Sunday, May 30, 2010

Taking a break

There has been so much going on around Neshaminy this past week, so much press and hype, and I didn't want to add to the hysteria. So rather than add my own thoughts on recent events, I thought I'd spend a few days away from blogging and instead try regaining some perspective.

If you haven't already planned on attending this coming Tuesday's Board meeting, you might want to carve out some time. From everything I've been reading and hearing, parent and tax payer attendance may be at its highest since the days of the 2004 NHS referendum. You should be there. Everyone should.

I'll be back next week with reaction to Tuesday's meeting.

Most importantly, a special thanks to all our men and women of the armed forces who redefine bravery on a daily basis. We are both thankful and humbled by your sacrifice. Our thoughts are with you on this Memorial Day, and every day after that . . . Thank you!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Anyone up for a laugh?

Here is one for you, courtesy of the NHS Roadies . . . a look at the signs of (or should I say IN) Neshaminy High School.

Fox News: Tensions run high at NHS

From today's Fox 29 News at Noon report . . .

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is student rally a hoax?

If your child is a Neshaminy High School student, they may have received an anonymous text in the past couple of days regarding a student rally to be held on Thursday morning in front of the building. The problem is that while some of the text messages say the rally is a "pro teacher union" event, other text messages contain the exact same wording except they indicated Thursday's event is an "anti teacher" rally.

This appears to be a prank of some sort designed to draw students supporting either side of the debate out into a common area at one time. Perhaps this is an attempt at a harmless joke, but given the tensions in our district over contract disputes, it has the potential of turning into something ugly.

Please check with your high school student to see if they have received such a text or heard of a rally on Thursday. While I support free speech from all including students, I would strongly suggest your child avoid this rally.

Parents React To WTC Letter

Fox 29 News followed up on their report from yesterday with another one at 5pm today, this time including interviews from district parents and our superintendent, Lou Muenker.

Important note - In the midst of this report is a story involving the NFT president. I am not permitting comments about that situation on this blog. Our focus should continue to be on the children of Neshaminy.

The Arts are fine in Neshaminy

I have to take a few moments to thank all those who are involved with the Neshaminy Fine Arts programs. Last week I attended the Drama Show at the high school, and last night I was treated to an amazing performance at the NHS Spring Choral Concert. Neshaminy's Fine Arts is one of those things that separates us from many of the other fine districts in our area. If you've never attended one of these events, you don't know what you are missing.

Thank you to all those students who stretched their talents to the limits, and thank you to all the staff who helped them to reach that far. These were truly inspiring moments!

Media weighs in on WTC

In case you missed last night's Fox 29 News at 10, here is a report they filed . . .

And a few excerpts from this morning's Courier Times editorial . . .

Like their brethren in the Pennsbury School District, teachers in Neshaminy are now taking their frustrations out on the children. A bit cowardly in our view since the kids can't fight back.

We refer to a union-directed work-to-contract plan for Neshaminy High School. Dissatisfied with the pace and substance of contract negotiations, the union has outlined a plan of action - more accurately, inaction - that essentially directs teachers to boycott anything outside the classroom. Call it a work slowdown: No new bulletin boards, no parent phone calls, no volunteer work, and no attending orientation, gym night, homecoming or the prom. The list goes on.

Dampening the atmosphere at the school has no direct impact on school board members with whom the teachers are at odds. It affects the kids. And that affects parents, who the union apparently expects to pressure the school board.

You can read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Union document has parents upset

Courtesy of the Courier Times . . .

The Neshaminy school board has released a teachers union document obtained from a faculty member that outlines a work-to-contract plan for Neshaminy High School. In this case, the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers is instructing teachers when to begin and end their day, to not volunteer for anything extra, to resign from certain committees, to take down bulletin boards, and to not write recommendations or attend events such as proms, according to the document.

The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching union President Louise Boyd, who's the spokeswoman for the teachers, for comment.

Board President Ritchie Webb questioned how the educators' actions will affect children.
"The NFT mantra is that they always support children, yet, this document clearly hurts students in so many ways," he said. "Unfortunately, it is painfully obvious who they are supporting!"

