Friday, December 2, 2011

NFT's scorched Earth strategy

The ballot below was distributed by the NFT to teachers in at least one of our elementary schools recently. Although not a binding vote, this paper asks teachers if they should target a strike during our PSSA's.

Perhaps union officials see no harm in asking, but the Board finds it reprehensible that the NFT would even consider targeting our students and the educational well-being of the district as a form of intimidation.

NFT Strike Form 122011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Playwickian questions NSB, NFT on contract

Playwickian Article 11222011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thank you

This Tuesday will be my final meeting as your representative to the Neshaminy School Board. It has been my honor and privilege to have served our community over the last four years, and I truly appreciate the support and confidence you have shown me during this time.

Unfortunately as my term ends, so does the Neshaminy Info blog and Facebook group page. While I have been pleased to share both news and my opinions via these resources, I can no longer devote the time necessary to maintaining them. I thank all of you who frequented these websites over the years.

Neshaminy is a very special place, full of very special people. Thank you for the opportunity to serve the members of this wonderful community.


William O'Connor
Neshaminy School Board Director


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Board doesn’t see any significant change in NFT offer

Meeting #36 lasted 90 minutes, with the mediator spending the first 20 minutes with the NFT, and the final 70 minutes with the Board’s Negotiation Team.

The mediator presented the NFT’s counter proposal which included the following highlights:
• Full reinstatement of salary steps
• 80% of retroactive pay (instead of 100%)
• As of 7/1/2012, Masters Equivalency (MEQ’s) courses will be approved by joint committee equally represented by district staff and federation members

After flatly rejecting the offer for 80% of retro pay, the Board did agree to carefully review and consider the NFT counter proposal but noted they didn not see any significant change in the NFT’s position.

Both sides agreed to further talks on December 6th and December 14th.

Friday, October 28, 2011

NSB fires back at SLCS

NSB Press Release SLCS 10282011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Board Prez: NFT claims of uncommitted funds are "numbers out of a hat"

NSB Press Release Uncommitted Funds 10202011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New round of talks scheduled

Representatives from the School Board and NFT will meet on Tuesday, November 1st at 6pm for further negotiations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The $62 million ticking time bomb

As the NSB and NFT continue negotiating salary and benefits, there is one not-so-little issue that everyone better keep an eye on – The Public School Employees Retirement System, or PSERS. With the long anticipated hike in employer contribution rates almost upon us, Pennsylvania school districts are looking at rate increases from the current 8.65% up to 12.19% next year, and as high as 26.26% in the 2020/2021 school year.

Just how bad can it get for tax payers? Well, if you gotta ask . . .

Our district’s annual payroll for teachers is $50,202,222. Multiplied by the current employer contribution rate of 8.65%, this means Neshaminy’s contribution for this year will be approximately $4,325,000.

Now let’s just assume teacher salaries remained exactly where they are for the following 9 school years. Even with a flat payroll in 2012/2013, the increase in the PSERS employer rate means that Neshaminy’s contribution will jump by a little under $1.8 million to $6,119,650. And it gets worse as the employer rate jumps. By the 2020/2021 school year, the 26.26% rate translates into a $13.2 million contribution, which is $8.8 million more than what we are contributing now.

When you add it all up, over the following 9 years Neshaminy tax payers will be fitting the bill for a staggering $62,608,994 in increased employer PSERS contributions. And that’s assuming teachers don’t get any salary hikes between now and then.

Of course we could pray that Harrisburg comes up with some magic bullet fix to PSERS without bankrupting tax payers, but we cannot plan on that. So for now, every contract offer that increases teacher salaries must also be viewed in light of its potential impact on our employer contribution.

And in the midst of all this, we still have a school district to run.


Friday, October 7, 2011

NFT claims credit for class size

Soon after Ritchie Webb's Monday clarification on class size, the NFT stepped right in to take credit by telling they were pleased to learn that the Board has taken the possibility of class size increases off of the table "following NFT leafleting and contacts with parents about the issue."

The NFT would have you believe that the pressure they applied somehow manipulated the Board into making a decision we didn't want to make, but nothing could be further from the truth. They've used far more aggressive tactics that have accomplished nothing, so it's ludicrous to believe their handing out of leaflets had anything to do with the Board's decision regarding class size.

In reality, credit for this decision rests with the Board's negotiation team and the Citizen's Advisory Panel. During their review of the collective bargaining agreement several months ago, it was agreed that nobody wanted to see an increase in class size and so this issue was removed from consideration.

Although some confusion was caused by the circulation of an incorrect version of the last offer to the NFT, it doesn't alter what the Board intended nor does it change who is responsible for the idea.

Let's give credit to where it is truly do in this case ... Thank you to the Citizen's Advisory Panel for putting the concerns of our students above of all else.

Playwickian earns award

Congratulations to the 2010-2011 Neshaminy High School Playwickian editors and staff writers for receiving the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Gold Medal Certificate of Excellence for High School Journalism.

The CSPA judges stated, “What a delightful read! Your coverage is fair and diverse and really covers all aspects of your school and community. Your paper is engaged in what is going on at school and around you.”

The CSPA has critiqued The Playwickian for the past 35 years and has received a Gold Medal for an outstanding 24 years.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Webb: Board won't increase class size

In an effort to clarify the Board’s position on the issue of class size, Ritchie Webb today reaffirmed that the Neshaminy School Board has no intentions of increasing elementary or secondary school class sizes as outlined in the last teachers' contract. The only change sought by the board concerns adoption of the State Board/Department of Education recommendations as they relate to special education case loads.

Webb said, “at the very next issuance of a Board contract proposal to the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers, we will include clear language that will put aside any concerns the public may have regarding elementary or secondary school class sizes.”

