds an awful lot like the Fact Finding process which didn't yield any progress.

At least the good news for today is that our kids can look forward to a normal day in school tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NFT ends WTC

In a statement from the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers . . .

LANGHORNE, Pa., Nov. 13, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Members of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT) today challenged School District officials to rise above their differences and reinvigorate efforts to reach an agreement on a new contract.

In a move demonstrating their commitment to the negotiating process, Neshaminy's certified staff announced they are ending their work-to-contract action that began last May to call attention to the lack of progress in negotiations. Since then, Neshaminy staff have performed only the duties specified in their previous contract, which expired nearly two-and-one-half years ago.

Beginning Monday, which coincides with the start of American Education Week, NFT members will resume the full array of extra duties that they take on for their students and the District—including extracurricular activities, supporting special events and providing college recommendations.

"We have proven our point," said Louise Boyd, NFT President and 10th grade Science teacher. "Through Work-to-Contract, the District and community realize the invaluable role teachers and education professionals have in our school district. All of us have a commitment to do what's best for students, and at this time we will end work to contract and look ahead to the bargaining session scheduled for December 2nd with the hope of moving forward toward an agreement."
Boyd said the NFT's negotiating team will continue to press for an agreement that will support and continue the educational excellence that Neshaminy parents expect and their children deserve.

"As the talks move forward, the District must set priorities for student achievement, inform the staff and the community about its goals and seek avenues of collaboration between certified staff and administrators for the benefit of the students in our classrooms," Boyd said.

"This in no way signals capitulation to the District's contract demands. Rather, we are attempting to open the door of opportunity for NFT members and the District to get down to the business of finalizing a new agreement and to emphasize the dual role of the District and NFT to educate the students of Neshaminy."

I'll have comments on this development later.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Board issues mandate on activities

In response to recent WTC actions, the Board last night voted unanimously to support a motion requiring approval for cancellation of class trips, celebrations and other activities. By requiring advance notice of any proposed cancellations/alterations, the Board hopes to allow parents an opportunity to step in to maintain the events that might otherwise fall victim to the NFT's working strike.

One parent made an interesting observation during public comment. He noted that while the regular teachers are obeying the NFT's orders not to participate in extras, one of the NFT negotiators will be enjoying a high school trip next year to a rather desirable overseas location without having to pay a dime for airfare or accommodations. The parent said this was an example of how union leaders weren't fair in their treatment of the rank and file.

Another noteworthy point from last night is that teachers will not be taking part in the District's annual Veteran's Day events. Despite this, veterans will still be honored at special programs held at two of our schools.

You can read more about last night's meeting by reading today's Courier Times.

This Fox 29 report contains reaction from local Vets regarding the NFT's decision to not honor our country's veterans . . .

Friday, November 5, 2010

Parents plan another peaceful rally

From an article in today's Courier Times . . .

With the next negotiation session between the Neshaminy school board and the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers not scheduled until December, one parent says residents' attention has started to stray from the situation.

"It's gotten quiet," said parent Michele Fay. "We weren't hearing much from either side."
To get the spotlight back on the labor dispute, Fay and parent Susan Koch have organized what they're calling a "Peaceful Parent Protest."

The gathering is set for noon Nov. 13 across the street from the NFT offices on Woodbourne Road outside the old Eisenhower Elementary School building.

A Sept. 23 protest organized by Fay and Koch drew nearly 100 parents and other residents who said they are fed up with the dispute - especially the work-to-contract directive from the NFT. That directive has union members limiting work strictly to what they're paid for, with no outside activities.

"I hope we'll have an even bigger turnout this time," Fay said. "The goal is to motivate the teachers who are saying they understand the frustration and admit that they should be paying for some of their health care to stand up to NFT officials and say 'enough is enough.' "

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Also in the newspaper are a couple of letters from residents voicing their displeasure with the NFT and its Work to Contract action. The first letter entitled Union Arrogance is brief and to the point, while the second letter, 'Work to contract': Teachers' only interest - self, is a poignant and powerful opinion from a recent Neshaminy graduate.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Parents to the rescue

Here is a letter printed in today's Courier Times entitled, Picking up the slack, submitted by Sharon Rudnitsky of Feasterville . . .

