Board President Ritchie Webb: ‘Our future is looking very BRIGHW’ WIWH RAWIFIED WEACHERS CRNWRACW IN HAND
NESHAMINv – Applause filled the meeting room as the Neshaminy School Board voted unanimously, 9-0, on June 13 to ratify a contract with the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers ending more than five years of labor unrest in the district.
“After five years of frustrating negotiations, I was starting to believe the day would never happen,” said board president Ritchie Webb.
The new contract, according to Webb, makes “significant strides to return empowerment back to the administration,” but, more importantly, he added, “it will be affordable” to the district.
“We have a contract based on reason and is financially doable,” said Webb. “I predict if parents continue to stand with us, attend meetings, get involved then nothing and no one can stop us from making Neshaminy achieve the goal of being the best for our children while protecting our seniors and our taxpayers from unreasonable tax increases in the future.”
The pact, effective July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2015, contains no retroactive pay, said Webb. It also eliminates numerous clauses that compromised the decisionmaking authority of the administration, including past practice, MOrs and equal voice.
“This is a new beginning,” said Webb. “We have the ability to return control of the district back to the administration, school board and taxpayers. We have the ability to take control of our finances. If we are prudent with our resources, we can retain and expand our programs and restore Neshaminy’s reputation as one of the best school districts in Pennsylvania for our children.”
rnder the new contract, the past practice clause has been removed. It allowed the union to file what Webb termed “unreasonable grievances” over work rules.
Equal voice has also been removed from the contract. Equal voice gave the union veto power to stop changes the administration was trying to put forth. “Teachers input will be needed and welcomed, but the administration has final say,” said Webb.
The 201 Memorandums of rnderstanding – work rules never approved by the school board and some of which Webb said were “detrimental” to the district – have been removed. There were a few, however, that have been incorporated into the language of the contract, noted Webb.
Also under the new contract, beginning on June 29, 2015 long term substitutes will no longer be guaranteed full-time positions. “We still want to look at our long term subs. We still think long term subs are certainly an asset. But that should not be the means for which we hire someone,” said Webb. “We will still give them the courtesy of an interview, but they will not be hired just because they are in the pool.”
The new contract also increases the work day from 7 to 7 ½ hours; increases the work year by one day, from 188 to 189 days; eliminates the Master of Equivalency certification for new hires; and makes Back to School Night mandatory.
Language regarding the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) has also been removed. “It was something we were always concerned about because sooner or later inflation would go berserk. We were fortunate it did not happen under the term of this contract.”
The contract also eliminates the early retirement incentive of $27,000 for teachers with 10 years of service regardless of age. “We had some extremes where someone 39 years of age retired and qualified for $27,500 as well as the free healthcare. That was the extreme, but it was not uncommon for many of our certified staff to retire in their early 50s,” said Webb.
rnder the old contract teachers received free health care. That will change under the new contract as teachers begin paying a portion of the health care tab.
Free health care until age 65 after 10 years of service for retiree, spouse and dependents has been removed for new people. “Those who are on it now, those who retired this past June retain that benefit, but there is a different plan,” said Webb. “That change by itself is a seven percent reduction.”
A clause in the prescription plan, which Webb termed “costly” to the district, has also been removed. It allowed an employee, if there was no generic available, to pay $5 for a name brand. “It was expensive. That in and of itself has a 27 percent savings,” he said.
rnder the new contract, upon ratification, Webb said teachers will pay 11 percent toward their health care for the remainder of June. Beginning July 1, they will pony up 14 percent of the premium and 16 percent beginning July 1, 2014.
“These two items cost the district millions over the years and the fact that they are not here will save the district money going forth for many, many years,” said Webb.
Webb estimates the contract will boost the district’s budget by $9.8 million over the next two years, the bulk of which will pay to compensate teachers for education credits they have accumulated since the last contract.
