Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Going out with a bang

Was it just me, or did this school year seem like it would never end? It has been a long, tough, and very emotional road we traveled over the past 12 months, but things ended on a positive note.

First the good news from last night's meeting: Next year's budget is flat. That's right, no increase in taxes . . . zero, zilch, nada. And we didn't have to cut any student programs in the process. Thanks to the last minute heroics of the NESPA contract, we were able to close the deficit with some reductions/cuts to maintenance items, and postponing purchases of some white boards. We also tapped into our fund balance (savings) to the tune of $886,000, but the bottom line is that we were able to hold the line on next year's budget.

Also let's not forget that participating homeowners will receive a $208.73 rebate applied against their real estate tax bill as a result of gaming revenue. So from a tax payer standpoint, it was a very good night. Special thanks to Superintendent Lou Muenker, Business Manager Joe Paradise, and Board Prez Ritchie Webb for all their hard work in making this happen.

On a bittersweet note, it was announced last night that Joe Paradise would be retiring towards the end of 2010 after 36 years of service to Neshaminy. I'll save the sappy good bye speech for later in the year, but just one quick comment for now . . . Thanks, Joe!

If there was a down side to the meeting, it was the confirmation that tonight's negotiation meeting with the teachers' union was cancelled by the NFT because they "needed more time to prepare." That explanation seems a little odd to me since it wasn't that long ago the NFT leadership criticized the Board for not hosting a session since the beginning of the year, and they claimed to be ready to meet any time. Now suddenly, they need more time. Hopefully we will hear from them soon regarding a rescheduled date for our next negotiation session.

Before signing off today, I wanted to pass along a major thanks to all the parents and tax payers who became actively involved in our Board meetings for the past few months. You all played a role in the positive things that came out of this school year, and I (and my fellow Board members) want to thank you for your help and support.

Now it's time to enjoy the summer break. Usually not too much happens in the district during these months so there probably won't be too many updates on the blog until the next school year begins.

Have a great summer vacation!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pension crisis a costly matter

There is a sobering article in today's Courier Times about the pending Public School Employee Retirement Systems (PSERS) pension crisis . . .

Local property owners face hefty tax increases to pay for underfunded state retirement benefits over the next several years. As school district officials across the county were approving final budgets this month, they weren't just thinking about the next school year.

Even though Neshaminy and Bristol Township school districts still have to approve their budgets this week, administrators have also been trying to plan what to do for at least the next several years because of a looming state pension crisis. Many districts are stockpiling money in rainy day funds to make up for stock market losses and contribution rate spikes to the Public School Employee Retirement System of between 16 percent and 35 percent from 2012 to 2016. But with the size of the storm that's brewing, school officials are worried that it won't be enough without legislative action.

The increases translate to tax hikes of anywhere from $200 to $2,000 a year over the next several years, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. This means current tax bills could double or triple by the end of the coming spike in retirement costs. For instance, a homeowner with a Neshaminy School District tax bill of $4,400 this year could see it go up to almost $5,000 by 2015, officials said.

There is a chart in the newspaper that isn't in the online edition that shows Neshaminy residents could face an average tax increase of $1,571 over four years to fund this pension deficit.

When you contact your Harrisburg rep to demand their intervention, don't be fooled by the usual pledge that they will do something about it. This problem isn't new, and it's something that THEY created. We've seen this coming for several years now, but the folks in H-burg have procrastinated until now before they would even consider some sort of fix. You can ask them why they waited so long, but is there really any good excuse?


Thursday, June 24, 2010

NESPA approves contract


The rank and file of NESPA agreed to the contract that was approved by the Board last night. It's a done deal!

Thank you to the Neshaminy Support Staff!

Click here to read the Courier Times report

Over the top, under the wire

So much going on. Some good, some not. I'm out of town on business so I'll give you the short version. Two main items of interest, starting with the good news . . .

Under the wire
It came down to the 11th hour but I have to give some serious props to NESPA leadership for coming through with a good offer. If approved by the rank and file tonight, this deal will help ease the burden on tax payers and it will prevent jobs from being outsourced. I had pretty much given up hope of a win-win scenario here, but the Support Staff really stepped up.

To Mindy Anderson and the rest of NESPA, a heartfelt thank you

And now, onto the not-so pleasant news . . .

Over the top
Whenever the teachers took actions that I thought were inappropriate, such as protesting at back-to-school night or the more recent WTC action, I made no secret of my feelings. Well, something else happened this week that has me steaming, but this time it is not the NFT.

Letters have been mailed throughout the Neshaminy area that list the names and salaries of teachers in specific developments, and then encourages neighbors of those teachers to speak out against them. What's worse is the person(s) sending out this letter did not have the courage to show their name, but instead referred to themselves as a "Tax Payer".

The pièce de résistance is they put the Neshaminy school district address as the sender on the envelope, giving the appearance that the district approved of this mailing. I do not know if that is considered mail fraud, but it should be. One thing it is for sure is gutless.

