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 cmenno@phillyBurbs.com Follow Christian on Twitter atTwitter.com/cmenno_courier.