Friday, April 22, 2011

NSD could have saved $4 million in 2011

Just posted to the Board’s Negotiation Website is a presentation of health care insurance costs from the April 12th meeting along with some notes added to clarify the slides. There are a couple of rather startling numbers contained in this data, most notably:

* If the NFT had accepted the Board’s proposed insurance plan which included a 17% employee contribution and reduced opt-out benefit, the District would have realized a savings of just slightly under $4 million this year.

* The monthly contribution for each teacher under this plan would have ranged from $94 to $229.

At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Dr. Muenker is scheduled to present his proposed budget for next year. With millions of dollars in budget cuts looming, it will be difficult for the public to understand why the NFT leaders have refused to make the concessions necessary to keep Neshaminy’s public education financially viable. The union leaders may also have to explain to the younger teachers in the lower tiers why they had to lose thousands of dollars in raises over something as little as $94 a month.

Here is the update provided by the School Board:

Overview of Insurance Costs

During the April 12th public meeting, our insurance broker presented information regarding insurance costs for employee health care. Below is the unedited presentation from Mr. Gulla, and it is based on the information recently obtained from our insurance provider, International Blue Cross (IBC).

Before reading this presentation, please make note of the following:
* The plan noted on slides #3 and #4 (PC 15) is the current plan enjoyed by virtually all of our teachers
* The plan noted on slides #5 and #6 (PC 20/30/70) represents the Board’s proposed plan
* The plan noted on slides #7 and #8 (PC Customer 20/30/70) is an alternative plan suggested by IBC
* The first slide for each plan (slides 3, 5 and 7) are based on current costs, while the second slide for each plan (slides 4, 6 and 8) are based on our “first look” estimate on next year’s costs as provided by IBC
* The slide for each plan has five (5) columns representing:
* Tier (type of coverage)
*** # of Subscribers (current or retired teachers who have this coverage)
*** Board Cost (monthly cost of coverage at 100%, with no employee contribution)
*** 15% = 11.25% (What the monthly employee contribution would be at 15% if they were in the 25% income tax bracket, when you factor in the pre-tax value per IRS code)
*** 17% = 12.75% (What the monthly employee contribution would be at 17% if they were in the 25% income tax bracket, when you factor in the pre-tax value per IRS code)

* Not included in this presentation is the cost of the teacher opt-out benefit at 37%, which will total $1.34 million in 2011

* If the NFT had agreed to the Board’s proposal of 17% insurance premium contributions with the PC 20/30/70 plan along with a reduction in the opt-out benefit down to 25%, the District would have saved approximately $3.96 million this year

NSD Teacher Premiums and Contributions 4-12-11

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

MEQ course ripe for cheating

The Facebook chat went like this . . .

From November 4, 2010

Teacher 1: Hey, are you taking this classes? I got an A on parent trap. I'm almost done the motivation one. If you want I can forward you what I handed in. Let me know. They are due on the 30th.

Teacher 2: You would be the biggest hero in the world! I signed up late and now I'm scrambling!!!! Did I tell you I love you...

Teacher 1: I'll send it to your home email.

Teacher 2: If I could reach you...I'd kiss you! Cyber kiss and hug!

Teacher 1: Just sent the parent trap. I should be able to finish 988 by the weekend.

After a parent emailed a screen print copy of this dialog to me, I immediately forwarded it to Dr. Muenker and asked that the work submitted by these teachers for this online course be checked for possible plagiarism. Seems like a reasonable request, right? Apparently the online course provider, Learner's Edge, didn't think so because they don't keep a record of any course work submitted.

The Learner's Edge president told the Courier Times "Our instructors look at every assignment in order to catch anything that may not be considered honorable," but they don't have the mechanisms in place to catch anything at all, which is why I asked Dr. Muenker not to approve any further requests for Learner's Edge courses. Unfortunately Muenker's hands may be tied because the course program meets the requirements set by the state and is allowed under the terms of the last teachers' contract.

Once again fairness and logic are thwarted by Harrisburg and our CBA.

If you're like me, you have a great respect for people who put in the time and effort to earn an accredited masters degree. But this masters equivalency offered in our state is not a true degree, and I suspect the idea was created long ago at a time when teachers were not well paid. Things are different now. Our teachers are fairly compensated, and it's time that the MEQ program goes away. We may not be able to control what Harrisburg does, but it's certainly something we can fix in our next teachers contract.

As for these teachers who conspired to cheat, what happened to them? Nothing, because all that is proven here is an intent to defraud the system. For all we know, Teacher 2 may have decided not to plagiarize from Teacher 1. We do know is this - Teacher 2 earned MEQ credits from this Learner's Edge course, and potentially that could be worth thousands of dollars in salary and also in pension.

Kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

Here is a link to a Courier Times article on this matter.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Time for answers, time for transparency

My Guest Opinion as printed in today's Courier Times . . .

More answers, less deception from Neshaminy teachers union

In the March 31 article entitled "Health plan numbers don't add up," Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT) President Louise Boyd commented that during the last contract negotiation session, union 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 state-appointed mediator dismissed both negotiation teams as he had another meeting. So it was not board members who ended the meeting, as Ms. Boyd's comment suggests. Of course, she can 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 questionable things the NFT has done to this point. For example:

* Why does the NFT report a $2.8 million annual savings in one portion of their last offer when less than $900,000 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?
* 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 a self-insured prescription plan 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. Members of the public doesn't want more questions, they want answers. And the biggest question of all is which side is truly inhibiting the progress of our negotiations?

In a Jan. 6 article, I told the Courier Times that in order to avoid further instances of he said/she said, I wanted to allow public observers in future negotiations. This was supported by my fellow board members including board President and lead negotiator Ritchie Webb, who in a March 6 article was quoted as saying, "the union should agree to allow a Courier Times reporter to sit in on all future negotiating sessions." You would think the NFT would jump at this idea considering that they have accused the board of sending "conflicting messages" and using "fuzzy math." Instead, the NFT has soundly rejected this idea as exemplified by the following Facebook comment made by NFT negotiator Jeff Dunkley on Jan. 7: "At best, having 'observers' present would do nothing to aid the process. At worst, it would complicate and prolong the process. Moreover, how could anyone actually believe the BCCT would serve as an 'impartial [sic] observer?' REALLY?"

Yes, Mr. Dunkley, after three years, the negotiation process is going so swimmingly, let's not jeopardize the proceedings by letting the public or the Courier muck things up.

Representatives from the NFT will be meeting with the Courier Times Editorial Board on April 13 to share their side of things. I hope the Courier will ask the NFT why it won't agree to allowing some sort of public observation at future negotiations. Another plus would be if the NFT will actually bring some provable data to this meeting. It would be nice to address facts and figures for a change rather than dealing with an ongoing barrage of unsubstantiated accusations.

Each and every time the NFT has challenged the board on its numbers, we have responded not with nasty rhetoric, but with verifiable information. When we ask the NFT for proof of their data, all we receive in return is another Friday afternoon press release that attempts to change the conversation away from the unaffordability of their contract demands.

Plato once said, "They deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth." Treating the board and public as the enemy must come to an end. Union leaders can no longer rely on their misleading information and discreet conversations, or dismissing disgruntled parents as a vocal minority hell-bent on union busting. It is time for the NFT to begin answering questions instead of asking them. Transparency would be a good place to start. .