Whether this letter is legal or not isn't the point. The bottom line here is that it is just flat out wrong. Discussions about the NFT contract should occur at Board meetings and other appropriate public venues. At no time should anyone take action that brings the debate to a person's front door. But that's what this person did, and they did so anonymously. Not exactly what I'd consider a stand-up guy (by the way, speculation of who the author is will NOT be accepted under comments, so please save me the trouble and DON'T).

If you couldn't attend last night's meeting, the Courier Times carried a good summary in today's edition. And in a truly rare event, both the Board and NESPA were complimented in the Courier's editorial.

See you at next Tuesday's final meeting of the school year.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Room Change

Please note that Wednesday's 7pm public meeting will be held in the Board Room at Maple Point as the Dengler Auditorium is not available.

I recommend you get there early to be sure to get a seat.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Board, NESPA reach tentative agreement

This message was just posted to the Board's Negotiation Website:

After many days and months of negotiations, the Neshaminy Board of School Directors and the leadership of NESPA have reached a TENTATIVE AGREEMENT.

The Neshaminy Board of School Directors will hold a public meeting this Wednesday, June 23rd, at 7pm in the BOARD ROOM at Maple Point to discuss, and vote to accept or reject the Tentative Agreement. All Neshaminy residents are encouraged to come to this meeting to learn more about the proposal and to offer their opinions during public comment.

Check back to this website on Wednesday morning for the details of the tentative agreement.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Parents, tax payers continue to speak out

A very impressive showing of parents and tax payers attended Tuesday night's school board meeting, about 250 by my count. I will try to post a few thoughts about last night later today if I can find a free moment this afternoon (no promises). In the meantime, I will let the Courier Times recap the meeting for you . . .

Before the Neshaminy school board approves the final budget in two weeks, residents and parents had one last message for school directors: listen to taxpayers, stand firm in negotiations and don't give in to union demands.

Parents, who once again wore red shirts that said, "Proud parent of a Neshaminy student," also donned white stickers with red lettering that read, "I contribute to my health care." Homeowners, who also blamed former boards for the labor dispute issue, pleaded with the board saying they can't afford a tax increase.

The school board unanimously voted to postpone the budget vote until June 29, giving them a few more weeks to negotiate with the support staff before approving outsourcing transportation, food, grounds keeping and custodial services to save more than $30 million over the next five years.

... the board also unanimously approved a last minute agenda addition requested by parents asking local representatives to support the Strike Free Education Act, or House Bill 1369, which would make strikes and retroactive contract payments illegal.

You can read the complete article by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shameful teachers union tactics

That's the title of an opinion appearing in today's Philadelphia Daily News as written by teacher-turned-talk-show-host Dom Giordano, who said:

... Teachers in every school across the country are faced with the challenge of trying to reach kids who clearly don't want to be in the classroom. But now the reverse is happening: the educational equivalent of a work slowdown in the classroom. It's playing out in the Neshaminy School District. Unfortunately, these hardball tactics are tarnishing the image of the profession. Teachers unions are starting to lose critical battles in the court of public opinion.

The Neshaminy Teachers Union has instituted a "work to contract" rule in response to a contract impasse with the school board. This means the teachers will only do what is spelled out in the contract. Nothing more.

Over the last school year, they have taken down bulletin board decorations and refused to write college recommendations for seniors. They capped their strategy this year by boycotting the high school graduation last week.

If you're trying to win the hearts and minds of local taxpayers, why such harsh tactics? For starters, you're insulting the families of nearly 10,000 students who are the key jurors in the court of public opinion. Their taxes pay for your salaries and benefits. When it comes time for the budget vote, why would you want parents going into the voting booth with a chip on their shoulder?

These hardball tactics and harsh rhetoric are hijacking the real value of teachers, and causing great damage to the image of the teaching profession.

Click here to read Mr. Giordano's letter in its entirety.

Congrats to the Class of 2010

Of all the things I've ever experienced in my life, few can match the immense satisfaction of last Thursday's graduation ceremony. Seeing those young faces enthusiastically accepting their diplomas was such an incredible moment, and I cannot thank Mr. Webb enough for allowing me to give the commencement speech in his place.

Follow these links to the Courier Times and The Advance to read more about the event.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fact Finder's Report for NFT Negotiations

By popular request, I am posting the May 2008 FF report concerning the negotiations between the Board and the NFT:

NFT Fact Finding Report 2008

Monday, June 7, 2010

Don't hate teachers for fighting for what all Americans want

That's the message in a guest opinion appearing in today's Courier Times. Here are some excerpts the letter submitted by Athena Graeber . . .

As a parent of three children and a taxpayer in the Neshaminy School District, I have been pondering the events unfolding in our school district. First and foremost, I want to say that I support the teachers in my district. I believe that they embody the American spirit and passion for fighting for what they believe in. They work hard every day to improve the lives of the students in our district. I look to them as role models for what the rest of our country should be doing.