Every year Ferderbar Elementary School has a spaghetti and meatball dinner for the school and community to raise money for the needy in our community.

Every year it is run by the teachers and the fifth-graders. This year we were told that the teachers would be "unable to attend." So, the parents and the support are taking matters into their own hands to ensure that this important event happens.

Please, parents, get involved with your PTO or home and school association and ask what you can do to make this year run as smoothly as possible for our kids and our community.

Thank you Sharon and all Neshaminy Parents for supporting your children's education!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween tricks courtesy of NFT

From today's Courier Times . . .

The Neshaminy school board will consider mandating schools get board approval before cancelling any traditional in-class celebrations.

This comes after the president of the parent-teacher organization at Samuel Everitt Elementary School in Middletown alerted the board Friday that teachers, who are in contract talks, did not hold Halloween parties this year, which have become a tradition.

School board member William O'Connor said Friday that board action would ensure that future holiday parties would be held. He added that teachers who don't adhere to any board order could be committing an "act of insubordination."

"The whole point would be that if for some reason (celebrations cannot be set up) by a teacher, we want to give parents that opportunity to keep that tradition going," O'Connor said.

"The teachers just didn't have (Halloween parties)," said PTO President Melissa Kitzmiller, who suspects they were canceled because of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers' work-to-contract directive. "They have them every year and usually parents are invited and many attend. I've heard that some teachers did Halloween activities in their rooms (Friday) but no parents were invited."

"I'm outraged. I don't blame the teachers. I blame the union leadership," she said. "I don't know for a fact that it has to do with the work-to-contract, but there is no doubt in my mind that's what this is about. I believe the teachers want to do the right thing but it's time for them to step up and do it."

The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching NFT President Louise Boyd for comment Friday.


Webb reacts to NFT ad

School Board President Ritchie Webb was interviewed by the Courier Times regarding the recent full page ad from Louise Boyd and the NFT . . .

Neshaminy school board President Ritchie Webb was surprised to see a full-page, paid advertisement in the newspaper from Louise Boyd, president of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers.

"I found it odd because I've heard Ms. Boyd say several times that she will not negotiate in the media," he said.

"First of all, it was insulting," Webb said Thursday. "It's a little offensive that she calls 35 years' worth of board members - who are just community members who volunteer their time to try to make the community better - liars. Was it not the same 'lying' board that gave them the Rolls Royce health benefits package and a contract that is the envy of workers all over the state?"

In the ad, Boyd also addressed the union's work-to-contract directive - instructing teachers to work to the letter of their contract to show how much extra they do - which has drawn angry reactions from parents throughout the district.

"When Neshaminy students are in class, we provide them 100 percent of our teaching effort," Boyd said in the letter. "What we won't do is 'extra' work when we don't have a contract. That's not arrogance or lack of caring. That's negotiating. We have every legal and moral right to work to contract - especially when the district refuses to treat us with respect, dignity and fairness."
Most teachers did not take part in back-to-school nights and many have chosen not to decorate classroom bulletin boards as part of the work-to-contract action.

Recently, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said that teachers have every right to fight for a fair contract, but added that the work-to-contract is "hurting the kids."

Webb agreed.

"I always say, how can anything that hurts 9,000 students every day be right? It may be legal, but it's not right. She says it's just negotiations, but they are using the children as pawns," he said.

The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Boyd after sending an e-mail Thursday and Friday.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Board, NFT to meet in December

The following announcement was just posted to the Board's Negotiation website . . .

The next negotiation meeting between representatives of the Board and NFT will take place on Thursday, December 2nd, at 6pm. One of the main topics of discussion will be the Board-proposed self insured Rx plan which will save the District an estimated $1.3 million annually.