Many parents said they've already started seeing teachers remove classroom decorations.
"This is totally ridiculous," said Sharon Rudnitsky, a Feasterville mother of three Neshaminy School District students. "What does this teach our kids? What are we supposed to tell our kids? I just don't understand why they'd do this."

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Children become pawns in contract battle

So much for prayers.

Just after my last post was published, I began receiving word from parents throughout the district that teachers were removing all art work and decorations from the walls of their classes – a first sign of a WTC action.

Now comes confirmation that the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers will indeed take this battle into the classroom and put it directly in front of those most innocent . . . your children. The following, which was provided courtesy of a faculty member, is a set of instructions issued by NFT leadership to teachers at Neshaminy High School, and the plan goes into effect on Monday, May 24th. I have not seen the action plans for the lower grades.

Please remember that many of our teenage students do read this blog, and so I must ask you to keep this in mind when posting your comments. As always, I reserve the right to edit comments as I deem appropriate.

Spoken from the heart

I don’t think my words can adequately pay tribute to last night’s meeting. The heartfelt speeches given during public comment certainly stole the show. While a few of the speakers rambled a bit, most were direct and quite poignant. The meeting lasted over 2 hours, with only 20 minutes devoted to Board proceedings. I highly recommend you catch the replay on NNTV, which should be available by tomorrow’s 6pm broadcast.

There were 22 speakers in all, most of them talking at the beginning of the meeting and a few who waited to voice their opinions until the end of the evening. And there were several common themes throughout the night such as frustration with the contract situations, pro and con views of outsourcing, saving Consumer Sciences/the NHS Nursery School program from being cut, concerns over students being unsupervised during the Wednesday morning teacher solidarity marches, and the rumored work-to-contract action by the teachers.

If I had to pick one theme that stuck with me last night, it was the concern of our teachers possibly working to the letter of their contract. Two speakers addressed this topic from very different perspectives. First was Dawn Gayle (sp?) who angrily questioned why a Sandburg 7th grade field trip to Dorney Park was suddenly changed. She was followed later by Sandburg parent Kim Gallo who fought back tears as she questioned how teachers could claim to care so deeply for children yet take actions which would hurt them. Their messages were emotional and powerful, and I haven’t stopped thinking about them since.

Ok, so what of the rumored work-to-contract action? We haven’t received any official word from the NFT about the matter (yes, we’ve asked), but the rumors are everywhere, the most prevalent being that WTC will begin this coming Monday. Generally speaking, working to contract means that if it isn’t specifically in their job description and they aren’t being paid for it, a teacher won’t do it. I don’t know if teachers are permitted any discretion by their union as to what they can or cannot do. Heck, I don’t even know if there really will be a WTC action beginning on Monday. So there really isn’t much more I can say about this right now. I don’t even want to imagine a moment where a wide-eyed child approaches their teacher and asks for after-school help with an assignment, and the teacher says no. I know so many teachers in Neshaminy, and it would kill them inside to not help a student regardless of any contract impasse with the district. That’s why I hope that the rumors are false. Because if they are true, I fear the parent outrage we heard last night will grow exponentially, and an already tense situation will get far worse.

Say a prayer for false rumors.

Here is a link to the Courier Times' recap of last night's meeting.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mark your calendars

We are starting up the Ad Hoc Facilities Committee meetings again. The Committee's purpose is to look at building utilization, primarily elementary schools, throughout the district to determine if there is a future opportunity to consolidate facilities. Our next meeting will be on Monday, May 17th at 6:30pm in the C&I Conference Room at Maple Point. Since Monday's agenda will be to review where we left off from last December's meetings, I don't anticipate we'll be more than an hour.

A reminder that Wednesday's (5/19) Board meeting will be held at Poquessing beginning at 7pm.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Board Prez weighs in on FF Recommendation


The Neshaminy School Board issued this press release a short time ago . . .

Board rejects fact-finder's recommendations

From today's Courier Times . . .

One yes plus one no equals no deal.

The Neshaminy support union approved a fact-finder's recommended contract, including agreeing to outsource busing. The school board, however, said no with its silence. Not responding within 10 days of the report being issued counts as a rejection, according to board President Ritchie Webb. Monday was the deadline to respond.

