Thursday, September 29, 2011

Not nice in Neshaminy

An editorial in today's Courier Times . . .

Not nice in Neshaminy

“Never let a crisis go to waste ...” That advice, famously offered by former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, seems to have resonated with the Neshaminy teachers union, whose leaders are getting lots of mileage out of a shoving incident at the high school.

Details are scarce, but the shoving match allegedly involved a high school secretary and a union leader. A criminal complaint was filed by the union.

We’re not dismissing the seriousness of the incident. If a union leader was shoved, as the union contends, it’s a serious infraction — if not criminal — and district officials are obliged to take disciplinary action if police determine that the secretary was the aggressor. That said, union officials are using the incident in an opportunistic way — to blame a school board member’s private blog as well as board inaction for inflaming the community.

This is what can happen, union Vice President Anne Schmidt said, if the school board allows “open season on teachers.” Schmidt was referring to comments on board member William O’Connor’s blog — some of them not very nice. She also referenced public comments at school board meetings, some of which union officials say are either false, inflammatory or both. They said that by letting the comments go unchallenged, the school board is allowing animosity to build up within the community regarding the district’s longstanding contract dispute with the teachers.

There’s some logic to Schmidt’s argument. But her charge against O’Connor and the board absolves the union of any responsibility for ill will. We’ll accept that there is ill will, because to deny it is to deny reality. After four years of acrimony between the union and the board — including two work slowdowns and a boycott of last year’s Back-to-School Nights — well, yeah, the community is a little ticked off. That residents are wearing T-shirts to board meetings in support of the board says something about the community’s feelings.

But let’s not forget that teachers clad in union T-shirts have been a regular part of meetings for some time now. And those union members are hardly silent. Likewise, the union has hardly been understanding of the difficult financial situation both the district and district families are in.
The “Great Recession” is taking its toll on the incomes of both. Yet the union’s demands reflect not today’s tough times, but the boom years of earlier decades. No wonder the community has gotten fed up and perhaps ill tempered.

Still, we’re not excusing bad behavior; it’s simply not acceptable. To that end, the board has a responsibility to address the inaccurate comments of misinformed citizens speaking at meetings. People need to know the truth so misinformation doesn’t unfairly bias anybody.

O’Connor’s situation is a little more dicey. Policing blog comments can be a time-consuming, frustrating and thankless task. We know of what we speak. But if you’re going to invite commentary, the least you should do is remove threatening and tasteless commentary. We trust O’Connor has the sensibility to know what’s acceptable and what’s not.

While we agree with O’Connor that “people are responsible for their own actions,” when people act irresponsibly, those in authority must step in. That goes for board members and union officials alike.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Miscellaneous musings

Yesterday’s NFT press conference blamed the district, the board, and yours truly for “indirectly” causing “increasingly dangerous acts against members of the NFT.” Their evidence – several allegedly defaced lawn signs, and a shoving incident between a secretary and a teacher last week. Oddly enough, the only documented evidence of a problem between a teacher and a parent/tax payer occurred in Levittown, where the spouse of a teacher was observed removing a pro school board lawn sign from the resident’s lawn.

Undoubtedly union officials will blame this spouse's actions on reading my blog and Facebook page. has
the NFT press conference posted on their website.

Regarding last week’s shoving match, while I cannot comment on the specifics, I must say that I’m shocked the NFT will throw a member of their sister union, NESPA, under the bus publicly just so they can make a baseless accusation against the Board. Should the NFT ever go on strike, I wonder how many members of NESPA, if any, will stand by them on the picket line.

The irony of this confrontation between secretary and teacher is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the school board or bloggers or the angry vocal minority. There is so much more going on here than meets the eye.

And for today’s “REALLY?!?” award … To Anne Schmidt for even hinting that things could escalate to the point of what happened to US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

During last night’s Board meeting, Kim Koutsouradis challenged the NFT leaders to allow a 3rd party to count the votes at the upcoming union elections. Excellent idea, and I hope union officials will take that idea and run with it.

Since there are many teachers at the upper end of our compensation scale who will want to protect those retirement perks, I do think current leaders will survive their election. But if they see a significant amount of discontent among the rank and file, perhaps that will alter their approach to negotiations.

Yes, you heard right. The cost of NFT retirement perks, including the $27.5k payout and free insurance, have cost tax payers around $40 million since they were implemented. It's one thing to ask residents to share the financial burden of public education, but it's something entirely different when not one dime of that burden ever finds its way into the classroom to the benefit of children.


Last night I incorrectly stated that an arbitrator concluded that harassment occurred in the case of a union official confronting another teacher regarding back to school night last year. In his ruling, the arbitrator reduced the 5-day suspension down to 1-day, and said that in his opinion this incident “was not harassment … because an ordinary person, although perhaps very annoyed, would not have found it harassing.” The arbitrator added his opinion that the union official did not intend to harass their colleague to the point they could not perform their job, and actually went to the classroom "for the exact opposite purpose." The arbitrator concluded that the District did have a right to “impose discipline for the Grievant’s unwelcome classroom visit.”

I regret the misstatement.

To resident Lee Kirsh who last night stated that nice comments about teachers posted on my Facebook page seem to disappear - how about a little proof, please. Can you have someone contact me and provide details of any "nice" comments that were deleted? You see, I do not delete comments simply because they may come from someone who disagrees with me. And I certainly don't purge positive things said about teachers.

Perhaps Mr. Kirsh you didn't happen to notice the thread I posted in May honoring National Teacher's Week, and the 70 or so positive comments from readers that followed.

