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.
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.
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.
The following press release was posted to the Board's Negotiation Website:
BOARD FORMALLY WITHDRAWS CONTRACT OFFER TO NFT May 10, 2011 (Langhorne, PA) Neshaminy School Board President, Ritchie Webb, announced today that the three year contract proposal to the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT), first offered in 2008, was being withdrawn. Webb stated that this action leaves the Board free to make a new proposal effective July 1, 2011 and thereafter.
Teams representing the Board and NFT have met 29 times since January 2008, with the most recent meeting being February 15, 2011. No progress has been made in reaching a new agreement.
“This is not a moment for rejoicing as it signifies that our negotiations with the Teachers’ Union have not progressed, but we must continue trying to move forward,” Webb said.
The Board President continued, “We cannot allow lack of progress to discourage us from talking with union leadership. Our students and tax payers are depending on us to negotiate a reasonable and affordable contract, and this Board remains committed to ongoing, good faith negotiations.”
The Board’s initial offer from 2008 was highlighted by an average 3.1% salary increase, employee health care contributions ranging from 10%-12%, elimination of Master’s Equivalency (MEQ) certificates, increasing the number of work days from 188.5 to 190.5, lengthening the work day from 7.0 hours to 7.5 hours, and removing the $27,500 retirement benefit.
The Board’s offer was later amended to include an increase in the health care contribution rate to 15% - 17% based on the NFT’s desire to maintain a high cost, top tier insurance plan.
Mr. Webb also confirmed the Board’s intention of seeking public input into the formation of the next contract offer. “The people have shown tremendous desire in helping the Board determine what is reasonable and affordable. Since they are the ones paying for all this, I see no reason why we shouldn’t consider their suggestions.”
The Neshaminy School District is facing an $11+ million deficit for the 2011/2012 school year as the Board considers cuts to student programs and staff layoffs to close the gap.
Webb restated his desire for transparent negotiations with the NFT moving forward, saying, “By videotaping our talks and allowing news reporters into the room, we can remove any and all doubt as to who said what. Maybe then some real progress can be made.” .
Today’s front page article in the Courier Times is full of important information, including more accusations between the Board and NFT regarding the willingness of either side to meet. I’m sure the public cannot understand how two sides can’t even agree on setting a date. But if you look more closely at the emerging facts, there is contradictory information coming out of the NFT camp when it comes to meeting anytime, anywhere.
Readers of the NFT’s Facebook page are aware of Ms. Boyd’s claims that nobody had gotten back to her regarding another meeting, but that argument quickly fell apart with the revelation that the mediator had emailed the NFT’s attorney with potential meeting dates. Next Ms. Boyd said that they were awaiting an answer to a question before they would agree to another meeting. The problem with that defense is that the email exchanges between the mediator, NFT and the Board reveal that the question was asked and answered, yet the NFT still did not advise the mediator of date they were willing to meet.
So much for anytime, anywhere.
Still confused? Here is a timeline of the communications which should clear things up for you:
1) Thursday March 3rd (10:18am), Ritchie Webb emails Board solicitor, Chuck Sweet, asking that he contact the mediator to expedite another negotiation with the NFT
2) Thursday March 3rd (10:43am), Chuck Sweet contacts state mediator John Cairns via email to request a meeting be set up with the NFT. Mr. Sweet did not recommend any specific dates
3) Thursday March 3rd (12:11pm), Cairns emails NFT attorney Tom Jennings asking for a meeting on March 17th based on his own availability
4) Thursday March 3rd (12:28pm), Jennings responds to Cairns questioning if a health care contributions by the NFT will cause any movement by the Board
5) Thursday March 3rd (1:05pm), Cairns emails Sweet to see what the Board’s response is to Jennings’ question
6) Thursday March 3rd (3:32pm), Sweet responds to Cairns that the Board will not bargain via email, especially when the NFT has never “given us a number” regarding health care contributions
7) Thursday March 3rd (3:47pm), Cairns emails Jennings that the Board will not discuss a counter offer via email, then he proposes 5 dates in April for a meeting.