"The board still has some questions as to whether or not the report meets the financial needs of the district," Webb said. "We're also hopeful that we can have some discussions with the union to look at other options."

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On or off the table?

A quick show of hands, please . . . how many of you have been told by a Neshaminy teacher that they would be willing to contribute towards their monthly health care costs? I have heard from literally dozens of teachers over the months who have told me that they are willing. In fact, not one single teacher has told me they wouldn't kick in for their benefits. So why is it that NFT President Louise Boyd won't at least acknowledge that this issue is on the table for discussion? She doesn't have to negotiate a percent in public, just say that she is open to the idea. But she won't say that.

At the last meeting I tried to corner Ms. Boyd on the matter during her somewhat caustic speech to the Board. I asked her flat out if benefits contributions were on the table and she completely avoided the question. I thought maybe it was just me but even the reporter from The Advance, Joe Dynan, described the situation by saying she "sidestepped the question." Apparently Mr. Dynan questioned Ms. Boyd on the issue later in the evening and she said the offer to resume talks does not mean the union is willing to compromise on the health issue. You can read Joe Dynan's article in The Advance by clicking here.

This isn't intended as a Louise Boyd-bashing opportunity. As I said at the conclusion of the last meeting, I have a long-standing, respectful relationship with Louise and you have never heard me utter an unkind word about her. But I just cannot understand why she will not even indicate a willingness to open up to the single biggest obstacle in our negotiations. Virtually every issue involves money, and if we cannot get major concessions from the NFT on benefits, then there is no money available for us to negotiate anything else with. About the only thing we can discuss that doesn't involve money is random drug testing, and I hardly think that issue alone is worth the time and cost of having another round of talks.

As far as I am concerned, if employee contributions for benefits isn't on the table, then there is no reason to even have another negotiation session with the NFT.

If there are teachers out there reading this post who believe that contributing to benefits should be on the table, can you please tell that to your union leadership? Even if both sides agree that the subject is up for discussion, it will likely take us many, many months to make any progress in our negotiations. But none of that is possible unless the NFT takes the first step. And it doesn't have to happen at a public meeting. All it takes is for Louise Boyd to pick up the phone and give Ritchie Webb a call - just one quick call, and we can move on from this prolonged stalemate.

Until that happens, all any of us can do is wait. Just sit and wait.

Our guiding principle

I told you last week I wasn't going to comment on Mindy Anderson's recent letter in the Courier Times because Board Prez Ritchie Webb had written a response that said everything I wanted to say. Well, his guest opinion appeared in yesterday's paper . . .

In her May 2 letter to the editor, Mindy Anderson, president of the Neshaminy support workers union, once again uses the skin of truth to explain the Neshaminy contract situation. We on the Neshaminy school board believe the public should have access to all the facts in order to make an informed opinion.

Anderson claims that the school board has not considered the financial impact of unemployment compensation in the event of outsourcing. Yet if she were to look at the proposed preliminary expense budget for next year, she would see that money has been set aside for a potential hike in unemployment compensation. And her assertion that we haven't considered the real future costs of outsourcing is absurd, given that each vendor responding to our request for bids has provided a five-year commitment on the cost of their services.

Next, Anderson says that the public is being misled about how many employees will be retained by outsourcing vendors. The board never said that all employees will be retained, but many of the vendors responding to our requests have indicated a willingness to rehire Neshaminy staff. In fact, a transportation vendor (First Student) stated in their official response that typically 90 percent of existing staff are retained.

If Anderson is so concerned about keeping jobs for the rank and file, perhaps she should explain why she isn't willing to make concessions that would have reduced costs for the district and protected jobs at the same time.

Anderson adds that Neshaminy support workers "offered to negotiate a realistic co-payment of health benefits proportionate to support staff wages." The truth behind that statement is that the union has offered to contribute to their monthly health care costs up to 5 percent at the end of a five-year agreement, but in return demanded a 5 percent raise to offset that expense. Not much of a savings there.

Anderson then says "a very convenient clause is embedded in the administrative contract," referring to an equity clause that guarantees no bargaining group will receive superior benefits/raises over another. Why would she complain about that when support workers demanded that their agreement contain this very same equity clause?