Webb added that he hopes this clarification will bring an end to those people trying to exploit the issue in an effort to draw attention away from the many key outstanding issues which are part of the current negotiations with the NFT.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Not nice in Neshaminy

An editorial in today's Courier Times . . .

Not nice in Neshaminy

“Never let a crisis go to waste ...” That advice, famously offered by former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, seems to have resonated with the Neshaminy teachers union, whose leaders are getting lots of mileage out of a shoving incident at the high school.

Details are scarce, but the shoving match allegedly involved a high school secretary and a union leader. A criminal complaint was filed by the union.

We’re not dismissing the seriousness of the incident. If a union leader was shoved, as the union contends, it’s a serious infraction — if not criminal — and district officials are obliged to take disciplinary action if police determine that the secretary was the aggressor. That said, union officials are using the incident in an opportunistic way — to blame a school board member’s private blog as well as board inaction for inflaming the community.

This is what can happen, union Vice President Anne Schmidt said, if the school board allows “open season on teachers.” Schmidt was referring to comments on board member William O’Connor’s blog — some of them not very nice. She also referenced public comments at school board meetings, some of which union officials say are either false, inflammatory or both. They said that by letting the comments go unchallenged, the school board is allowing animosity to build up within the community regarding the district’s longstanding contract dispute with the teachers.

There’s some logic to Schmidt’s argument. But her charge against O’Connor and the board absolves the union of any responsibility for ill will. We’ll accept that there is ill will, because to deny it is to deny reality. After four years of acrimony between the union and the board — including two work slowdowns and a boycott of last year’s Back-to-School Nights — well, yeah, the community is a little ticked off. That residents are wearing T-shirts to board meetings in support of the board says something about the community’s feelings.

But let’s not forget that teachers clad in union T-shirts have been a regular part of meetings for some time now. And those union members are hardly silent. Likewise, the union has hardly been understanding of the difficult financial situation both the district and district families are in.
The “Great Recession” is taking its toll on the incomes of both. Yet the union’s demands reflect not today’s tough times, but the boom years of earlier decades. No wonder the community has gotten fed up and perhaps ill tempered.

Still, we’re not excusing bad behavior; it’s simply not acceptable. To that end, the board has a responsibility to address the inaccurate comments of misinformed citizens speaking at meetings. People need to know the truth so misinformation doesn’t unfairly bias anybody.

O’Connor’s situation is a little more dicey. Policing blog comments can be a time-consuming, frustrating and thankless task. We know of what we speak. But if you’re going to invite commentary, the least you should do is remove threatening and tasteless commentary. We trust O’Connor has the sensibility to know what’s acceptable and what’s not.

While we agree with O’Connor that “people are responsible for their own actions,” when people act irresponsibly, those in authority must step in. That goes for board members and union officials alike.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Miscellaneous musings

Yesterday’s NFT press conference blamed the district, the board, and yours truly for “indirectly” causing “increasingly dangerous acts against members of the NFT.” Their evidence – several allegedly defaced lawn signs, and a shoving incident between a secretary and a teacher last week. Oddly enough, the only documented evidence of a problem between a teacher and a parent/tax payer occurred in Levittown, where the spouse of a teacher was observed removing a pro school board lawn sign from the resident’s lawn.

Undoubtedly union officials will blame this spouse's actions on reading my blog and Facebook page. has
the NFT press conference posted on their website.

Regarding last week’s shoving match, while I cannot comment on the specifics, I must say that I’m shocked the NFT will throw a member of their sister union, NESPA, under the bus publicly just so they can make a baseless accusation against the Board. Should the NFT ever go on strike, I wonder how many members of NESPA, if any, will stand by them on the picket line.

The irony of this confrontation between secretary and teacher is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the school board or bloggers or the angry vocal minority. There is so much more going on here than meets the eye.

And for today’s “REALLY?!?” award … To Anne Schmidt for even hinting that things could escalate to the point of what happened to US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

During last night’s Board meeting, Kim Koutsouradis challenged the NFT leaders to allow a 3rd party to count the votes at the upcoming union elections. Excellent idea, and I hope union officials will take that idea and run with it.

Since there are many teachers at the upper end of our compensation scale who will want to protect those retirement perks, I do think current leaders will survive their election. But if they see a significant amount of discontent among the rank and file, perhaps that will alter their approach to negotiations.

Yes, you heard right. The cost of NFT retirement perks, including the $27.5k payout and free insurance, have cost tax payers around $40 million since they were implemented. It's one thing to ask residents to share the financial burden of public education, but it's something entirely different when not one dime of that burden ever finds its way into the classroom to the benefit of children.


Last night I incorrectly stated that an arbitrator concluded that harassment occurred in the case of a union official confronting another teacher regarding back to school night last year. In his ruling, the arbitrator reduced the 5-day suspension down to 1-day, and said that in his opinion this incident “was not harassment … because an ordinary person, although perhaps very annoyed, would not have found it harassing.” The arbitrator added his opinion that the union official did not intend to harass their colleague to the point they could not perform their job, and actually went to the classroom "for the exact opposite purpose." The arbitrator concluded that the District did have a right to “impose discipline for the Grievant’s unwelcome classroom visit.”

I regret the misstatement.

To resident Lee Kirsh who last night stated that nice comments about teachers posted on my Facebook page seem to disappear - how about a little proof, please. Can you have someone contact me and provide details of any "nice" comments that were deleted? You see, I do not delete comments simply because they may come from someone who disagrees with me. And I certainly don't purge positive things said about teachers.

Perhaps Mr. Kirsh you didn't happen to notice the thread I posted in May honoring National Teacher's Week, and the 70 or so positive comments from readers that followed.

As you can see from the section above, if I make a mistake I am willing to acknowledge and correct it. Are you willing to do the same?