As a reminder, even though the self insured Rx pan has no impact on employees, it still requires NFT approval to be implemented.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Board Prez: It is insulting

Ritchie Webb reacts to the NFT ad in yesterday's newspaper during this interview with Fox 29 . . .

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Setting the story straight on Planet Neshaminy

NFT Prez Louise Boyd took out a full page ad in today's Courier Times (see below) where she embarks on a mission of "setting the story straight." I read about life according to Ms. Boyd, and the first thing that came to mind was ... OMG, is she for real?! I don't know whether to admonish her for such an amazing piece of fiction, or if I should thank her for being the PR gift that keeps on giving.

Ok, let us all set the record straight . . .

The first point Ms. Boyd makes is that the District wants you to believe the NFT is led by a bunch of "money-grubbing, fat cat, out-of-town union activists." I don't even know how to counter that because not once have I heard anyone from the District or the Board even suggest that. So if it will make her feel better, let's all agree that this is locally-based "money-grubbing."

Next on Ms. Boyd's indigestible menu is the accusation that the District has lied about its finances, expenses and budgets for past 35 years. Of course she never offers a single shred of proof to her claim, but then again why would she want to allow something as silly as FACTUAL, VERIFIABLE INFORMATION to get in the way of her rhetoric? I cannot even refute her claim because she hasn't put up a single fact that I can counter.

Ms. Boyd goes on to explain how WTC isn't harmful to your child's education, and instead defends it as neither "arrogance or lack of caring." She calls it "negotiating." I don't even have to comment . . . I'll let the parents of our students handle this one.

My very favorite line follows immediately after - "Yes, we understand times are hard. but don't forget, that just like you, we have families and we have bills and we pay taxes ..." Yeah, how about those school tax bills, Louise? Those suckers are really expensive! I wonder why?

The ad finishes with a plea to the community to get the Board to drop its one-way approach. As our Board President Ritchie Webb has said time and time again, our guiding principle throughout these negotiations has been that we will err on the side of the kids. That's it. That is our "take it or leave it" approach. If anyone out there feels we should act differently, please let us know.

NFT Ad 10272010

Teachers suspended for verbal altercation

From the front page of the Courier Times . . .

Two Neshaminy High School teachers were suspended for their part in a verbal altercation regarding a third teacher's participation in a recent back-to-school night function, a school official said Tuesday.

The punishments were handed down by the administration after an investigation, the official said. The teachers served the suspensions last week.

One teacher was suspended for five days without pay and it was recommended the teacher complete an anger management program. The other teacher was suspended for one day, also without pay, said the official.

Both teachers have filed a grievance with the district against the disciplinary actions, the official said. The grievance could eventually involve a state mediator.

The suspensions could cost the teachers about $500 per day, the official added.

You can read the complete article by clicking here.

You are welcome to post comments on the matter but I must insist that names of the teachers involved not be used in the discussion. It's certainly not that I wouldn't want to comment on the details myself, but as a school board member I am held to a different standard, and therefore so is my blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What color is the sky on Planet Neshaminy?

A Fox 29 News editorial . . .

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dissension amongst the ranks

With the growing number of teachers showing disagreement with the NFT-mandated WTC action, something like this was bound to happen. Regrettably, this alleged incident took place in a classroom in front of students.

The Courier Times' Christian Menno reported the following:

Students witnessed a verbal altercation last week between two teachers regarding one's participation in a recent back-to-school night function, according to several parents at Neshaminy High School.

Superintendent Louis Muenker confirmed that the administration is investigating an incident that took place at the high school, but added that he could not comment further because it involves personnel.

"Apparently, the one teacher came in and proceeded to scream (at the other teacher) in front of a classroom with about 30 students watching," said a parent of a student who was in the classroom during the alleged exchange. "A third teacher overheard this and (intervened). When the principal found out on Monday, every student was called down to the office and asked for a statement."

