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!