In the midst of all the controversy, you should take a moment and enjoy humor when you can. During the second public comment last night, Steve Rodos had reached the 3 minute limit of his speech when he stated his feelings of something the Board could have been doing better. At that very second, Ritchie Webb interrupted him to say his time was up. Everyone started to laugh believing that Mr. Webb was just kidding, and so Mr. Rodos continued to speak. Then Webb jumped in again and said he wasn’t kidding at all and that Mr. Rodos’ time had truly expired.

The exchange between both gentlemen was purely coincidental yet perfectly timed, and it gave the audience a much-needed laugh.

Did you see my picture with
today’s Courier Times’ article? Do I always look that brooding? I need to cut back on the caffeine.

But I ask you ... what other elected official can pull off a purple shirt and matching tie like that? :-)


I won't be at the October 11th meeting, so that leaves me with just three board meetings left before the end of my term, and it can't happen fast enough for some people, I'm sure.

Let the countdown begin!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Board issues clarification

The following supplement to last night’s Board statement will provide clarification to the modified proposal put forth by the Board during yesterday’s meeting with the NFT.

After careful consideration of the cost factors involved, the Board offered to accept the insurance plan requested by the NFT, Customized PC-20/30/70, in exchange for a 15% premium contribution to be paid by the certified staff. The cost of this plan is actually less than the PC-20/30/70 plan the Board proposed on July 18th.

Assuming a 15% contribution by the teachers, the savings to the District is over $4 million for the first year, and will continue to yield significant savings every year thereafter. The 15% contribution would be consistent with the rate paid by all other district bargaining units, and existing retirees would be required to pay this contribution. Future retirees may obtain insurance coverage if they pay 100% of the premium.

The Board also offered to reinstate teachers for education credits not recognized over the past three years. The one-time cost of this expense will be approximately $2 million. Again, this is for education credits only, not service steps.

By recognizing education credits, the Board is looking to help the younger teachers in a way that will reaffirm our commitment to their valued service. Beyond this point, however, the Board will no longer recognize MEQ credits.

The combination of these two moves provides the NFT with some concessions they are looking for, and tax payers will benefit from the net-positive impact that will result from the much-needed savings from the high cost of health care premiums.

All other aspects of the Board's July 18th proposal remain in place.

This is just one step in the process to resolving this contract impasse, but it is an important development that we hope union leaders will share enthusiastically with their membership.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Board modifies proposal

Meeting #35 lasted 3 hours, 5 minutes. The two parties did not meet face-to-face but instead the mediator acted as a go-between.

After confirming it could not accept the NFT’s recent proposal, the Board proposed to accept the NFT’s requested health plan of choice, Customized PC-20/30/70, provided the NFT members contribute 15% toward their premiums. The board also proposed to pay column movement (education credits, not retro pay) bringing the certified staff up-to-date. With the estimated cost of compensating the younger teachers to be $2 million, the Board would use savings from insurance contributions to subsidize this added expense.

The Board is continuing to negotiate from its 7/18/11 proposal and is using that as the basis for its ongoing negotiations.

Once again the NFT has questions regarding cost projections. The mediator will meet with finance representatives from both groups to qualify the numbers.

No new meeting has been set at this time but one will be scheduled following the meeting between the mediator and the finance representatives.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Board releases details of NFT verbal

The Neshaminy School Board issued the following statement to the press a few moments ago . . .

Since the NFT was unable to live up to its own promise to submit a written version of their latest contract proposal to the Board, and in order to keep negotiations moving forward, the Board has chosen to release its own notes of the NFT's verbal proposal given during meeting #34, on August 29th, 2011.

As of the August 29, 2011, verbal offer the NFT is still demanding that all terms and conditions of the 2002 CBA be included as the basis in the next contract with no changes, unless otherwise proposed.

August 29th, 2011 NFT Verbal Proposal

Contract Term 6 Years

All Current Bargaining Unit Employees will be moved four years forward and placed on step, with educational credits; NFT estimated total costs $ 7.2 million dollars. The cost of step movement for school year 2008-2009/ 2009-2010/2010-2011 is estimated by the NFT to cost $5.3 million of the $7.2 million. The NFT is recommending that the District reimburse employees in 12 equal payments $ 441,666 or $1,766,664.00 per year for three years 2008/2009, 2010/2011, 2011/2012.

The NFT proposes the following salary adjustments that would be additional to the above costs.

2008/2009 -0 %

2009/2010 -0 %

2010/2011 -1 % plus steps and education credits (Board analysis confirms this to translate to 3.1%)

2011/2012 - 2.75% plus steps and education credits (Board analysis confirms this to translate to 5.34%)

2012/2013 – 3% plus steps and education credits (Board analysis confirms this to translate to 5.30%)

2013/2014 – 3.50 % plus steps and education credits (Board confirms this to translate to 5.5%)

Early Retirement Incentive:

Retirement Health Insurance would only cover employee and spouse, no dependent coverage; this would require 15 years of service. Retirees will contribute same percentage toward health insurance cost as those currently working. The NFT wants to freeze contribution rate, flat rate at 8% of current costs, with no future increases.

The NFT wants to keep current health plan with a few modifications. Rx plan would be same as current with no single source clause. Self insurance would be acceptable to NFT.

Retirement cash payment, currently $27,500.00, with a ten year service requirement.

Retirement incentive changed to 20 year requirement to qualify. New amount $20,000.00 plus $ 1,000 each additional year of service past 20 years, but will max out at $ 25,000.00.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

District puts a "chill" on NFT rights

After being admonished for distributing union literature to parents at a school district event, the NFT once again files a legal challenge to the superintendent's authority

Not a day goes by that some frustrated parent or tax payer doesn’t blog a demand that administration does something to limit what many consider to be invasive tactics employed by the NFT. What they do not know is that administration does enforce district policies and practices on an ongoing basis, but their efforts are challenged regularly by union officials seeking to overturn whatever administration is trying to uphold.