But that cost increase will be counterbalanced by a savings of $12.3 million to $12.4 million in everything from health care savings to the elimination of longevity pay, retirement age out and stipends and reductions in life insurance costs, special education and in other areas.
The result, said Webb, will be a net savings to the district of $2.5 million. “But I believe that figure will be closer to $4 million,” he said.
“We were very fortunate to get the union to work with us and take out a lot of these perks,” added Webb. “Salary is not the issue. We pride ourselves on our teachers. We want them to have a good salary. But the bottom line was the perks. It was the side bar agreements that were hurting us financially.”
During board comment, Mark Shubin said with the new contract in hand, the district can now shift its focus to a modernization of its curriculum and buildings, improved resource utilization and improved student achievement and outcomes.
“Finally we can turn the page on what can be characterized as one the most challenging contracts in our district’s history. The future of Neshaminy is brighter and clearer than it has been in many years … we can compete and win against any district in Bucks given a chance.”
But with the new agreement, said Shubin, comes new responsibilities. “I would ask that you drop all pending arbitrations against this district as a first step,” he told the NFT. “Furthermore, we find a working group to create the necessary ongoing dialogue to ensure we have a means of better communications moving forward. Let the healing process begin and let us find a way to build new bridges for our common goals.”
Added board member him houtsouradis, “This ratified contract will help this financially struggling district put our students and taxpay- ers first. With that and future smart decisions this district will only get better.”
And board member Susan Cummings said, “We can now focus on the job of educating our children and running the district with everyone focused in the same direction.”
While Webb said the new contract will not raise taxes, there’s something more troubling on the horizon for Neshaminy “that could break the bank.”
In 2010-11, Neshaminy contributed 5.64 percent of its $75 million payroll to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). In 2013-14, with a payroll of $77 million, the district’s contribution rate jumps to 16.93 percent, or $6.2 million. And in 2015, with a payroll of $77 million, the rate will hit 21.31 percent, or $7.9 million.
“That is horrendous. It is the only thing that scares me going forward,” said Webb. “We’ve been fortunate. We’ve put some money aside for it, but unless it’s corrected, we’re in big trouble.”
THE NFT RESPONSE Leaders of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers said the school board’s 9-0 unanimous vote to approve the agreement “should bring a fresh start for NFT members, the school district and the community.
“After more than five years of difficult and sometimes divisive negotiations, we are thrilled to conclude this process with an agreement that enables everyone on both sides to refocus and recommit ourselves to strengthening our community as a place where everyone is proud to say I live and work and learn in Neshaminy,” said NFT President Louise Boyd.
“We all agree that educating Neshaminy children is our most important responsibility,” she said. “For teachers, the students in our classrooms are what sustained us through many tough circumstances.
“This agreement is a chance for everyone devoted to the success of Neshaminy students — teachers, administrators, parents and community members — to come together and make a fresh start on fulfilling that mission,” Boyd added. “Everyone worked hard to make sure we found solutions to issues raised by both sides so that we can now move forward together.”
NFT leaders noted that it had been a week of events that signify new beginnings, including Neshaminy High School’s commencement exercises.
“Teachers are so proud of Neshaminy’s newest graduates,” said NFT sice President Anne Schmidt. “We have watched many of them grow and achieve new things since they were in Elementary school. And just as they are commencing the next phase of their lives, it is time for our whole community to move ahead and begin a new chapter in the life of our school district.”
NFT members ratified the deal in an overwhelming 487 to 21 vote on June 3. The new agreement runs through June 2015 and replaces the previous contract, which expired at the end of June 2008. Many teachers expressed their satisfaction at having a new agreement in place.
“What excites me most about a contract settlement is that the community, the teachers, and the board have the opportunity to move forward and refocus our energy 100 percent on the students and programs,” said Cara DeLorenzo, who teaches Spanish at Neshaminy High School. “My hope for our future is that positive morale is restored and that we realize working together and respecting each other’s essential roles in the district is the most powerful and effective way to reach our goals as a district.”