What Anderson fails to address in her letter is the toll that the support workers' Rolls Royce health care plan costs the district, the taxpayers, and ultimately our students. What Anderson should be telling us is which student programs she believes should be cut in order to pay for her union's gold-plated benefits package. Of course, she will never tell you that because she doesn't want you to make the connection that the contract demands necessarily mean a cut to student programs.

The one point we cannot dispute is Anderson's statement that she represents the support staff. But we, the Neshaminy School Board of Directors, represent the students of our fine district. And as we have said previously, when confronted with a difficult choice, that we will continue to err on the side of the kids. This has been and will continue to be our guiding principle throughout our negotiations.

Ritchie Webb
Neshaminy School Board President

Friday, May 7, 2010

Union out of touch

In case you missed it, here is a Courier Times editorial from yesterday . . .

The performance of Neshaminy teachers union President Louise Boyd at Tuesday's school board meeting was worthy of some sort of Oscar or perhaps a Tony, given the live audience. Highly educated and holding an impressive leadership position, Boyd gave a convincing performance as clueless and out of touch.

Boyd seemed befuddled and insulted that negotiators hadn't met since January to work out a new contract. She acted like the ball is in the school board's court - which it isn't. "I haven't been hiding for the last two years," Boyd said, referring the teachers expired contract. "I'm ready to go."

From our perspective, the board has been both clear and upfront with its offer: annual 3 percent salary increases, including steps, and contributions of 15, 16 and 17 percent over three years toward health care premiums.

The union's counteroffer remains a secret of sorts; at least Boyd won't say what it is. She has denied the board's characterization that the union won't budge from its demand that teachers continue receiving free health benefits - apparently, the big sticking point. The union countered with a cheaper health insurance plan but, according to the board, remains opposed to teachers contributing to its cost.

You can read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Officials trade barbs over teachers contract

I'm traveling out of town at the moment so I'll let the Courier Times update you on last night's meeting . . .

It's the most they've talked in months. That's what Louise Boyd, president of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers, said of a brief banter between her and the board during Tuesday night's public school board meeting. Board President Ritchie Webb responded that Boyd's attitude was disrespectful and not constructive.

Board member William O'Connor said if the district doesn't make significant changes, especially to health care, there will be layoffs and programs cut. "It's not trickery," he said. "It's simple mathematics of the situation in a worldwide economy gone bad."

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

District confirms intimidation probe

As if tensions aren't running high enough now comes this story from today's Courier Times . . .

Neshaminy School District administrators confirmed Monday that they are investigating a Middletown resident's claim that a support union member tried to intimidate him about speaking at a school board meeting. Superintendent Lou Muenker confirmed that Larry Pastor submitted what Muenker called a "letter of concern" that the district is looking into, but said no other information could be released.

The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching union President Mindy Anderson for comment Monday.

Pastor . . . alleges that a man followed him into the men's bathroom during the April 20 meeting. While in the facility, Pastor said the man told him he was a district custodian and a member of the Neshaminy Educational Support Professional Association. The man asked Pastor if he was going to say something nice about the union at the meeting.

When Pastor said he might speak during public comment later that evening, he said the man got in his face and began screaming at him. Pastor alleges the man followed him out of the bathroom into the hallway, where he continued to confront him, called him an advocate for outsourcing, yelled that the support staff would lose their jobs, and cursed at him.

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

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Support staff deserve a livable wage

Some excerpts from Mindy Anderson's letter which appeared in today's Courier Times . . .

"The savings board alleges while outsourcing some services is only on paper, it does not reflect a real savings because associated items such as increased unemployment costs, extenuating operational costs and the future real contract costs with these companies are absent."

"The Neshaminy support staff has agreed to many cost saving concessions, and even before fact finding began offered to negotiate a realistic co-payment of health benefits proportionate to support staff wages."

"Yes, Neshaminy administrators agreed to pay more; but they are making six-figure salaries; plus they received raises that will cover the cost of their insurance co-payment."

I will have a few thoughts in response to Ms. Anderson's later today, so check back after dinner. In the meantime you can feel free to add your comments.

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.