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.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Visiting team victim of theft

How to blemish what was an otherwise good night for Neshaminy . . .

Many members of the Abington football team had personal property stolen from the locker room Friday night.

It's one thing to lose an away game, but another to have your stuff stolen from the visitors' locker room before you leave.

Abington High School's Galloping Ghosts walked off the football field at Harry E. Franks stadium Friday night and up to the visiting locker room in the high school after losing 28-10 to the Neshaminy High Redskins. But when they got to the locker room, much of their personal property had been stolen.

"They took all our stuff,'" Julien Ireland, the Abington quarterback, recalled the first player into the locker room yelling out.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Board gets tough with latest proposal

From an article to appear in Sunday's Courier Times . . .

The Neshaminy school board is fighting back - hard.

After rejecting the latest contract proposal from the teachers union, the board came back Thursday with a one-year offer and added in wording that would require teachers to work three nights a school year. The night work stipulation was included after teachers didn't show up at recent back-to-school nights.

The addition was needed to ensure that teachers cannot choose to skip the functions, school board President Ritchie Webb said Friday. The teachers' last contract did not specifically mandate that they attend such nights.

The board's rejection of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers' proposal came easily, according to Webb, because the district would be unable to meet the union's financial demands.

"First of all, they wanted retroactive pay," he said. "Our figures indicate that if we agreed to that, for the past three years, with salary increases, it would cost the district $11.7 million out of the current year's budget. That is just not doable. Even if we wanted to do it, we couldn't do it."

He cited the state's Special Session Act 1 of 2006, also known as the Taxpayer Relief Act, as another limiting factor. "Under Act 1 for this coming year, the most we'd be able to raise taxes without exceptions or a voter referendum is $1.6 million," Webb added. "It is impossible to finance the amount of increases they want."

In a statement e-mailed to the newspaper Friday, NFT president Louise Boyd said the board is not negotiating in good faith.

"Last night the Neshaminy School Board rejected, out of hand, the most recent proposal presented by the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers. The board refused to discuss specifics," the statement read. "The board proposed to amend its existing 34 pages of changes with the addition of a 35th page of demands. This means that the board is actually going in reverse in the negotiating process. This is not good-faith bargaining and the board knows it. The public should know it, too..."

The school board's Thursday offer is for one-year during which teachers would be required to contribute 17 percent of the district's cost for their health care premiums, receive a 1 percent raise plus steps, totaling to an average 3.1 percent, and work the three nights.

The board's offer also calls for teachers to work longer hours - 7.5 hours daily as opposed to the 7 they now work - and more days - 190.5 per year instead of the 188.5 in the expired contract.
A $27,500 retirement bonus found in the teachers' previous contract is eliminated in the board's offer.

To read the entire article, click here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The stalemate continues

There were many things I liked about yesterday’s parent solidarity rally, and there were some things I didn’t like.

On the plus side, the organizers did everything possible to keep this event the “peaceful protest” that it was billed as. They alerted both district officials and local police of their intentions, and they kept their protest off the main grounds of Maple Point (for the most part). In general, signs were on message and respectful, and there was no loud yelling or jeers from the crowd. This group clearly made their voices heard.

The negatives . . . a small group of the parents did carry their protest right into the main parking lot although the organizers were advised to keep their rally limited to the outer fringes of the property. I don’t know if these few parents didn’t get the message, or perhaps were coaxed onto school grounds by the Fox 29 reporter, who I am told was “disappointed” that the event didn’t take place right outside the main office.

Also of concern to me was the presence of a few younger children at the rally. While I understand that it’s important to teach children the importance of standing up for what you believe in, this is a complex, emotional issue that is very confusing to pre-adolescents. Parents should explain the situation to their child carefully, and the message they give should be much different for a high school student than it is for an elementary schooler. Let’s not have a repeat of last year’s anarchical event undertaken by our Maple Point kids.

Here is the Courier Times recap of yesterday’s rally.

I’m sure you know by now, the Board has officially rejected the NFT’s recent contract offer. As you might expect, the Courier Times editorial board has followed up with another scathing opinion, this one encouraging teachers to “put a leash on the extremists who are leading you astray,” which is a direct reference to NFT leadership.

Also in the Courier is a letter from a local resident who chastizes the editorial board by saying they "unfairly characterize the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers ("NFT") as being "unreasonable amateurs" in their conduct during negotiations with the Neshaminy school board. Nothing could be less accurate."

