Ne­go­ti­a­tions fail to nar­row gap be­tween board, union

The Advance of Bucks County - - YARDLEY-MORRISVILLE AREA - By Cary Beavers

PENNSBrRY – Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Penns­bury School Board and the Penns­bury Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (PEA) met Dec. 17 in their lat­est ef­fort to ham­mer out an agree­ment be­tween the board and teach­ers union.

Ac­cord­ing to school board so­lic­i­tor and chief ne­go­tia­tor Jef­frey Sul­tanik, both sides left the twohour ses­sion the same way they went in: at an im­passe.

“They were as clear as can be,” Sul­tanik said. “They want the board to raise taxes to fund their new con­tract. I know of no board in the re­gion that would al­low that to hap­pen.”

The im­passe may have grown wider af­ter Tues­day’s ses­sion, Sul­tanik said.

“rn­for­tu­nately, I be­lieve we are fur­ther apart,” ac­cord­ing to Sul­tanik. “The as­so­ci­a­tion has taken the au­da­cious po­si­tion that the board needs to in­crease taxes to fund the union’s al­ready rich la­bor con­tract.”

The idea that the ses­sion got the sides no closer to an ac­cord ap­pears to be the one thing both sides agree on, said PEA vi­cepres­i­dent and spokesper­son iucy Wal­ter.

“There’s been a pro­posal (from the board) on the ta­ble for three years that fo­cuses on puni­tive is­sues and don’t re­flect what’s go­ing on in the district,” Wal­ter said. “In­stead of work­ing on prob­lems that don’t ex­ist, they need to work on the prob­lems that do ex­ist.”

Wal­ter was re­fer­ring to the board’s pro­posal from three years ago, she said, that dealt with is­sues such as class size and tak­ing away teacher’s prep time so they can per­form other tasks such as “bath­room duty,” ac­cord­ing to Wal­ter.

Of the class size is­sue, Wal­ter said the board wants to elim­i­nate class size lim­its. Cur­rently, the high school teach­ers are lim­ited to 84 stu­dents per se­mes­ter. Wal­ter es­ti­mated that those classes cur­rently av­er­age about 25 – 28 stu­dents, a num­ber she called, “work­able.

“Why try to fix what isn’t bro­ken?” she asked.

The board has not wa­vered from its in­sis­tence that they will not raise taxes to fund a new deal for PEA, whose mem­bers have been work­ing with­out a con­tract since June, 2010, the same year that Penns­bury School Board last in­creased taxes.

The ses­sion was the first since Nov. 27, at which time Sul­tanik ex­pected a new union pro­posal. Ac­cord­ing to the so­lic­i­tor, af­ter no such pro­posal was of­fered at that ses­sion, he ex­pected the PEA to present some­thing at the Dec. 17 meet­ing.

“[PEA] failed to de­liver,” Sul- tanik said. “They are still ask­ing for 4.9 per­cent per year in salary in­creases, retroac­tive to the 201011 school year. What is most dis­ap­point­ing is that the union’s sole strat­egy is to have the board in­crease taxes.”

Wal­ter said the union is ready and will­ing to make a pro­posal, but re­it­er­ated that the board’s stance on some is­sues must change be­fore that will hap­pen.

“We’re ready to look at health care, we’re ready to make a pro­posal,” Wal­ter said. “We know there are ob­sta­cles. But they need to look at their side. They need to fig­ure out what they want to do. In ne­go­ti­a­tions, you don’t get ev­ery­thing you want. We know that.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wal­ter, the re­sult of a tax hike goes be­yond rais­ing teach­ers’ salaries.

“At this point, they need to raise taxes just to pay their bills,” Wal­ter said. “But they want zero (tax in­crease) for­ever. It’s not a vi­able op­tion.”

Sul­tanik said while there has been a “ten­ta­tive agree­ment on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent lan­guage is­sues” the gap on the key is­sues re­mains wide.

“We are still far apart on other lan­guage is­sues and are not even in the same ball­park when it comes to salary and ben­e­fits,” Sul­tanik said. “The union is still cling­ing to a retroac­tive salary pro­posal call­ing for salary in­creases of 4.9 per­cent per year for five years.”

The key is­sue re­mains the union’s in­sis­tence on a pay raise. That is not the only is­sue at play dur­ing th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Sul­tanik, the “con­tract dif­fer­ences re­late to salaries, ben­e­fits, man­age­ment rights, forced union dues, the amount of time worked by bar­gain­ing unit mem­bers, and accountability.”

De­spite a plea from the PEA,

made in the form of a news re­lease from Wal­ter, ask­ing for mem­bers of the Penns­bury School Board to at­tend the ne­go­ti­a­tions, the board chose to let Sul­tanik do its bar­gain­ing.

Board pres­i­dent Al­lan Weisel had a sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion for keep­ing board mem­bers away from the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

“It’s the long­time strat­egy of the Penn­syl­va­nia State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion to in­vite un­trained board mem­bers into ses­sions with pro­fes­sion­ally trained ne­go­tia­tors,” Weisel said. “For board mem­bers to at­tend th­ese ses­sions would be a dis­ser­vice to the stu­dents and the tax­pay­ers of the district.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wal­ter, no mem­ber of the Penns­bury School Board has at­tended a ne­go­ti­at­ing ses­sion for the past two years and dis­agreed that their in­clu­sion in the ne­go­ti­a­tions would be a neg­a­tive.

“We really need the board at the ta­ble,” Wal­ter said. “We’re not go­ing to set­tle this with a third party. [Sul­tanik] has made a lot of money and got­ten no set­tle­ment. He can’t make de­ci­sions for the board. They’re elected to vote on is­sues in the district.”

Hours be­fore Tues­day’s ses­sion, Weisel said not to ex­pect any board mem­bers to be in at­ten­dance.

“The board unan­i­mously sup­ports our trained chief ne­go­tia­tor, Jeff Sul­tanik, and be­lieves it’s in the best in­ter­ests of ev­ery­one to have pro­fes­sional ne­go­tia­tors ne­go­ti­ate with pro­fes­sional ne­go­tia­tors,” Weisel said.

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