Thursday, March 31, 2011

The hard questions

If you read today's Courier Times article entitled Health plan numbers don't add up, undoubtedly you caught Louise Boyd's comment that during the last negotiation session, the NFT reps "were willing to go point by point and were prepared for hard questions but ... were dismissed." After reading that statement, wouldn't you think that Ms. Boyd was saying that the Board was responsible for their dismissal from this meeting? I'm sure that's exactly what she wants you to think, and this is symptomatic of the half truths and deception that has plagued the NFT negotiations from the very beginning.

The truth behind this particular incident is that the mediator dismissed the parties as he had another meeting. So it was not the Board who ended the meeting as Ms. Boyd's comment suggests. Of course she can later say that she never stated it was the Board who "dismissed" them, but why not make that clear up front?

We can ask that same hard question of so many things the NFT has done to this point. For example:

* Why does the NFT report a $2.8 million annual savings in their last offer when less than $900k has been identified?

* Why does the NFT report any kind of savings at all when the bottom line offer is actually more expensive than their original proposal? (Repeat after me, there is no NET savings ... there is no NET savings ... )

* How is it possible that after three years of negotiations, the NFT has still not put employee health care contributions on the table?

* Why hasn't the NFT allowed the Board to freely implement a cost savings measure of self insured Rx that has no negative impact on the teachers?

The NFT leadership wants you to know that they still have more questions, even after three years of negotiations. What the NFT leaders fail to recognize is that the public views this strategy as a stall tactic. The public doesn't want more questions, they want answers. And they deserve that.

It appears that the NFT will be meeting with the Courier Times Editorial staff sometime in April to share their side of things. Hopefully they will actually bring some numbers and verifiable data with them. It would be nice to address facts and figures for a change rather than dealing with an ongoing barrage of unsubstantiated accusations.

Until the NFT can prove otherwise ... there is NO NET SAVINGS in their offer.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Board president considers seeking public's help in contract talks

From today's Courier Times . . .


Frustrated with the lack of progress in contract negotiations with the teachers union, Neshaminy school board President Ritchie Webb said he might want the public's help to help craft the next teacher contract offer from the district. The board's current proposal to the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers expires in June. If that happens and if there are no counteroffers on the table, Webb said the plan is to start from scratch creating a brand new offer.

"This is just my personal thought and there is nothing definitive on this yet, as it would require board approval, but I do feel the community itself should be involved," Webb said Friday. "It all depends on how many people volunteer (to help). If there is a high number then we could hold interviews and make selections based on that."

Webb said an ideal candidate would be a "reasonable person without an agenda" and one who is interested solely in working toward coming to terms on a contract.

If his plan comes to fruition, he said, the board would begin soliciting volunteers in early May so there would be no down time.

Board member William O'Connor said Thursday that one area in which the public input could be useful is in sculpting the wording of the job description for teachers.

O'Connor said the vague wording about the duties teachers were required to fulfill in the last contract allowed for the work-to-contract directive implemented by the NFT last year.

The school board has already included a provision in its latest offer that would force teachers to work three evenings during the school year. The mandate was added to assure that teachers participate in back-to-school nights, which most elected not to attend during the work-to-contract period in September.

Other aspects of the teachers duties that were not spelled out in the last agreement - and were affected by the work-to-contract - include decorating bulletin boards and holding holiday parties for younger students.

Webb agreed this could be an area that could benefit from residents' input, but cautioned that it is difficult to spell out every duty in a contract.

"Usually, there needs to be some sort of caveat in there that reads something like 'and other duties assigned,' " he said.

While both sides have said they want to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible, NFT President Louise Boyd said the latest comments from the board are another example of a stall tactic.

"Over more than three years, this (Neshaminy school board) has made every gesture possible to communicate to our teachers that a negotiated settlement is NOT their end goal," Boyd said in an email to the newspaper Friday. "Mr. Webb knows we would meet at any time to discuss his specific questions, at the bargaining table. This board and administration are clearly waiting - hoping - that our membership will completely capitulate. We simply cannot allow the NSB to treat teachers this way."

Webb said he has contacted mediator John Cairns, who has been involved in negotiations, to set up a meeting but hasn't heard back him.