After 2+ years of talks both sides are still very far apart, and public concerns of a teachers strike grow every day. The good news is that so far the NFT hasn’t even hinted at a possible strike, so while we should be prepared for the worst, we do not necessarily have to expect it. Of course that could change at any moment, but for now we must continue to remain calm and focused.

Just below is last night’s Fox 29 News report from the District offices. And just in case you thought Fox was the only local news station covering Neshaminy, here is a link to a report filed by KYW 1060 News Radio.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Parents plan "silent protest"

There is an interesting article in today's Courier Times about two parents organizing a protest this Thursday at Maple Point, which is the site of the next meeting between the Board's Negotiation Team and representatives from the NFT.

A few thoughts about this . . .

* Kudos to these parents for getting involved and for exercising their right to free speech.

* What I don't understand is why a certain local Facebook personality who claims to be an advocate for the children would label this protest as a bad idea. Even worse is that they appear to be deleting comments from residents who support the protest.

* NFT President Louise Boyd is quoted in today's article as saying, "It's unfortunate that the district has taken more than two years to even consider serious negotiations and that's the reason we are where we are today." Really Louise, REALLY??? And I suppose your refusal to put employee health care contributions on the table has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that so little progress has been made in more than two years.

* And the quote of the year from the NFT Prez, "Work-to-contract is completely legal and it is just one of several bargaining tools that we will utilize . . ." . Translation = YOUR CHILDREN are a bargaining tool. I think human shield is a more accurate description.

Sounds like Thursday is going to be quite an eventful day!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Staffers commended for actions in an emergency

From today's Courier Times (picture credit: Kim Weimer/Courier staff photographer) . . .

[Superintendent] Louis Muenker recently praised three faculty members whose efforts helped avert a tragedy on the first day of school.

On Aug. 31, a teacher complained of not feeling well and eventually passed out into fellow teacher Scott Prendergast's arms. Part-time health aide Peggy Lutz was called to the scene.

"I ran down to the room and when I got there, I saw his color was not very good and he wasn't breathing," said Lutz, who's worked at the school for more than five years. "I yelled for someone to grab the defibrillator and started CPR."

"I know it was only a few minutes, but it seemed to take forever," she said. "I used the (automated external defibrillator) and put the paddles to his chest and gave him a shock. The machine then told me to resume mouth-to-mouth and CPR."

At that point, Lutz said, the teacher's color began to return and she detected a faint pulse.
"He began to breathe shallowly and I turned him on his side," she added.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Just to make the challenge even greater . . .

The Act 1 budget index was just released for next year’s budget development process. It will stand at only 1.4%, meaning that the board may not raise spending in 2011-12 more than the value of a 1.4% increase in the real estate tax rate. As a reminder, the index limit for the current budget year was set at 2.9% index.

This new 1.4% index equates to approximately $1.6 million in total. Just for comparison purposes, our health insurance and/or special education costs usually increase more than this amount, without considering any other parts of the budget.

As if a fiscally responsible budget wasn't already a challenge, our job just got a lot tougher!

Act 1 Index 2011-12

Undaunted by WTC, parents attend BTS night

Somewhere between 200 - 250 parents attended last night's Back-to-School night at Maple Point, with similar reports of good turnout at Sandburg and Poquessing. Despite frustration over the WTC action taken by the NFT, many parents felt it was important to show up at their child's school.

It should come as no surprise that the wave of public opinion continues to be critical of the path chosen by our teachers. A Thumbs Down editorial from this morning's Courier says:

To Neshaminy School District teachers, for … well, it's a long list. But let's limit it to teachers bailing out on back-to-school nights.

The disruptive action is part of the union's "work-to-contract" order, which means teachers aren't supposed to do much of anything outside the school day. This is the union's way of putting pressure on the school board to give teachers a contract taxpayers can't afford.

Shamefully, the greatest impact of what amounts to a work slowdown is on students.

There is also an article about last night's BTS events that contains parent comments such as:

Amanda Barner, parent of an eighth-grader, said it seems that the teachers "don't care enough to come out for the children."

"Everybody needs an income, but the biggest reason you become a teacher is because you should want to help and inspire children," Barner said. "This teaches them nothing except to do nothing more than they're ever asked to do."

If you didn't happen to tune into Fox 29 news last night, further down below is the report they filed about BTS night.