Since July 2010, the NFT has filed 9 grievances and 5 unfair labor practices against Neshaminy, most recently in an appeal of Dr. Muenker’s order that the union refrain from disseminating their literature on district property during school-related events.

An unfair labor practice is filed with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board for alleged violation of the Public Employee Relations Act. A grievance is an appeal of an alleged contract violation, a past practice or a disciplinary action as governed by a collective bargaining agreement. It is filed first to a building principal, then appealed to the superintendent, then onto an arbitrator.

In this most recently filed ULP (see below), the NFT challenges the actions of our superintendent, saying that Dr. Muenker intended to “chill the exercise of the Union and teachers’ rights … to silence the Union …” (page 5, section 9, first sentence).

Every time the NFT files such a complaint, administration must exhaust their time and tax payer money for legal fees to defend their actions. So even though the public may believe our administration allows the union to go unchallenged, there are 14 examples filed in the preceding 13 months that prove just the opposite.

Post Script - Undoubtedly NFT leadership will consider this post to be nothing more than an effort to derail or distract negotiations. Mind you, they didn't concern themselves with starting a controversy by handing out unapproved literature in violation of district policy. And when confronted about the matter, they didn't hesitate to file an unfair labor practice. It appears that when the NFT takes an action, they call it communicating or standing up for union rights. But when anyone in the district, board or public speaks out against their actions, union leaders dismiss it as stirring the pot. How convenient. How chilly.

Unfair Labor Charge 8-26-11 NFT - School Property

Monday, August 29, 2011

Highlights of Meeting #34

NFT offers revised verbal proposal

Meeting #34 began at 6:45pm and lasted 2-1/2 hours. At the request of the state mediator, Board President Ritchie Webb and NSB attorney Chuck Sweet met with union leader Louise Boyd and NFT attorney Tom Jennings to review the findings of the AFT’s Washington, DC-based Research and Information Director. As this portion of the meeting ended, Mr. Webb reviewed the data with the rest of the NSB negotiating team while the representatives from the NFT took a 50 minute caucus before returning with a revised verbal proposal.

Mr. Webb requested the revised proposal be put into writing so that the information could be shared with the rest of the school board. The NFT indicated they would submit a written proposal sometime this week.

As has been Board practice throughout these negotiations, details of the NFT revised proposal will be shared with the public once it has been formalized in writing, and after the details have been vetted by the Board. Until that time, the Board will not comment on the contents of the latest counter offer.

Both sides agreed to meet again on Wednesday, September 7th at 6pm.

Friday, August 19, 2011

NFT Roadshow coming to a school district near you!

Interested in knowing where and when the NFT will show up next, and what they will say to you? More importantly, are you concerned where they obtained your home phone number from?

The NFT documents below are:

1 – “NFT Roadshow” tells you when and where they will appear
2 – “Parent Script” gives you the very words the teachers will use when they call your home phone (by the way, the author of this document is Dawn Le from the AFT)
3 – “How to Access E-school from Home” proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the NFT is using proprietary, confidential Neshaminy information for union purposes (this info has been sent to our solicitor for review)

With the assistance of the AFT, it seems the NFT will stop at nothing to protect the status quo.

Picketing … WTC … inappropriate use of confidential info … calling you at home. This is the NFT.

NFT Roadshow August 2011

Parent Script August 2011

How Access E-school From Home

Who's calling the shots?

In recent weeks it has become clear the NFT has a new ally in the battle to protect the status quo as the Washington, DC-based American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has brought their considerable resources to Neshaminy. NFT press releases and media updates now filter through the AFT, and even last week’s infamous town hall style telecon with Louise Boyd originated from the 202 area code. This leaves residents wondering who is in charge of the NFT’s reinvigorated PR strategy.

If you are not familiar with the AFT, here are some eye-opening numbers for you . . .

According to AFT’s financial filings for 2010, they had net assets of just under $116 million, and they don’t mind putting that money to use either. Among their 2010 expenditures are:

Communications - $11.5 million
Organizing - $39 million
Strategic Support - $19.9 million
State federations’ solidarity funds - $5.2 million

According to, the AFT and its affiliates doled out nearly $5.28 million in federal campaign donations and PAC money during the 2010 election cycle. In fact, since 1990 the AFT has written checks for more than $31 million in campaign donations and PAC contributions.

The Wall Street Journal reported that AFT president Randi Weingarten’s compensation in 2010 exceeded $600,000, which includes money from other sources beyond the AFT. Filings from the Department of Labor reveal that the American Federation of Teachers disbursed $428,284 to Weingarten last year. Her gross salary is $342,552, but benefits and other disbursements raise that number to almost half a million dollars.

The fact that Weingarten commands such a hefty salary doesn’t really concern me since she is free to make as much money as teachers unions are will to pay her. And to be fair to the AFT prez, I have read a number of positive comments about some of the humanitarian causes she supports. However those causes aren’t the reason for her coming to Neshaminy. Let’s face it, all Randi Weingarten knows about our community is that she drives through it when she travels the I-95 corridor from her NYC home down to the AFT offices in DC. She and the AFT are outsiders who were invited into our community by Louise Boyd and the NFT, and they’ve brought their powerful influence along for the ride.

