. . . Of more immediate impact on residents of six Bucks County school districts is the fact that labor agreements with teachers expired this week . . . Actually, Neshaminy has been without a new contract for the past two years; Pennsbury has been without a new deal since June 30 of last year. Both have been working under the terms of their old agreements. But don't feel sorry for them. Those old deals are pretty darn good, especially Neshaminy's, where teachers get free health benefits - totally free.
And while teachers are putting on the pressure for new agreements, they have nothing to worry about - not if history is any guide. Their unions will take care of them. By contrast, taxpayers should be worried, because school boards have been notorious for selling out residents by agreeing to contracts borne of the fantasy that teachers are somehow immune to the economic realities that affect the rest of us.
. . . we were encouraged this week when Neshaminy passed a no-tax-hike budget despite the need for a new deal with teachers. Neshaminy school board members insist that a new contract will have to be struck within the parameters of the new budget. Likewise, Pennsbury officials say a new teachers contract will have to come in under their budget.
Hopefully, those promises won't fade as they did in the North Penn School District, which for a time put up a strong front against its teachers union during contract negotiations, even prompting a brief teachers strike. In the end, however, the district gave the teachers what we believe was an overly generous contract for these economic times. Our concern is that North Penn may have set the table for negotiations in the other districts.
This editorial speaks to a fear that many in our community share - despite standing strong in negotiations with the Support Staff (NESPA), the Board will cave in and give the NFT another incredibly generous, expensive contract. Quite frankly, I don't see how that is possible.
First thing to consider is the equity, or "me too", clause that exists in our other labor contracts. This guarantees the other labor units will have insurance benefits comparable to what the teachers have in their new agreement. If we were to drastically reduce our offer to the NFT, say a 5% contribution for a Rolls Royce plan, we would have to amend the coverage for all the other labor groups. That would hurl our budget dangerously into the red, and it would leave us no choice but to drastically cut student programs. That is not an option as far as I'm concerned.
If contractual obligations weren't enough to keep the Board focused, we also have received a loud, clear message from the community at large. Overwhelmingly the public is demanding that the NFT make significant concessions in these negotiations, and they've insisted that the Board not back down. And this isn't just the opinion of frustrated tax payers. This time even parents with school-aged children are demanding major changes in the teachers' next contract.
The important thing now is that the Board and NFT remain focused on moving forward with negotiations. It's been a difficult and emotional year for all involved, and the process hasn't always brought out the best in us (public included). But that isn't a good reason to give up hope or to stop trying. And so, we must keep working at it. I'm sure all of us agree that doing nothing isn't an acceptable alternative.
Hopefully we will hear soon from the NFT on a reschedule date for our next meeting. And with any luck, that meeting will lead to another, and then another.
One last thought . . . with all due respect to the Courier Times editorial board, we must always put our students first. Always.