Boyd said Friday that "the teachers' elected officers will meet with the board anytime, any place."

"It is time to get this done," she added. "It requires time at the bargaining table - not time wasted on blogs dedicated to a small audience and manipulated by a few self-serving individuals, not from the stage at public meetings that provide no context and not from gaming the media to see who gets quoted. As for Mr. Webb's comment that the board's 'offer' will expire in June; how is that good faith bargaining?"

Christian Menno can be reached at 215-269-5081 or Follow Christian on Twitter at

Friday, March 25, 2011

One reason to read Sunday's Courier Times

By: Christian Menno, Calkins Media, Inc.

The board's latest proposal to the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers expires in June and, at that point, if there are no counteroffers on the table, Webb said the plan is to start from scratch with a brand new offer that features suggestions from residents.

"This is just my personal thought and there is nothing definitive on this yet, as it would require board approval, but I do feel the community itself should be involved," Webb added Friday. "It all depends on how many people volunteer. If there is a high number then we could hold interviews and make selections based on that."

According to Webb, an ideal candidate would be a "reasonable person without an agenda" that is interested solely in working towards coming to terms on a contract.

For more details, including comments from NFT President Louise Boyd, check Sunday's Courier Times or log onto

Board to teachers: Push union on contract

From the Courier Times . . .

NESHAMINY SCHOOLS - Teachers union President Louise Boyd said the union leadership and the members are one and the same.

The Neshaminy school board directly addressed the district's teachers, skirting union representatives, in an open letter Thursday.

The letter asked the rank and file to help push negotiations in a "realistic and positive direction."
Board members have said recently that the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers leadership group is prolonging the contract dispute, which has lasted more than three years.

However, NFT President Louise Boyd, in response to the board's letter, said that the union leadership and the teachers that make up its membership are one and the same.

"There are no union bosses, so to speak," Boyd said. "These are teachers representing teachers. This is something that (board President Ritchie) Webb needs to understand. When you talk to the teachers or about the teachers, you are talking about the NFT. When you talk about the NFT, you are talking about the teachers."

Later, in a statement released by the union, Boyd again blasted the tactic by the school board.

"Once again, the board fails to understand that the certified staff of the district is unified and steadfast in its resolve to negotiate a fair and equitable contract," Boyd said. "This letter is a clear attempt to divide our membership by subverting the bargaining process. It is a failed strategy. They would be better off directing their time and energy towards finding creative solutions to reach a fair settlement."

You can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

NSB asks teachers for help

The following open letter to the teachers was just issued by the Neshaminy School Board . . .

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cyberbullying to be discussed

On behalf of the Neshaminy High School SPIN (Student Parent Information Network) Group, we would like to invite parents to a district-wide Cyberbullying Presentation being held in the Neshaminy High School Auditorium on Wednesday, March 23rd beginning at 7 p.m. Nationally acclaimed speaker, Tina Meier, will speak to parents of Neshaminy School District students regarding Cyberbullying and Internet Safety.

Ms. Meier began speaking to parent and student groups following the tragic loss of her daughter to suicide as a result of cyberbullying. Ms. Meier will cover topics such as, cyberbullying, bullying, bystanders and sexting and sharing with parents her own personal story.

Based on limited seating, community members should pre-register by calling 215-809-6100 between 7 AM and 3 PM. Students should not attend this presentation.

On the morning of Thursday, March 24th, Ms. Meier will speak to the entire Freshman Class at NHS then meet with a small group of Student Leaders across all grades.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is anyone out there buying this?

If you keep saying it enough, maybe people will believe you. Fortunately the Neshaminy community is a little too smart for that.

The NFT released another press release today insisting their last contract proposal offers $2.8 million in savings. Obviously the concept of NET savings (you know, the actual bottom line) still hasn't sunk in with Ms. Boyd, so she still refuses to accept that their most recent proposal is more expensive than their original.

But wait ... the NFT has dug deep into their 1970's playbook to pull out another gem ... the Board is trying to undermine teachers!!! How do they know this? Do they finally have something concrete and verifiable to base this accusation on??? Nope ... according to Ms. Boyd, "Based on discreet conversations, we've learned that offering any percentage toward healthcare will not result in a contract . . ."