Harrisburg has made sure that school boards have one hand tied behind their backs when it comes to dealing with teachers unions. Now our other hand must fend off a very powerful combination of adversaries. It’s impossible to know just how much control, if any, the AFT is exerting over the NFT. All we know is that they are here now, and the change is noticeable.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Talks continue but little progress reported

The 33rd session between the NSB and NFT earlier this evening lasted 2-1/2 hours. Board representative Ritchie Webb and attorney Chuck Sweet spent most of the evening in face-to-face discussions with NFT president Louise Boyd and their attorney, Tom Jennings. The state mediator was not present for tonight’s meeting due to a prior commitment.

Although there isn’t much progress to report, the dialogue between both parties remained civil and direct. Once again the NFT had no counter to the Board’s July 18th proposal. No concessions were made by either side this evening and no tentative agreements were reached, but Mr. Webb did confirm the top priorities including reiteration of the Board’s position that there would be no retroactive pay.

Conversation focused on health care, contributions, retirement perks, longevity, and other financial issues. The union acknowledged they are now using the assistance of an AFT (American Federation of Teachers) representative from their research and information service department to help analyze the numbers. The NFT also acknowledged that the step costs reported by the Board at last week’s meeting were more accurate than theirs, but further refinement is necessary.

Another meeting has been set for Augst 29th, which allows the Board time to gather information requested by NFT relative to contract costs. The state mediator will be available for this meeting.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

A "positive" development

Update on tonight's negotiations with the NFT . . .

Meeting #32 lasted for 2 hours, 20 minutes, and although there were no major breakthroughs, Board President Ritchie Webb referred to the meeting as "positive."

The NFT did not offer a counter proposal at tonight’s meeting, so the Board’s negotiation team asked to review its last proposal of July 18th with an emphasis on the costs of the proposal and the savings that would be necessary to approach an agreement. Mr. Webb stressed that we do not want a contract we cannot afford.

The mediator indicated the NFT wanted to be placed on the salary steps they would have received in accordance with their previous proposal. The NFT believed the cost of this move would be $1.2 million. This differed significantly from the Board's estimate which placed the costs in excess of $4.8 million for the 2011-2012 school year. Further review of this topic is needed.

It is important to note that this was not a new proposal but rather a review of the Board’s previous offer.

Both sides agreed more meetings were warranted, and the next session has been scheduled for this Monday, August 15th.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Simon says

In today’s Courier Times is a guest opinion from Pennsbury’s Simon Campbell who takes aim at Ritchie Webb and the Neshaminy School Board for being “tough but nice” in our teacher contract negotiations. I’m sure Louise Boyd would like a moment for rebuttal.

Mr. Campbell’s whole gig is based on his anti-union stance, and he feels we in Neshaminy just aren’t as tough as he is. While I respect Campbell’s views and his activism, I’m disappointed by his Michael Moore-like if you don’t believe as I do then you are wrong mentality.

Since Day 1, the Neshaminy Board has made it clear that our focus was on funding our children’s education in a way that won’t unfairly burden our tax payers. Our stand isn’t based on being anti-union, but it does pit us against the NFT and a burdensome, unaffordable contract. This very fact should put us on the same side of the field as Campbell, but he doesn’t see it that way.

All of us on the board have opinions about unions, certainly about Neshaminy’s if not all public unions. But that doesn’t mean that argument necessarily must be front and center in our philosophy when it comes to negotiating a new teacher’s contract. It’s perfectly ok for us to be focused first and foremost on our children’s education. It’s also perfectly ok that we don’t go around using tough anti-union speak all the time like Campbell does. It doesn’t mean that we are any less committed to our cause than Simon is to his.

Towards the end of his rant, Campbell questions if we are “scared of being labeled anti-union” as if that should be important to everyone. Hate to break the news to you Simon, but I don’t care if people think I’m anti-union or not. My primary concern is for the children of the Neshaminy School District. And I’ve never relied on nasty, hateful rhetoric to make my point. I prefer to stay on message using facts. But if anger and tough talk work for you, then go for it.

What Mr. Campbell fails to see is what we have accomplished in Neshaminy as a board, and perhaps he could learn a few lessons. Case in point: Immediately upon becoming board president a few years ago, Ritchie Webb’s very first action was to contact the minority board members (Bill Spitz and me) to bury the political hatchet and get us all focused on what really mattered to our students, parents and tax payers. Webb didn’t have to do that because he already had a solid board majority. He could have just ignored us but he didn’t. Instead Ritchie Webb saw the value in a board united, and the rest of us were more than willing to comply. No barging in on secret meetings, no in-fighting amongst board members.

Can you imagine Simon Campbell accomplishing anything like that?

But all this still leaves me mystified why Campbell would even bother to vent against the Neshaminy School Board. We shouldn’t even be a blip on his radar. Maybe the answer is found in the second sentence of this morning’s diatribe where he makes reference to the “editorial kudos” we’ve been getting. Is that it, Simon? Are you bothered by the positive press we are getting, and think maybe it’s taking the focus away from you? Are you upset that when people in this state talk about a board standing up to a union contract, the first word they utter is Neshaminy and not Pennsbury?

I sincerely wish Mr. Campbell and the entire Pennsbury Board well in their contract negotiations. I would prefer that this be a time that school boards across Pennsylvania would use this moment to come together in our common struggles rather than find opportunities to divide us. It’s unfortunate that Simon Campbell has chosen to do the latter.

But don’t worry yourself over what’s happening over here in Neshaminy, Simon. We’re getting along just fine without you.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Board issues proposed salary schedule

Below is a salary schedule that Mr. Webb sent to the mediator, Mr. Cairns earlier today. This is a supplement to the July 18, 2011 proposal to the NFT which details the salary matrix through 2014. Although the Negotiation Team advised the NFT that the proposed salary increase was 1% across-the-board, the Board only provided the salary schedule numbers for the first year of the proposal and wanted to verify the last two years before issuing them.

The next negotiation session will take place on Thursday, August 11th.

