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

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