Great, another mystery source of information courtesy of the NFT. If you want to read the full press release for yourself, click here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

PSEA: Teachers should accept pay freeze

In a surprise announcement today, the President of the PA State Education Association (PSEA), Jim Testerman, said that while he was concerned about many of the budget cuts that affect education, he said that “… we want to do our part to ensure that our students' education does not suffer as a result of the worst recession since the Depression.”

Testerman went on to say, "As part of his budget proposal, the governor requested that education employees accept a one-year pay freeze. The governor stated that this decision is 'determined at a local level and arrived at by contract and collective bargaining.' As president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, I concur.”

There is no word yet from the NFT as to whether or not they will drop or reduce their demands for retropay as a result of Testerman’s recommendation.

You can read the entire press release by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Board trims $2 million from proposed budget

Christian Menno's summary of last night's Board meeting . . .

NESHAMINY SCHOOLS - But Gov. Corbett's budget could cut even more in state funding for the district.

What started as a projected $11.2 million deficit in the Neshaminy School District's 2011-12 preliminary budget is now at about $9 million.

At Tuesday's school board work session, business manager Barbara Markowitz said that review of numerous line items and certain cuts has allowed officials to trim the deficit by about $2 million.

The district is required by the state to submit a balanced budget by June, she added.
Talk then shifted to Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget for the state that was unveiled Tuesday and calls for about $550 million in cuts to the Education Department.

According to Markowitz, Neshaminy's share of state funding will see about a $1.2 million decrease from the current school year.

Board President Ritchie Webb said this equates to about a 9.5 percent reduction.

District officials said they anticipated these cuts and budgeted accordingly. Neshaminy expects to receive a little more than $12 million from the state, which is comparable to the funding level of the 2008-09 school year.

Superintendent Lou Muenker said officials will have to "make some prudent decisions" as the budget process moves toward the June deadline.

"(The cuts from the governor) were not a surprise but are definitely a disappointment," Muenker said, adding that Corbett's budget has not been finalized and changes could still be made. "We need to move forward with the anticipation that those monies will not be there. But if something happens (with the governor's plan) and we get additional money then that will be a bonus."

Corbett's proposed budget, Webb said, would also eliminate the partial reimbursements from the state to school districts that allow charter schools to operate within their boundaries.

"Under this proposal we would not get anything back," he added.

The majority of the board last month denied an application from School Lane Charter School-Neshaminy for a K-12 school in Neshaminy. The refusal to grant a charter cannot be based on financial concerns, according to state law. The board pointed to what some saw as a lack of community support as a major factor in issuing the denial.

Officials from School Lane Charter School said Monday that they plan to resubmit an application to the board by the end of the month.

Christian Menno can be reached at 215-269-5081 or Follow Christian on Twitter at

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Union: District sends conflicting messages

From today's Courier Times . . .

By CHRISTIAN MENNO Staff Writer Calkins Media, Inc.


In a statement released Saturday, the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers is again accusing the district of sending conflicting messages regarding its projected financial situation.

The latest foray from the NFT led school board member William O'Connor to state that he "can see no end in sight" to the labor dispute while the teachers are represented by the current NFT leadership team - who he said has "mismanaged these negotiations from the very beginning."

The teachers union first questioned the school board's claim that the 2011-2012 preliminary budget features an $11.2 million deficit in a flier that was distributed to area homes last week.

That issue was brought up again Saturday, with the NFT stating that the board posted a revised budget projection dated Jan. 19 on its website that shows no deficit.

While the NFT contends that this should give the school board the ability to settle the longstanding contract impasse with the district's educators, board President Ritchie Webb said this claim shows a lack of understanding of the budgeting process on the part of the union and its public relations firm.

Teachers have asked for retroactive pay dating back to 2008 when the previous contract expired. The board has said it does not have the funds to agree to this and wants teachers to begin contributing to monthly health care premiums.

"To be clear, we are not suggesting the district ignore its planned long-range capital improvement projects," the NFT statement reads. "Nor do we advocate short-changing the educational programs that directly affect the lives of our students. What we are saying is that it is disingenuous of the (school board) to assert that it literally cannot afford to meet us at the bargaining table without depleting its reserves, raising taxes beyond Act 1 limits or cutting educational programs."