I was very pleased by the parent turnout last night. One woman who stopped by to say hello told me that she considered this a showing of parent solidarity. And there were plenty of other attendees from last night who shared similar feelings. Clearly the parents in our District are tired and fed up, but they are also unwavering in their support of the Board's position.

What was also apparent from comments overheard last night was that parents appreciated the efforts of the District's superintendent, administration and principals during this difficult time. So despite this group being maligned earlier in the week by the NFT Veep, Neshaminy officials continue to receive backing from the public.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated in last night's BTS events!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are they serious?

That's the title of today's Courier Times editorial in reaction to the NFT counter proposal. Some excerpts include:

Union negotiators for Neshaminy teachers are a persistent bunch. They're also insensitive, if not completely arrogant.

On the biggest of all issues - health benefits - the union has not budged. Negotiators continue to insist on a total freebie; that is, not a penny from teachers toward the cost of health insurance. In other words, 100 percent of the cost of insurance would continue to be covered by taxpayers. That said, the union is offering to increase co-pays for a laundry list of medical services and prescription drugs. That's a little something - way too little!

As one board member said, "The (union) is seeking to keep their (what we have called a) Rolls Royce health care plan with no contribution toward the monthly premiums +"

The union's stubborn and insensitive insistence on free health insurance is a slap in the face of every taxpayer in the Neshaminy School District. So is the union's salary demand, which is retroactive to 2008.

The five-year deal proposes increases of 2.75 percent in each of the first two years, 3 percent in the third and fourth years, and 3.5 percent in the final year - with the same percentages applied to step increases.

Explained one school board member: "Remember that a 3 percent raise translates into much more than simply 3 percent because it is also applied to the salary steps. So while teachers at the lowest end of the salary scale would receive minimally 3 percent (as an example), there are teachers who would receive two to three times that much."

Incredible! And incredibly selfish.

The school board is holding a work session this evening but will welcome public comment on the nion's counter-proposal. Taxpayers should get in line early. .

Teachers want to keep 'Rolls Royce' health plan

Here are some excerpts from a story in today's Courier Times ...

No mention of health care premiums can be found in the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers' contract counteroffer, which was released by the school board Monday.

If the board were to accept the union's offer, the average salary of a teacher in the Neshaminy School District, including steps, would come to $101,391 at the end of the five-year contract term in 2012, board President Ritchie Webb said Monday. The contract would be retroactive to July 1, 2008, and would end June 30, 2013.

That sum is without factoring in health benefits, perks or pay for extracurricular duties, he added. Webb said the top salary would be about $111,200, before benefits and pay for extracurricular work.

In the union's five-year contract counteroffer, teachers would get a 2.75 percent increase in base wage for the first two years, a 3 percent increase in the third and fourth years and a 3.5 percent increase in the fifth and final year. The same percentages would be applied to step increases, based on service time and education level.

O'Connor said that a "me-too clause" included in the contracts for the district's support staff and its administration stipulates members of those unions cannot receive health insurance benefits that are inferior to any other group, including teachers.

"If we accepted this, we would in turn have to give that same benefit package to every other employee in the district," he said.

Click here to read the entire article.

Also in today's paper was a letter to the editor from a Neshaminy resident who said "Shame on the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers!" You can read her opinion by following this link.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Board releases NFT Counter Proposal

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

Although a thorough financial analysis of the NFT counter proposal has not yet been completed, the Neshaminy School Board has chosen to disclose the offer at this time (see below). The Board believes it is important that the information be shared ahead of Tuesday's Public Work Session so that residents may comment on it.

The Board will continue to withhold formal comment on the NFT counter proposal until its analysis has been completed.

Nft Proposal 082510

Sunday, September 12, 2010

District officials work to prevent busing mix-ups

From today's Courier Times . . .

Last week, a 5-year-old kindergarten student from Oliver Heckman Elementary School got off at the wrong bus stop.

Though the situation ended safely and the child was reunited with his parents, according to his father, approximately 30 minutes elapsed during which he was left unattended on the streets of Langhorne before he was found by a bus driver and brought back to his home.

Tim Russell, an instrumental music teacher employed by the Neshaminy School District, said the situation involving his son was a result of "gross negligence" by the district.

"We feel very lucky that it turned out the way it did and we feel that Neshaminy should feel the same way," Russell said Friday.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Courier Times: Thumbs down to NFT negotiators

Here is an editorial from today's Courier Times . . .