What is that you ask? It is standing up for themselves and what they believe in no matter what the cost. Against those who cry out publicly against them. Ranting and raving about taxes and the costs of health care and other things that are troubling their lives. Our taxes pay for many things, not just teachers' salaries, yet no one is questioning the trash collector?

Many parents and students are up in arms over the extras that teachers are not providing at the moment, e.g. reference letters, websites, bulletin boards, etc. Even though I am not in favor of these tactics, I am intelligent enough to realize that the Neshaminy teachers are not out to hurt our children, but that they are making a simple point.

There is nothing wrong with standing up for oneself and fighting for what is right, fair, and just. I believe that is a trait that we call character. Let's support our teachers and help them get a contract.

You can read all of Ms. Graeber's letter by clicking here.

Also in today's Courier Times is an article which questions what impact, if any, the recent contract settlement in North Penn will have on the Neshaminy and Pennsbury negotiations. The article quotes Ritchie Webb as saying, "North Penn's ability to support increased salary and/or benefits may be different than here at Neshaminy . . . However, one thing we do have in common [is] communities are coming to the realization that there may not be a win-win solution available for public education. Either you restructure your labor costs, or cut education programs. We value all our employees, but ultimately we must insist on cost reductions in order to preserve our educational programs."

To that, NFT President Louise Boyd responded, "We've worked for decades to improve our earning potential and work conditions and we don't believe it's fair to arbitrarily strip away at our livelihood because of (school boards') failures to manage their budgets . . . Despite not having a contract for more than 702 days at Neshaminy, we continue to provide our students with the best education available. But like our fellow teachers in North Penn, we have our limits. We won't be abused."

And a little reminder to all readers about the rules of the road on this blog . . . When commenting, please keep it civil. Tensions are running high, and it's more important than ever we maintain some diplomacy. Being passionate in your comments is one thing, being insulting is another. Try to focus on the issues rather than the individuals. As always, I'll try to let your comments fly without editing them, but please monitor yourself so I don't have to.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Update on last night's negotiation session

School Board President Ritchie Webb released the following comments earlier today concerning last night's negotiation meeting with the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT):

"The board and NFT met last night [June 3, 2010] for approximately two hours. We had some positive dialog and managed to set another meeting June 30th. The Board provided the NFT with an update of our previous proposal with no changes. There was no counter proposal given to the board by NFT."


"Hard work" doesn't replace benefits contributions

Here is a Thumbs Down editorial appearing in today's Courier Times . . .

To Anne Schmidt, Neshaminy teachers union vice president, for her inane comments at this week's school board meeting. Schmidt accused the board of being unwilling to do "the hard work" to get a new teachers contract approved. "It's a shame for taxpayers," she said.

Hardly. In fact, it's in the interest of taxpayers that the board is sticking to its reasoned position that teachers start contributing to the cost of expensive health benefits, which folks in the private sector have been doing for decades.

It's a shame for taxpayers that teachers are stubbornly sticking to their unreasonable demand that they keep free benefits. How utterly ridiculous and incredibly selfish.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

They came, they spoke, they left

What were they thinking? I don't even have the words to adequately describe the situation. Maybe this used to be a dependable third-down-and-long strategy in the old NFT Playbook, but it's time to put this one back on the shelf, never to be used again. And sticking with the football metaphors, it was another example of bad play calling that has plagued the NFT.

I am, of course, referring to last night's walk-out by the NFT rank and file after their leaders addressed the Board and audience. Perhaps the event was best summarized by the Courier's Rachel Canelli in her article where she says "They came. They spoke. They left." That pretty much says it all as far as I'm concerned, but there were many angry parents last night who used other words to describe it. They yelled at the departing teachers during their mass exodus, questioning why they weren't willing to listen to the parents. I heard one person exclaim that the teachers already turned their backs on the students and now they were turning their backs on the parents.

At the end of the meeting, with only parents and a few teachers straggling in the back to observe the aftermath, my fellow board member Kim Koutsouradis apologized to the audience by saying they deserved more respect from the teachers. He was right, they did. We all did.

I know that tensions are high, and that our teachers are feeling a great deal of pressure because of this contract impasse, but it's pressure they've brought upon themselves. This isn't just the Board who is frustrated with the situation. It's parents, and students, and tax payers, and even members of NESPA. When it comes to this contract dispute, the teachers' support base is virtually nonexistent. But they knew that coming into the meeting, and still they chose to walk out on the very people who pay their salary. A very odd decision, especially in light of a newly scheduled meeting with the Board's Negotiation Team later this week. Yes, very odd.

I don't know what to expect on Thursday, but I will be anxiously awaiting word from our Negotiation Team. There is one thing I do know, even if the NFT doesn't. Paying for benefits is on the table. If that wasn't made clear by the Board in the past, it was made loud and clear by those parents and tax payers in attendance at last night's meeting. The Board heard you.

What I don't know is if the NFT heard you. They had already left the meeting.

(Below is a Fox 29's report on last night, accompanied by a great picture [right] taken by Courier Times photographer Steve Gengler that captures some of the tension from the meeting)