Keeping in mind that it was only recently that the Board learned of these email exchanges between the mediator and the NFT, and unless there are other emails not yet disclosed to the Board, there are no outstanding questions to be answered. The Board will not negotiate with the NFT through the mediator via emails. There is no legitimate reason for the NFT not to respond to the Board’s request for a meeting.
Today’s article also includes the NFT’s “proof” of the $2.8 million they claim to offer the District in savings. Of course they used the Board’s proposed self insured Rx plan to account for almost half of that savings. If we didn’t exist on Planet Neshaminy, we would simply implement that plan and begin saving money now. Instead the potential savings sits in budget purgatory so the NFT can lay claim to it as part of “their” offer.
There is one thing in the article which is not in dispute – more budget reductions will be unveiled at tomorrow’s Board meeting. Yet NFT leadership doesn’t appear fazed at the prospect of their colleagues facing layoffs as student programs are cut. Not even the loss of 3 years worth of retro pay has prompted the union chiefs to budge on the key issue of employee health care contributions.
There is some good news to report – Just yesterday the NFT finally agreed to meet with the Board, suggesting several upcoming dates. It’s a shame it took this long, especially when there was no good reason for the delay.
Does anyone out there aside from me believe that if our negotiations were attended by a Courier Times reporter and were videotaped for rebroadcast that this delay would never have gone on this long?
Just posted to the Board’s Negotiation Website is the revelation that recent requests for another round of talks were rejected by the NFT with no explanation given to the Board as to why.
Despite the fact that the mediator did in fact reach out to union leadership to set another meeting date, NFT President Louise Boyd continues to insist on her Facebook page that nobody, including the mediator, has contacted her. Why she continues this claim despite evidence to the contrary is not known, but it is mystifying why she would allow her rank and file to walk into neighborhoods as recently as this past weekend and unwittingly deceive the public by telling residents that nobody has contacted them regarding future negotiations.
Late last week Ms. Boyd did contact Mr. Webb offering to work directly with him on scheduling another meeting, but earlier today he confirmed to Ms. Boyd his intentions of continuing to schedule meetings through the mediator. The Board President also reiterated his desire to having open negotiations to include a reporter present at all future meetings, and to allow the proceedings to be videotaped and rebroadcast on Neshaminy TV.
Last week the Board learned that our recent requests for additional negotiations were rejected by the NFT for reasons not yet explained to us. Unfortunately the Board and the public have been kept in the dark about this.
We are making the public aware of this situation so that they may feel reassured that the Board is committed to ongoing dialogue with the leadership of the Teachers Union, and we will continue to make every effort to schedule further negotiations with them.
Below is an email from the Board’s attorney, Chuck Sweet, to the State-appointed mediator, John Cairns, stating our displeasure with this most recent development and also reasserting the Board’s position with respect to a new collective bargaining agreement.
From: [Chuck Sweet] To: [John Cairns] CC: [Ritchie Webb] Date: Sun, 1 May 2011 21:38:19 -0400 Subject: NFT negotiations
I just learned on Friday, April 29, 2011 that you had, on six (6) occasions since my letter to you of March 3, 2011, offered in writing to Tom Jennings and NFT specific bargaining dates, beginning with March 17, 2011 and continuing with five (5) additional dates in April, 2011. The most recent of those dates was April 27, 2011. Unfortunately, you did not copy me on any one of those e-mail messages. You have also not communicated with me by telephone or e-mail since March 3, 2011. Also unfortunately, the NFT did not accept any one of the dates that you offered.
The NFT President, Louise Boyd, makes a great show of saying that she and the NFT are available at any time and any date to negotiate with the Neshaminy School Board. That is obviously not a true statement.
We have been bargaining continuously with the NFT since January, 2008. We are well into our fourth year of negotiations. The three (3) year proposal made by the Board to the NFT in January, 2008 will expire soon. It was always, by its terms, not retroactive to any date prior to its mutual acceptance and ratification by both parties. That has always been quite clear to the NFT and to the taxpayers. Any future offer from the Board to the NFT will only be for a prospective term, that would be defined in a new written offer.
I am available to you for communication, whether by e-mail, telephone, or otherwise.