Thumbs Down:
To negotiators for the Neshaminy Teachers Union who continue to define themselves as unreasonable amateurs when it comes to negotiating a new contract.

Their latest example is a verbal counteroffer the union presented to the school board on Aug. 25. It begs logic that the union reps expected the school board to seriously consider a verbal contract proposal. As they should have, board members awaited a written version, which finally arrived Sept. 3, the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend. Still, union negotiators accused the school board of delaying tactics.

By our count, board members had the proposal in hand for just two work days before the union started squawking. The question is: Why did it take nine days to put the deal in writing. And why has the union not budged on its ludicrous insistence on continued free benefits, which folks in the real world haven't seen in decades.

And just because their accusations ticked me off, I'm gonna give the NFT negotiators a giant one of these . . .

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NFT Prez: Board using "stall tactics"

A few days ago I received a call from a teacher who was concerned that the Board would not seriously consider the NFT's recent counter proposal. I assured this teacher that we were committed to a thorough review of the financial impact of the offer before making a decision. They responded with "that's all any of us can ask of you."

Apparently that's not true. Enter NFT President Louise Boyd.

Yesterday Ms. Boyd issued a statement to the Courier Times in which she accused the Board of stalling the negotiations throughout the past 2+ years. She appears to be frustrated that the Board didn't begin evaluating the merits of the NFT's verbal offer of August 25th instead of waiting for the written offer which wouldn't be delivered until another 9 days had passed. Apparently the NFT leader isn't interested in a thorough analysis of the offer. After all, it only took the NFT 2+ years to come up with this proposal. Certainly the Board should just accept it, quickly and quietly.

There is a certain irony to Boyd's anxiety over the perceived delay in a Board response. Remember it was the NFT who insisted that the Board should not be copied on any information they obtained from our insurance provider. Now, in order to consider the NFT proposal, we must reach out to the insurance company to verify information we could have (should have?) already had in hand. Or perhaps Ms. Boyd thinks we should trust their numbers without verification.

I'm also bothered by the seemingly minor point of when the Board received the NFT's written offer. Boyd insisted to the Courier reporter that the email was delivered on Thursday, September 2nd. The truth is this email wasn't received by the Board's attorney until the afternoon of Friday, September 3rd, and we provided the Courier with the email date/time stamp to prove it. For anyone who has followed the statements of alleged teachers (they always use fake names to hide their identity so it's impossible to know if they are really teachers) on the various blogs and Facebook pages, they see the outrageous claims and accusations made against the Board. Yet time and time again when confronted with the facts, these people change the subject and move on to another unsubstantiated rumor.

I understand and empathize with those of you out there who are anxious to see this contract impasse resolved. The Board is well aware of the pressure and impact this situation puts upon you and your children. Please understand that with decreasing revenues and increasing educational demands, we must not, we dare not, miss this opportunity to restructure the single highest cost driver to our operating budget. Borrowing a now-popular phrase, the Board must do the hard work to ensure that this district has a sustainable economic model that will enable Neshaminy to maintain academic excellence. If we fail on this opportunity now, we will be failing our students for many, many years to come.

“One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.” - G K Chesterton


Monday, September 6, 2010

Written proposal received

A written proposal has been received from the NFT. The Board will take time to review the proposal before sharing with the community.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Board member pushes to improve computer education

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

At last month's meeting, board member William O'Connor said he won't support any budget proposal that lacks a significant upgrade to the computer education curriculum for the district's elementary schools. He estimates the revamped curriculum could cost upward of $800,000.
Although Computer Lab is on the schedule for all elementary schools at all grade levels, O'Connor said that isn't enough.

"Right now, our curriculum for elementary students is to teach keyboarding and basic computer skills and that's really focused at the fourth and fifth grade levels," O'Connor said Wednesday.

"Before last year we did not have any elementary computer curriculum."

He said the issue came to his attention after talking with parents and middle school teachers. Many parents contacted him by e-mail, he said, to express disappointment in the computer learning programs.

Middle schools in the district are forced to spend time teaching students rudimentary computer skills that should have already been covered in the elementary grades, according to O'Connor.

"Part of the middle school curriculum is to give assignments that involve Internet research and writing papers," he added. "This is in place with the assumption that the students already know how to do these basic functions such as searches and power point presentations. Because the kids learn this on their own at home, they end up coming to class with different levels of experience and skill."

You can read the entire article by clicking here.