Board Proposal 71811 - First Year 2011-12 Salary Schedule v2

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New date set for talks

The next negotiation meeting with the NFT will occur on Thursday, August 11th at 6pm.

In an email to the State Mediator, John Cairns, Neshaminy solicitor Chuck Sweet said that "In order for "meaningful negotiations" to occur, which both parties sincerely want, the Board and the community can only anticipate a meaningful response from the NFT to the comprehensive Board counterproposal of July 18, 2011. There will have been ample time for such a response to be developed."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One man's trash is another man's fiscal restraint

A piece of trash. That's how NFT negotiator Jeff Dunkley referred to the latest Board offer during last night's public meeting. Louise Boyd called it an insult, and on the NFT Facebook page urged "all media to conduct an independent analysis of of the two proposals." Be careful what you ask for.

The Courier Times editorial staff did assess the situation, and they heavily favored the Board's position in this morning's opinion, Neshaminy's new offer: Lessons learned. According to the Courier Times, "If the U.S. Congress handled its affairs in the manner of the Neshaminy school board, debt wouldn’t be an issue." After pointing out some of the more expensive, unaffordable aspects of the current CBA, the editor's conclude "Taxpayers should be pleased that the current board has learned a very expensive lesson."

It's all about perspective. As the NFT sees it, they are being asked to give up a significant amount of the benefits and prestige they achieved in previous contracts. From their point of view, this latest Board offer is so bad that it deserves to be called names. Then there is the public reaction, where people working in the private sector are struggling financially and feel little sympathy for our certified staff's desire to maintain expensive, almost unprecedented benefits that the district cannot afford to pay. And caught in the middle is the Board who strives to find a way to maintain the educational programs for Neshaminy's students.

The NFT is circling its wagons as they insist they are unified as one, and threaten the Board with picketing at their homes and businesses, and issue an ominous warning that they will respond "at an appropriate time and in an appropriate fashion." The Board hasn't flinched and we remain committed to the principles that we began with over 3 years ago. And the public is scratching their heads in disbelief as they see teachers holding up signs that say "negotiate" while their union leaders walked out of Monday's session failing to do just that.

It's unfortunate for our students that there doesn't seem to be an end in sight to this impasse. I think everyone would agree that they deserve better than this. We need to do something to kick start these negotiations and make them more productive. The second thing we should do is allow videotaping and reporting of the sessions.

The first thing we should do is agree that nobody should abandon talks by storming out of the room.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Neshaminy in the news

After yesterday's NSB press conference followed by the NFT walking out of negotiations, it's easy to understand why there is no shortage of press coverage. News clips appeared last night on TV reports on CBS 3, NBC 10, and Fox 29. And if you haven't caught this morning's print/online media coverage, here are several reports from the locals . . .

Bucks County Courier Times

Philadelphia Inquirer

Monday, July 18, 2011

Board publishes latest offer to NFT

Board Proposal to NFT - Final - July 18, 2011 (D549988)

NFT accuses Board of insulting teachers, refuses further negotiations

Meeting #31 lasted little more than a few minutes as the NFT attorney, Tom Jennings, proclaimed that the Board's latest offer has "insulted every teacher," and he added that the union would respond in an "appropriate manner."

Board president Ritchie Webb asked to schedule additional dates for talks but the NFT refused to consider his request.

No further meetings are scheduled at this time.


Board unveils new proposal

Prior to this evening's negotiation session with the NFT, the Board released the details of its latest contract proposal to the media. A copy of the new offer was sent to the NFT earlier in the day.

Below are the highlights of the new offer. A copy of the new proposal itself will be posted tomorrow.

Stay tuned for an update later this evening on the status of tonight's negotiation session.

Highlights of NSB Offer to NFT 07182011

Friday, July 1, 2011

NFT to harass board members at home, work

During their May 31st meeting with the rank and file, NFT officials unveiled their plan to take the battle to Board members’ front doors – literally. As union leaders summarized their efforts to date, they revealed to membership their 4-step plan which includes:

* Phone connect system [robot dialing] with school board members
* Picketing board member homes/businesses

Here is an unedited copy of the NFT’s Future Actions . . .

NFT May 31 Presentation Page 29

In June 2010, teachers became upset when an unknown resident started circulating letters to select neighborhoods which contained names and salaries of teachers living around them. I had at least ten teachers who came to me out of concern about this action, one even showing up at my home. I agreed such an action was highly inappropriate in a 6/24/2010 blog post where I made such comments as:

“Letters have been mailed throughout the Neshaminy area that list the names and salaries of teachers in specific developments …”

“One thing it is for sure is gutless …”

“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 …”

Apparently these same teachers who came to me for help back then have no problem with people being harassed at home now, just as long as it isn’t them. Gutless.

At the last board meeting, the NFT objected to statements that some parents feared retribution from teachers against their children and themselves, and they did not hesitate to yell over parents and board members to make their point. How ironic they decried such concerns when all along, unbeknownst to attendees of that meeting, retaliatory measures had already been planned against the Board.

Since day one of these negotiations, teachers have felt misunderstood and unappreciated as they followed their union leaders like lemmings to the sea. And when the public reacts angrily to this latest revelation, they’ll wonder why so many in our community continue to harbor frustration and resentment towards them.

If they don’t get it by now, I’m not sure they ever will.

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 28th Board meeting cancelled

Tomorrow night's Board meeting to hear the charter school application is cancelled. No further details are available at this time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Teachers rally as board passes budget

Here is the Courier Times' recap of Tuesday nights rather eventful, volatile meeting . . .

For the second year in a row, the Neshaminy school board was able to pass a budget without extra help from taxpayers.

The board voted 8-1 to approve the final 2011-12 budget, with no tax increase, in front of a packed auditorium, including a vocal crowd of hundreds of teachers.