As you can see from the section above, if I make a mistake I am willing to acknowledge and correct it. Are you willing to do the same?

In the midst of all the controversy, you should take a moment and enjoy humor when you can. During the second public comment last night, Steve Rodos had reached the 3 minute limit of his speech when he stated his feelings of something the Board could have been doing better. At that very second, Ritchie Webb interrupted him to say his time was up. Everyone started to laugh believing that Mr. Webb was just kidding, and so Mr. Rodos continued to speak. Then Webb jumped in again and said he wasn’t kidding at all and that Mr. Rodos’ time had truly expired.

The exchange between both gentlemen was purely coincidental yet perfectly timed, and it gave the audience a much-needed laugh.

Did you see my picture with
today’s Courier Times’ article? Do I always look that brooding? I need to cut back on the caffeine.

But I ask you ... what other elected official can pull off a purple shirt and matching tie like that? :-)


I won't be at the October 11th meeting, so that leaves me with just three board meetings left before the end of my term, and it can't happen fast enough for some people, I'm sure.

Let the countdown begin!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Board issues clarification

The following supplement to last night’s Board statement will provide clarification to the modified proposal put forth by the Board during yesterday’s meeting with the NFT.

After careful consideration of the cost factors involved, the Board offered to accept the insurance plan requested by the NFT, Customized PC-20/30/70, in exchange for a 15% premium contribution to be paid by the certified staff. The cost of this plan is actually less than the PC-20/30/70 plan the Board proposed on July 18th.

Assuming a 15% contribution by the teachers, the savings to the District is over $4 million for the first year, and will continue to yield significant savings every year thereafter. The 15% contribution would be consistent with the rate paid by all other district bargaining units, and existing retirees would be required to pay this contribution. Future retirees may obtain insurance coverage if they pay 100% of the premium.

The Board also offered to reinstate teachers for education credits not recognized over the past three years. The one-time cost of this expense will be approximately $2 million. Again, this is for education credits only, not service steps.

By recognizing education credits, the Board is looking to help the younger teachers in a way that will reaffirm our commitment to their valued service. Beyond this point, however, the Board will no longer recognize MEQ credits.

The combination of these two moves provides the NFT with some concessions they are looking for, and tax payers will benefit from the net-positive impact that will result from the much-needed savings from the high cost of health care premiums.

All other aspects of the Board's July 18th proposal remain in place.

This is just one step in the process to resolving this contract impasse, but it is an important development that we hope union leaders will share enthusiastically with their membership.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Board modifies proposal

Meeting #35 lasted 3 hours, 5 minutes. The two parties did not meet face-to-face but instead the mediator acted as a go-between.

After confirming it could not accept the NFT’s recent proposal, the Board proposed to accept the NFT’s requested health plan of choice, Customized PC-20/30/70, provided the NFT members contribute 15% toward their premiums. The board also proposed to pay column movement (education credits, not retro pay) bringing the certified staff up-to-date. With the estimated cost of compensating the younger teachers to be $2 million, the Board would use savings from insurance contributions to subsidize this added expense.

The Board is continuing to negotiate from its 7/18/11 proposal and is using that as the basis for its ongoing negotiations.

Once again the NFT has questions regarding cost projections. The mediator will meet with finance representatives from both groups to qualify the numbers.

No new meeting has been set at this time but one will be scheduled following the meeting between the mediator and the finance representatives.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Board releases details of NFT verbal

The Neshaminy School Board issued the following statement to the press a few moments ago . . .

Since the NFT was unable to live up to its own promise to submit a written version of their latest contract proposal to the Board, and in order to keep negotiations moving forward, the Board has chosen to release its own notes of the NFT's verbal proposal given during meeting #34, on August 29th, 2011.

As of the August 29, 2011, verbal offer the NFT is still demanding that all terms and conditions of the 2002 CBA be included as the basis in the next contract with no changes, unless otherwise proposed.

August 29th, 2011 NFT Verbal Proposal

Contract Term 6 Years

All Current Bargaining Unit Employees will be moved four years forward and placed on step, with educational credits; NFT estimated total costs $ 7.2 million dollars. The cost of step movement for school year 2008-2009/ 2009-2010/2010-2011 is estimated by the NFT to cost $5.3 million of the $7.2 million. The NFT is recommending that the District reimburse employees in 12 equal payments $ 441,666 or $1,766,664.00 per year for three years 2008/2009, 2010/2011, 2011/2012.

The NFT proposes the following salary adjustments that would be additional to the above costs.

2008/2009 -0 %

2009/2010 -0 %

2010/2011 -1 % plus steps and education credits (Board analysis confirms this to translate to 3.1%)

2011/2012 - 2.75% plus steps and education credits (Board analysis confirms this to translate to 5.34%)

2012/2013 – 3% plus steps and education credits (Board analysis confirms this to translate to 5.30%)

2013/2014 – 3.50 % plus steps and education credits (Board confirms this to translate to 5.5%)

Early Retirement Incentive:

Retirement Health Insurance would only cover employee and spouse, no dependent coverage; this would require 15 years of service. Retirees will contribute same percentage toward health insurance cost as those currently working. The NFT wants to freeze contribution rate, flat rate at 8% of current costs, with no future increases.

The NFT wants to keep current health plan with a few modifications. Rx plan would be same as current with no single source clause. Self insurance would be acceptable to NFT.

Retirement cash payment, currently $27,500.00, with a ten year service requirement.

Retirement incentive changed to 20 year requirement to qualify. New amount $20,000.00 plus $ 1,000 each additional year of service past 20 years, but will max out at $ 25,000.00.