The district, however, is required by state law to eventually report a balanced budget, Webb said.

"It's not just Neshaminy," he added. "Several area districts are projecting large deficits and all have fund balances. (Acting business manager) Barbara Markowitz is prudently freezing all expenditures in order to do this. Exceptions can be granted but only with the approval of a supervisor. This is the procedure we have followed for many years and is nothing new."

This spending freeze, according to the NFT's statement, will deny this year's class of students "the materials and supplies they need to have a fair opportunity to learn and the staff resources needed to meet their students' needs."

Webb said that the union's claim that the district has more than $13 million in savings is inaccurate and that fund actually stands at $11 million, after $2 million was put in reserve to pay for the teachers' pension fund which he described as "nearly broke."

"The rate that our district must pay (to the pension fund) has increased almost on a yearly basis," he added. "Again, we go back to the state's recommendation that 5 percent of a school district's budget be held in a savings account and $8.3 million is that 5-percent for Neshaminy. That leaves about $3 million that we can spend on our children, contracts, building repairs and so on."

The union's statement concludes by urging the public to contact district officials and tell them that it is time for an end to the "take it or leave it" negotiating practice it says the school board is using.

Webb said that the union should agree to allow a Courier Times reporter to sit in on all future negotiating sessions.

"The board conducts all its business in the public and we are audited by an independent firm as well as the state and we operate in public," he added. "Why not the NFT?"

Christian Menno can be reached at 215-269-5081 or Follow Christian on Twitter

Saturday, March 5, 2011

NFT wants district to tap into savings

Proving once again they lack any sense of business acumen, the NFT has issued a press release doubting the gravity of our financial situation. In a nutshell they are challenging the district to deplete its reserves in order to meet their demands, yet they believe there is still sufficient room for us to meet our long range goals for education and facilities improvement.

After setting aside $2 million for the pending teacher's pension crisis, the district finally built its fund balance (savings account) above the minimally recommended 5% of expenses, or roughly about $8 million. Currently sitting at $11+ million, our savings account should be up for grabs according to the NFT, and yet we can still have enough for everything else. Talk about your new math!

We don't want to reduce our fund balance below the $8 million mark, so for argument's sake let's say that leaves us with $3+ million of fund balance money to play with. How are we to pay for $40 million in building repairs, continue to set aside money for the looming pension crisis AND also give the NFT the $11+ million in retro pay they demand? That's a long stretch for $3 million, isn't it?

And let's not forget that the NFT still insists on its contribution-free, Rolls Royce health care plan, $30k retirement perk, free benefits for retired teachers, shorter work day, etc.

What NFT leadership fails to comprehend is there is a difference between your savings account and your annual operating expenses. It is true we finally have regained strength in our fund balance, but the last thing we want to do is spend that money because we are living beyond our means. In the business world, you reduce expenses so you do not deplete reserves. Instead of dealing with the reality of an unaffordable contract, the NFT wants to treat our savings as if this was Wheel of Fortune.

Our fund balance was rebuilt through a number of cost savings measures such as closing buildings, laying off staff, reducing bus stops and eliminating the midday Kindergarten bus run, and restructuring our labor agreements with NESPA and Administration. But our annual operating expenses remain high largely due to the high cost of our labor. If that issue isn't dealt with effectively, Neshaminy residents will continue to be threatened with deficits year after year. And that leaves us with two choices: Reduce expenses, or cut student programs while raising taxes.

The math doesn't seem to concern the NFT. All they know is there is money in savings and they feel entitled to some of it, as if a few million dollars is all that separates the two sides. Our financial difficulties go way deeper than that. If we don't fix it, and fix it soon, our students will be the ones to suffer.

On a last note to NFT PR guru Bob Schiers, who attempted to use my own words against me . . . sorry Bob, but you didn't even come close to proving anything other than your own lack of understanding. Any time you and the NFT leaders want to come out and do this in the light of day, in full view of the public, my fellow board members and I will be more than happy to debate the facts with you. Until then, enjoy the safety of the darkness.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Courier editorial: Flier is confusing

From today's Courier Times editorial page . . .