The $161,288,736 spending plan did, however, include several controversial cuts to educational programs including 10th-grade physical education and eighth-grade foreign language classes as well as staff reductions.

Board President Ritchie Webb said that about $2.8 million was taken from the district’s reserve fund to balance the budget with no additional burden to taxpayers.

This marks only the fifth time since 1994 that the district passed a budget without raising taxes.
Board member William O’Connor voted against the budget as he had previously promised to not approve any budget that did not include an updated computer program for district elementary schools. He added that he supports the budget otherwise.

Intramural activities and high school clubs, which had been on the chopping block, were preserved in the final budget.

Officials said they are still unsure how much the district will receive from state funding, which made the six-month budget develop process difficult.

Hundreds of teachers wearing navy blue NFT shirts lined up outside the two entrances of Maple Point Middle School before the meeting to bring attention to their cause.

Many held signs with a variety of messages like “Negotiate Now!” and “Neshaminy deserves better!”

Union official Jeff Dunkley said the display was meant to reinforce the message that the NFT leadership is not a separate group from the general membership.

“We are teachers speaking on behalf of teachers,” he added.

Webb said before the meeting that a potential strike or returning to working to contract were always options for the union but added that he didn’t think they would help resolve the impasse.

The teachers then packed the front sections of the auditorium and continued to hold up signs. Usually the NFT members who attend the public meetings relegate themselves to the back of the room.

As board members entered and approached the stage, the teachers chanted “negotiate!” in unison.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teachers grant strike vote authority


Whether the rank and file has intentions of striking if they don't get what they want from negotiations remains to be seen, but clearly this is a shot across the bow of the Board and public. According to a statement by Louise Boyd, "The certified staff spoke loud and clear this evening that they are fed up with the district’s failure to negotiate in good faith.”

On the NFT Facebook page one teacher said, "When sisters and brothers stand shoulder to shoulder, who stands a chance against us?"

No doubt the teachers believe this will further their cause. I'm not here to say bring it on because this is a very serious matter and it should be treated accordingly, but I do question their wisdom in granting such dictatorial powers to a leadership that has so badly misread and mismanaged the situation since the very beginning.

I see this as another instance in a long line of regrettable decisions by the NFT.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Courier Eds off base on thumbs down

The Courier Times Editorial staff gave the Neshaminy School Board a thumbs down in today's paper by saying . . .

To the Neshaminy school board for canceling Thursday’s negotiating session with the teachers union.

Negotiators met Monday for the first time since February. At that meeting, the union formally presented its latest proposal. Regardless of whether board members believe the proposal is still too costly, which they do, there would have been no harm in continuing to talk. Instead, members want time to meet with their newly formed citizens advisory committee before meeting again. They tentatively agreed to meet the third week of July.

We don’t doubt that the union’s latest offer won’t yield the kind of savings the board wants and taxpayers need. But the union did compromise on a key demand — continued free health benefits. Granted, what they said they’d contribute isn’t nearly enough. But it’s a starting point.
That said, commendations to the board for getting citizens involved in the process, and, prior to that, for keeping the public fully informed.

Most of what the Courier said this morning was actually complimentary of the Board, but they were mistaken in placing sole responsibility for cancellation of Thursday's meeting on us.

During Monday's negotiation session, the NFT made it very clear that they felt the Board was wasting their time by not presenting a counter proposal, and that there was no reason to meet Thursday if the Board could not provide an offer. The mediator agreed, and so did the Board since we are committed to meeting with our Citizens Committee before drafting a counter. That is why our Monday evening press release stated that both parties mutually agreed to cancel Thursday's session.

We appreciate the coverage and fair reporting given by the Courier Times throughout this impasse, but they should issue a retraction on today's thumbs down.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Board rejects latest NFT proposal as "too expensive"

The following statement was posted to the Board's Negotiation Website a few moments ago . . .

Meeting #30 between the Board's Negotiation Team and representatives from the NFT lasted about 30 minutes this evening.

The Board formally rejected the NFT proposal of May 31, 2011, stating the proposal was too expensive. The Board asked for additional time to prepare a counter proposal with the assistance of the newly formed Neshaminy Citizens Contract Advisory Committee. It was mutually agreed by the NFT and the Board to cancel this Thursday's (June 16th) meeting and reschedule for either the 18th or 19th of July depending on availability of the Board's council.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Board members weigh in on NFT proposal

From an article appearing in . . .

Tuesday evening, the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers unveiled a new contract proposal to the public and members of the press.

Though the Neshaminy School Board members didn't get the contract proposal until this morning from the board's solicitor, they have been able to review changes made by the NFT in this proposal.

Board member William O'Connor said Wednesday that he is gratified that "for the first time in three years" the NFT has agreed to contribute toward health care.

School board President Ritchie Webb said that the NFT contract proposal agrees to pay a flat rate toward health care. NFT President Louis Boyd said Tuesday that the contribution is estimated at about 8 percent toward the current health care plan, but with a flat rate contribution Webb said that if the cost of the plan goes up the teachers will still be paying the same rate.

In addition, O'Connor said he is still concerned about retroactive pay.

Boyd said Tuesday that the NFT would like to have a contract by the end of the school year. O'Connor said he thinks that is "highly unlikely" because the board has already committed to having a resident advisory panel, meeting with the union on June 13 and there are "a great many issues that going to have to be worked on."

"I think it would be difficult, but I’m certainly willing to work toward that goal," Webb said of the NFT having a contract by the end of the school year.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NFT announces new offer

Following an 8:30pm press conference last night, the NFT forwarded a copy of their new counter proposal to our attorney (see below). The Board is currently reviewing this document, and we will issue official comment after we have had a chance to assess the cost implications and educational impact this latest offer.