The parent added, "Now the students are being put in the middle of all this. I mean they're right there. My child was there to learn and the only thing the students learned that day was union bullying."

According to the parent, the teacher who allegedly initiated the confrontation has been involved with ongoing negotiations on behalf of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers.

According to the state's Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators, a professional educator may not "knowingly and intentionally deny or impede a colleague in the exercise or enjoyment of a professional right or privilege in being an educator" or "use coercive means or promise special treatment to influence professional decisions of colleagues."

PLEASE NOTE - While this matter is under review, I cannot comment or speculate on what happens next, nor can I permit use of any names of the people involved. As always, your comments must adhere to the usual rules of civility. Thank you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stuart Varney discusses Neshaminy situation

The following segment recently appeared on the Fox Network . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

Guess who came to BTS night?

I don't have the exact count but around 9 or 10 Neshaminy High School teachers, which is about 5% of the NHS staff, attended last night's Back-to-School event. And despite what you may have heard from those trying to discredit what happened, these were actual Neshaminy teachers. Some have indicated that these were BCIU teachers, of which between 6-8 did attend last night, but they are separate and apart from the Neshaminy certified staff who were there.

Thank you to these teachers and all others who will not allow this contract impasse to prevent them from giving complete, unmitigated effort to their students.

Here is the Courier Times article on BTS night at Neshaminy High School.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Teachers could face disciplinary action

From today's Courier Times . . .

Neshaminy High School teachers who refuse to write any letters of recommendation to colleges on behalf of students could face disciplinary action, according to the district's superintendent. As of now, teachers are writing the letters, but some have done so only after complaints from students and specific direction from principal Rob McGee, officials said Wednesday.

Residents have expressed concern that providing the recommendations would be one of the actions affected by the teachers union's work-to-contract directive - which instructs teachers to work to the letter of their contract to show how much extra they do.

"At some point, the board will realize that bullying the staff and rallying the public is no way to achieve a mutually beneficial end to this dispute," NFT President Louise Boyd said in an e-mail to the newspaper Wednesday. "The certified staff is enduring the board's wrath and the public's anger, none of which seems to serve the students they claim they are worried about or (the) community. It (is) time to stop the posturing and actually begin negotiations."

Superintendent Louis Muenker on Wednesday said that although writing the letters is not specifically included in the teachers' job description in the last contract, he and the board believe that "it comes part and parcel with what teachers should do in their profession."

Muenker said he has not yet discussed with the school board what potential disciplinary actions could be taken against teachers who refuse to write any letters but said it would likely be a progressive approach. Acts of insubordination, he said, are usually dealt first with a letter of warning placed in a teacher's file and, depending on the violation or number of offenses, could eventually lead to a suspension.

"We don't have any semblance right now as to what we'll do if (a teacher) refuses (to write recommendations)," Muenker said. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

To read the complete article, click here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Many back board over contract rejection

A summary of last night's meeting, courtesy of Courier Times reporter Christian Menno . . .

Many residents who attended Tuesday's Neshaminy School Board meeting used the opportunity to support the board in its rejection of the teachers union's latest contract proposal, with some asking that an even harder stance to be taken.

"I just want to thank the board for its complete rejection on behalf of the students and the taxpayers," said Larry Pastor of Middletown. He added that he wants the board to not only rescind its latest counteroffer, but to dissolve the entire collective bargaining agreement and write a new one from scratch.

"Thank you for standing firm regarding their most recent offer," parent Lisa Pflaumer said. "We are all making sacrifices during these tough economic times - well almost all of us. As a private business owner, if I ran my business how the union leadership is instructing its members to work to contract, I would lose my customers."

Teachers following this action did not attend back-to-school nights at the district's middle schools and elementary schools and parents expressed concern that letters of recommendation would not be written for high school students.

Superintendent Louis Muenker said that any Neshaminy High School students having any problems getting letters of recommendation should contact the principal.

You can read the article in its entirety by clicking here.