Thumbs Down

To the Neshaminy teachers union for the confusing flier it circulated to homes in the school district.

The flier claims that the union has "offered to contribute to teacher health care plans," saving the district "$2.8 million annually." This is either a "major step" forward, according to the school board president, or "designed to confuse the public."

We don't know which because our reporter has been unable to get a clarification from the union, despite repeated attempts.

As far as we know, the union negotiators have not budged from their insistence on continued free health insurance for its members. If they have, as the board president said, it's a "major step." We implore the union to explain.

Don't hold your breath Mr. Petroziello. We've been waiting for an explanation for 3 years now. .

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Go Skins!

Good luck to Neshaminy High School’s Men’s Basketball team as they play perhaps their biggest game ever tonight at Villanova in a AAAA District 1 semi-final match-up against Chester High School.

Go get 'em, guys!

Keyboarding pilot program a success

During last night’s Education Development meeting, BCIT Lead Teacher Jerry Abramson along with Karen Richmond and Mary Cwiklinski updated the Committee on the Keyboarding pilot program being tested on two 4th grade classes from Ferderbar. Since our district lacks an elementary computer curriculum, this recently completed pilot program is being used to assess if we can provide our younger students with a more effective computer curriculum that will educate and inspire them. Based on the written comments from the students, I think we can safely declare the test a huge success.

One student stated “The first thing I like about keyboard class is it made me faster at it so when I went on my computer I typed faster than I would usually.”

Another student said “I liked that we got to learn how to change the font color and we also learned what was inside of the computer.”

And my favorite comment . . . “I can rub it in my brother’s face that I know how [to properly keyboard] and he does not.”

Phase II of the pilot program will hopefully expand this test into all the 4th grades in elementary school next school year. However if Phase II is equally as successful next year, then our Curriculum Instruction team will be challenged to come up with a comprehensive computer education program for our elementary schools. And that will be a real challenge because up until now we have been able to accomplish this pilot with existing staff and equipment. But if we are to offer a truly robust computer curriculum for our students, it will require a financial investment. Too early to say yet just how much that will be, but let’s keep watching our pennies wisely now so we can invest in our children’s future.

Special thanks to Jerry, Karen, Mary, and everyone else involved in the pilot. You guys rock!

Left with no forwarding address

Important Note - The Courier Times changed their website but did not redirect URL's for previous articles, so any links to Courier Times articles below will no longer work. Please make note of the Courier's new web address at:

Fuzzy Math? How about FUZZY ENGLISH???

It didn't take long for the confusion set in. As members of the NFT began handing out their fliers this past week (see below), residents questioned a union proposal which according to the flier would "contribute to teacher health care plans that would have saved the District $2.8 million annually." One tax payer wrote to me saying that this was wonderful news, and wanted to know why the Board hadn't publicized the fact that teachers were willing to contribute towards their health care premiums.

Yes, it is wonderful news. If only it were true.

Funny how in the midst of attemting to discredit the reputation of the school board, the NFT turned the tables on themselves by using such misleading words.

In today's Courier Times, Ritchie Webb expresses his surprise at the alleged NFT offer to contribute to health care and also explains how their recent flier fails to properly understand the budgeting process. He also makes it very clear that while the district has diligently worked to build our fund balance (savings account) back up to a safe level, the money isn't just sitting there waiting for the NFT to do a cash grab.

Fox 29 News carried this report yesterday which confirmed the public's skepticism of the NFT's flier . . .

While we are on the subject of fuzzy math, how about the NFT finally explain its numbers that never seem to add up. Where did they get the $2.8 million from? I've explained previously that the most we can find is $1.9 million, and the bulk of that comes from the Board's proposed self insured Rx plan. Can the union for once, really JUST ONCE, actually prove their numbers on paper for everyone to see?

And don't forget that whether their savings is $1.9 or $2.8 million, the cost increases throughout their offer far exceeds any savings. THERE IS NO NET SAVINGS IN ANY OF THE NFT OFFERS!

The NFT is heavy on accusations but light on facts. Most of us would call that fuzzy logic.

NFT Lit Piece 02262011