Nft Proposal 05312011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NFT to unveil new offer tonight

The following press release was issued by the NFT over the weekend. No details of the latest proposal have been revealed to the Board.

NFT Media Advisory 05272011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Negotiation dates announced for June

This information just posted to the Board's Negotiation Website . . .

Representatives from the Board's Negotiation Team and NFT leadership will continue talks on Monday, June 13th, and again on Thursday, June 16th. Both meetings will begin at 6pm.

Stalemate drags on

For Neshaminy residents who have been paying attention to the contract impasse, there really isn't anything new in today's Philadelphia Inquirer article although there are a few interesting insights, most notably this from Louise Boyd:

Boyd, a biology teacher at the high school, said the union would agree to have teachers share health-care costs as part of a total package they could accept.

But every time it has informally signaled its willingness, she said, the board has backed away and pushed a broader set of demands that include a longer school year, changes in the grievance procedure, and mandatory drug testing. As the union has "inched in" toward common ground, Boyd said, the school board has "moved away."

I'm sure you're wondering what "signaled its willingness" means. To my knowledge, there has never been a direct signal or hint from the NFT to the Board in this regard. On one occasion the mediator, through an email, did ask our solicitor, Chuck Sweet, how flexible the Board might be on the contribution percentage, and Mr. Sweet replied quite appropriately that the Board will not bargain via email, especially when the NFT has never "given us a number" regarding health care contributions.

If this was the signal Ms. Boyd is referring to, it certainly is not quite as clear as her much more direct statement about concessions during a December 2010 interview with the Inquirer which said . . .

Boyd, the union leader in Neshaminy, said teachers merely wanted to maintain their standard of living, and she rejected the notion of giving back to help the community. "We're not doing that," she said. "I don't want to make less. I don't want to ask you to make less this year than last year."

Also interesting in today's article is a quote from a parent who believes WTC is still an active strategy in some cases as she points out, "I love my children's teachers." But one child, she said, is being told to do her homework in class, one of the things many teachers did during the work-to-contract period last year. "How is that a really great learning experience, if you're only doing what the minimum is?"

Two things haven't changed - There has been no progress in negotiations since day 1, and our financial picture in Neshaminy hasn't gotten any better. If there is any hope for a solution, we need to see it in the form of real concessions from the teachers union. We need action, not hints.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Ultimate Sin

A school district exists for the purpose of educating and preparing our children for the future, and yet here we are considering cuts to the very classes we should be protecting, never mind the fact that there are programs we should be augmenting, such as elementary computer education.

We didn't get here overnight. The seeds for this disaster were planted many, many years ago, and they were fed by ongoing neglect by past boards, administration, staff, parents and tax payers. This neglect wasn't caused by a lack of caring. I think it's safe to assume that all people involved do care about the children. And this is why we are struggling as a community as to which things should be sacrificed from the budget. We don't want to cut programs, we don't want people to lose jobs, we don't want taxes to increase. Yet all of these things are on the table because we (and I mean everyone) failed to make tough choices in years past. Life teaches us that procrastination and pain avoidance are never solutions. Our troubles only grow worse when we do that. Lesson learned, Neshaminy.

The article Teachers defend programs on chopping block, appearing in today's Courier Times, includes reaction from teachers about potential cuts to phys ed and foreign language classes. I can't blame them for wanting to keep these programs. Nobody can. These people are educators who believe in what they are doing, and they care about their students. Unfortunately for them, while phys ed and foreign language are important, this district has neglected the math. When your revenue can't support your expenses, you're in the red. Negative integers are not acceptable by today's economic standards.

That brings us to the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Our cost of labor is too high. There's a difference between proper compensation and unaffordable spending. Some years ago, Neshaminy chose the latter. We have made some strides in recent years - our Support Staff has made sacrifices. Our Administration has made sacrifices. And we can't even promise that more won't be necessary. This situation makes the contract impasse with the NFT all the more frustrating. And this situation will continue to get worse while some attempt to use strategies like "restructure costs" as a way to avoid the inevitable, and long overdue, conclusion that teachers must contribute towards their health care premiums. It's not the only issue, but it's an awfully big one.

They say that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. In similar fashion, the NFT leaders ignore the math as programs are cut and jobs are on the line. Sacrificing children, teachers and tax payers, not in hopes of making education better, but done solely to preserve the status quo. That is the greatest sin of all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Neshaminy's NIMBY

The phrase Not In My Backyard is usually associated with controversial land development projects or building new prisons, but it became quite apparent during last night's public meeting that NIMBY applies to our latest budget crisis. Everyone agrees that the budget deficit is unacceptable, but nobody wants to feel the impact of dealing with it.

Allow me to summarize based on public comments from last night . . .

* This $11 million deficit is unacceptable (on this, I think we all agree)
* We do not want a tax increase (quite understandable)
* But do not cut any programs, not even 8th grade foreign language or 10th grade phys ed (that's going to make it tougher so maybe we will eliminate some support staff jobs)
* Do not cut support staff jobs as they already gave at the office (oh, ok. Not sure what's left)
* The teachers put us into this situation so they should suffer (how do we do that? We can't cut their pay or benefits, not even for retirees. We can't lay off teachers unless we consolidate or eliminate student programs)
* We said do not cut programs (that leaves us with a single option of raising taxes)
* We said no tax increases (Is it November yet???)

So our marching orders are to eliminate the $11 million deficit without raising taxes, cutting programs, laying off support staff or violating the past practices of the expired NFT CBA. Got it! We'll get back to you.

In the meantime, you can read more about last night's meeting in this Courier Times article from Christian Menno, and below is a report from Fox 29 with the latest news on the ongoing teachers contract impasse.

Double Bad News For Neshaminy: