A View From a Tredyffrin Easttown School District Teacher

I received a comment from a ‘concerned teacher’ in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District.  Rather than seeing this comment buried on an old post, I thought it deserved front page attention. I urge the TESD teachers to present their views on the budget crisis in the school district; it’s important that we hear all sides.

It is easy for us to get caught up in this looming school district tax increase and possibly overlook the staff  and how they will be impacted by the loss and/or decrease of programs, services, etc. Does the ‘concerned teacher’ make fair statements; does he or she represent how the majority of the TESD teachers are feeling? Should the value of our school district teachers outweigh the cost to the taxpayers?  How does the teacher’s contract work — does that mean their jobs are safe from 2010-11 budget cuts?   Does a real possibility exist that the school district budget crisis will require staff reduction in TESD?  It would be great if some of our school board members could help us understand – their comments would be greatly appreciated.  Remember, you can submit comments anonymously, and without email addresses.

Concerned Teacher writes . . .

I hope that when you post and talk about the delusional tax increase of 7.2% in a township ranked 499 out of 501 in millage rates in the entire state of PA, you realize you may be costing me my job as an extremely dedicated teacher in the district. And I also hope that you realize that our lack of passion in demanding health care reform (yes, a public option) enabled Blue Cross to increase the rates on our teacher benefits 28% which has incurred 5 million of the 9.25 million dollar deficit that is about to cause me to lose my job.

But you can continue to rant about your minimal tax increase possibilities to fund the educational system that is consistently one of the top 5 in the state and nation while teachers like myself fall by the wayside and desperately look for ways to support our families come June of 2010. Your quest to stay way more comfortable than you really need to be will cost you the quality of education for your children, and casting teachers, unions, and pensions as the villains of your community is reprehensible. Take a breath, step back, and be thankful for what you have…and realize that you may need one less SUV to pay for it rather than putting teachers out of work.

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27 Responses

  1. To Concerned Teacher,

    Now that’s bitter.

    You point an accusing finger at T/E residents as having a “… quest to stay way more comfortable than you really need to be”…..

    ….and tell us to ” realize that you may need one less SUV to pay for it….(i.e. the tax increase)

    Comments like that help nothing and bring you no sympathy, but they do remind us how emotional this issue is for you and other teachers…And I hear you .

    But you should consider this: sure, there are families in T/E who fall into that category, but far more are just making their mortgage payments and figuring out how they’ll pay to send their kids to college. Any increase in the cost of living will come out of a shrunken pie right now. Your focus on the most affluent families is unfair and unrealistic.

    Judging from those I’ve spoken with, most people are willing to pay more to maintain the quality of our schools. No one wants to see teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, or the elimination of valuable programs – even people who’ve never had a child in the school district.

    But the proposed property tax increase is not a delusion, and the large jump anticipated in future years needs to be examined.

    Teachers’ healthcare costs went up 28% this year? So did everyone else’s. Unless you are UNlucky enough to pay the total cost as a self-employed person. Then it rose even more. And all but a few are contributing far more to their healthcare costs than teachers do. They need to consider the perspective of those of us who are non-union and don’t have the comfort zone created by tenure.

    There are many sides to this issue. Please try to see it from the average taxpayer’s POV.

  2. Pattye, thank you for putting this teachers views front and center. My opinion is that the best place to put our collective money (taxes) is into our schools and invest in our children. As a resident and a parent who has two children in T/E schools, I must say I have been extremely impressed with the professionalism, dedication and product that the teachers and the schools put forward. It does not suprise me that our school system is consistantly ranked higher then most. I believe we walk a slippery slope when we start to cut teachers jobs and programs that make our system so strong. If there is anything worth raising taxes for, it’s our kids and our schools. As a resident and a citizen, though, I would want to make sure that additional dollars are being well spent and efficiently utilized. That can sometimes be a tall order when an entity exists in a non- competitve environment. Transparency should be a must and more citizens, myself included, need to become more involved in the process.

  3. “Take a breath, step back, and be thankful for what you have…and realize that you may need one less SUV to pay for it rather than putting teachers out of work.”

    The Asbury Park Press, as a public service, offers the following link to view PA teacher’s salaries:

    http://php.app.com/PAteachers/search.php

  4. Anon?????, I am not sure what your post adds to the discussion other then to let us know that our teachers in this district get paid well for doing a great job.

  5. I agree with Concerned Teacher. If you gut the programs in the schools, cut the teachers, raise class sizes, eliminate technology opportunities you risk turning TE into a school district like Marple Newtown which has refused to raise taxes and thus has a completely diminished program.

    If the TE parents sit back and allow a few loud anti-tax voices to dominate the discussion they will be looking back in regret at the “good old days” of a great school district.

  6. Pattye,
    You asked if teacher jobs were safe… Posted yesterday on the TESD.net website was the committe notes from the education committee meeting. Near the end it was stated “Modifications to the 7th and 8th grade schedule will result in the reallocation of District staff. For the 2010-2011 school year, reductions of 6 core teachers and 3.9 special areas teachers are
    projected.” Clearly, teacher jobs are not safe and all teachers (like the rest of the country) are feeling the stress of possibly losing their job. We are just waiting what other staff cuts will be made and when we will find our who gets to stay and who has to leave. With every new program change and curriculum study that is done – we have been holding our breaths to see if more teacher jobs will be lost. The newest is to offer class on-line… Another attempt to reduce the numbers of teachers?

    Ask the majoirty of the teachers and they will tell you they love teaching because we truly enjoy our students. T/E is an amazing community. A link was posted for teacher salaries across PA. From this link I could see that at Lower Merion I could make $20,000 more than I currently make. Why do I stay? Because I truly believe in what T/E does for its students and that is more important to me than the extra money. But reading and hearing how so many people undervalue the teachers at T/E and what they have to offer – I just feel saddened. Are teachers more appreciated in other districts? Should I start searching for another teaching job? You ask a lot of questions in your most recent post. I would love to hear from other teachers, community members, and especially board members. Let’s hear ALL the information so that everyone can understand what is happening and why it is happening. Thanks for providing this forum. Hopefully it will hep to open up the eyes of more people and get more people involved in this very important discussion.
    Another Concerned Teacher

    • Another Concerned Teacher —

      Thank you for taking the time to offer your comments. I too would “love to hear from other teachers, community members, and especially board members. Let’s hear ALL the information so that everyone can understand what is happening and why it is happening.” Here’s hoping that your comment will encourage them to join the discussion! Thank you for mentioning the TESD website and the committee notes; here is the link: http://tesd.net/curriculum/10jan12edmtg.pdf

    • “Because I truly believe in what T/E does for its students and that is more important to me than the extra money.”

      maybe you should call your union leaders and tell them that you think your salaries and benefits should be reduced.

    • Appreciate the post. My oldest just graduated and my youngest is a freshman. Overall, we have been pleased with the TESD. The fact is – you have a school board who is incompetent. On the other side, your union has been the beneficiary of that incompetence. The superintendent Dan Waters has been a huge beneficiary as well. Heck, I wouldn’t have these people run a paper route – much less a 125 Million Enterprise as the TESD.

      Here are a few examples…Back in the day, TESD sold off Strafford Elementary and Paoli Elementary. Stupid decision. Rule one, NEVER sell an appreciating asset. Birth rates go up…then they go down..Eventually, the go back up. Instead, the TESD should have leased the properties…

      Here is another thing – at the opposite end of the scale. Postage. I can’t tell you how many times I get multiple mailings at .45 a pop. How wasteful is that. I mentioned that to Debbie Bookstaber two years ago. And here we are two years hence.

      In terms of teaching… All I can say is that at times, when I have asked teachers to post assignments on the web, I have been declined. I was told that it is not covered under the collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, teachers cannot be made to do that..

      I could recount lots of other things. But..there have also been great people. But there have been duds too… And the union protects them.

      Look, if you can make 20K more in Lower Merion, then I dare say you should go for it. I really don’t have tolerance for teachers who try to curb my right, as a taxpayer, as one who pays part of your salary, to voice my concerns over how the school district is run.

      Like the BOS, the TESD has had an over-reliance on property tax transfers. Speaking of one board member, Kevin Mahoney may be the stupidest one in the bunch. A few years ago, he was on one hand, talking about property tax relief for seniors, and on the other, not addressing revenue. The two don’t go together. But…it was an election year.

      I’m looking forward to when my youngest graduates. Then, we are not tied here anymore. This place is going to crap…quickly.

      My eyes are wide open. I know precisely what is going on, where we are, and who got us here.

  7. Concerned teacher writes: “And I also hope that you realize that our lack of passion in demanding health care reform (yes, a public option) enabled Blue Cross to increase the rates on our teacher benefits 28% which has incurred 5 million of the 9.25 million dollar deficit that is about to cause me to lose my job.”
    I completely relate to the frustration a teacher sitting and reading minutes of meetings while working hard as a teacher experiences. But this particular statement is sadly why the system is under such pressure. Citizens here are agreeing that they need to learn more about finances, but teachers need to learn more about what it is their union leaders demand. It is not a national issue that results in the 28% health care increase falling on the taxpayer’s back. It is a contractual demand that refuses to involve the teachers (locally or statewide) in taking responsibility for health care and its costs. As a teacher, you are a health care consumer, but your benefits are gifts in the minds of many, who have little if any idea about the cost of the plan that the TEEA demands in your contract. While it would not be easy, it would be SIMPLE to dramatically reduce health care costs in the next budget, but only if your association would reconsider co-pays and deductibles — to get them to approach real-world health care plans. You all basically have free health care — very little incentive in the plan to forego the non-generic or wait a day before calling the doctor. It’s not your fault — I sat at the bargaining table 4 times and the leadership does not consider TESD — it considers PSEA goals.
    Sometime in the late 90s we changed administrator benefits from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan so that administrators could select a health care plan and keep what they didn’t spend, or spend more of their own money on a more expensive plan. No surprise that most chose to use their allowance more efficiently and did not choose the teacher plan. I don’t know if that is still the case, but the fact is that when people see that health care is compensation, they begin to value and make cost-conscious choices in health care.
    I have posted a lot of data here about our tax rates in TE — we are not unfairly or disproportionately taxed based on property values. It’s declining incomes that make property tax increases hard to budget.
    While teachers are now concerned they may lose their jobs, many, many in our community already have. And when you lose your job in the private sector, it’s not a furlough — it’s usually over. Teachers know that reduction in staff positions is completely based on seniority — when they say cuts will take place, they will happen at the least senior level in the certification area involved. Attrition is more typical where retiring teachers are simply not replaced.
    Please don’t be bitter about what you think others have. SUVs are not the right of the privileged. We’re all in this together. The comment above about making more money in Lower Merion but staying here for other reasons –that’s what working is all about everywhere. If you have been in TESD for awhile, you know that some have left for “greener” (as in money) pastures. Some have come back. It’s that “threat” that causes districts to pay more than market value — because we do have some local districts that take pride in being the highest paying district and we don’t want to drop in the competitive hiring process. No one is indentured to the district, and you should work where you enjoy working. (Having a tenured position is also another reason some stay and don’t leave). People make more at some law firms than others — some supermarkets pay more than others — taxpayers cannot help you to choose where to work. As a TESD employee, you know that you are treated well and valued. “TE” proud is the reason so many people begin and end their careers here. I remember comparing TE’s contract to LM’s contract a decade ago. LM had 25 approved reasons for a personal day — none of which were allowed to remain personal. They had very difficult requirements to qualify for tuition reimbursement — all kinds of plusses and minuses in their working conditions. So please don’t tell us how much more you could earn there. We all work where we want — unless of course we cannot find work and then we work where we can.
    I’m glad that we are talking about educational programs — it’s important to remind ourselves that our kids are at the heart of why we all care. Of course our teachers matter to us — our programs matter. But right now, our community has given our district the message that they need to find ways to cut costs dramatically. Since asking the teachers to take a higher deductible and a co-pay that is more realistic in this market (without opening the contract), we need to understand just what CUTS we are willing to support and what programs we want to continue to fund.

    Thanks.

  8. One more Health Care comment — the program I mentioned above that administrators have (where they can choose less expensive options and keep the difference) was offered many times to the TEEA — it was a non-starter. There was never any discussion of any meaningful change to the way of doing business — except when the market for health care changed so dramatically that the PSEA would be willing to accept an adjustment in the levels of copays. Any other discussion was simply NOT entertained.

  9. My goodness. The two avowed TESD teachers and their sympathizers here certainly clarify some of the problems. Most striking is that they seem to think they bear no responsibility for their union’s contract. If you teachers aren’t going to stand up to your elected union representatives who are gold-plating the compensation of more senior teachers and bankrupting the district then who do you think can? If you’re afraid that you’ll lose your job because you’re collectively paid too much then ask your union to renegotiate a contract that taxpayers are willing and able to pay for. Otherwise let’s just hope layoffs hit lower-performing teachers more heavily (although I know the union does everything possible to prevent performance from entering into such decisions).

    FYI: Many of us TESD taxpayers are willing to risk a small increase in class sizes for at least a year or two if that’s what it takes to bring the union back into the real world the rest of us are living in.

    Also surprising is these teachers’ suggestions that they could do better elsewhere. Well TESD teachers: If you think you can get higher pay or more appreciation in another district please do us all — taxpayers, parents, students, administrators, and yourself — a favor and go for it. There are literally thousands of aspiring teachers eagerly applying for the few openings in TESD each year. We’ll be alright without you.

  10. Smug, nasty comments from smug nasty people.

    • education taxpayer —

      I am posting your comment, however I do not see how it adds to the dialogue. Personally, I think a discussion between teachers, residents and school board members is good. These are stressful and difficult economic times for all of us and sometimes listening to the other person’s side makes you re-think your own position. At least that’s how it works for me.

  11. To the two concerned teachers –

    Welcome to the real world. Not all TE residents have a spare SUV to get rid of to pay higher taxes. My family is one of many families in this area affected by corporate downsizing, salary cuts and layoffs. It is simply ignorant to assume that all taxpayers who pay your salary are well-off and have surplus funds. It sounds like the teacher’s union got a sweet deal during the last contract negotiation, and now it is time to pay up. Hopefully the school board won’t make the same mistake twice when the contact is up. Not everyone has the luxury of pleading to taxpayers or a school board for their job in this economy. In the real world, people are not getting raises – and many are getting salary cuts. In the real world, if a company needs to save money, then it finds ways to operate more efficiently and that often translates into reducing staff. I went to the PA teacher’s salary link posted on this blog and was shocked to see the number of TE teachers making over $90K/year – with summers off to boot! As a TE parent, I know that many of the teachers in TE are top notch, but the students and their parents deserve just as much credit for the school district’s success as the teaching staff or the programs. It is time to share the pain and realize that you are not exempt from this economic situation.

  12. Point by point….here are my comments:

    “My goodness. The two avowed TESD teachers and their sympathizers here certainly clarify some of the problems. Most striking is that they seem to think they bear no responsibility for their union’s contract.”

    I guess I must be one of the sympathizers. I guess if you don’t agree with the “no tax increase at any cost crowd” you are a sympathizer.

    “f you teachers aren’t going to stand up to your elected union representatives who are gold-plating the compensation of more senior teachers and bankrupting the district then who do you think can?”

    Why is it always that the pejorative “gold-plating” that is attached to union compensation, but not to executive compensation? Just a thought.

    “although I know the union does everything possible to prevent performance from entering into such decisions)”

    You know this? You know this for a fact. How do you know? You provide no evidence. Just tired, well-worn platitudes.

    “If you think you can get higher pay or more appreciation in another district please do us all — taxpayers, parents, students, administrators, and yourself — a favor and go for it. There are literally thousands of aspiring teachers eagerly applying for the few openings in TESD each year. We’ll be alright without you.”

    Now THERE is constructive conversation. THAT really adds to the conversation.

    I think that the teachers have added to the conversation by providing their feelings in light of the recent layoffs and projected layoffs. I think that merely restating OLD anti-union arguments over and over again does NOT add to the conversation.

  13. “in a township ranked 499 out of 501 in millage rates in the entire state of PA”

    I wish I could pay my tax bill in mils, but my checking account is denominated in dollars. Maybe the union could rank the tax bill of the average family for all 501 districts and see where TE falls. It would paint a quite different picture.

    “the delusional tax increase of 7.2% …. may be costing me my job as an extremely dedicated teacher in the district.”

    I wonder how many families will forgo needed healthcare due to the 7.2% tax increase. Or how many seniors will forgo needed maintenance on their homes. Or how many families will go further into debt paying the college bill. While I sympathize with anyone losing their job I believe any TE teacher can find another teaching job quickly. Especially from a district that is “consistently one of the top 5 in the state and nation”.

    “And I also hope that you realize that our lack of passion in demanding health care reform (yes, a public option) enabled Blue Cross to increase the rates on our teacher benefits 28%”

    I believe the GAO exploded the myth that a public option would lower heathcare costs. If you ask the TE finance director you’ll find out that healthcare costs went up 28% because the teachers demanded more healthcare services; not because Bluecross suddenly became greedy..

    “Take a breath, step back, and be thankful for what you have…and realize that you may need one less SUV to pay for it rather than putting teachers out of work.”

    Instead of asking taxpayers to pony up again why not ask your fellow teachers to reopen negotiations. I’m sure every potential job cut could be saved if salaries were frozen for one or two years. I’m sure those numerous teachers earning over $95,000 would be willing to sacrifice one of their SUVs to save your job.

  14. Here’s some data to help inform the conversation.

    I realize that the time periods are not comparable. I would have liked to go back for a full decade, but I thought that the most recent 3 year data for the items below might provide some context for why taxpayers might have some difficulty at the present time coming up with the money for future entitlements.

    CPI-U, 2006 to 2009, Annual Averages, (Source: BLS): +6.4%
    Median Weekly Earnings, all workers, Q3/06 to Q3/09, (BLS). +9.5%
    Tredyffrin Township Millage and Sewer Fee, 2007 -2010, (TT): +10.7%
    TESD Millage, 2007/8 to 2010/11 projected, w/exceptions, (TESD, TT): +14.5%
    TEEA Salary Matrix, 2008/9 to 2011/12 (TESD.net): +27.2%

    Note 1: Tredyffrin taxes include 2010 increase of $50 in sewer fee and cumulative millage increases for a median house assessed at $252,000.

    Note 2: The TEEA salary information was taken from an arbitrary point in middle of the salary matrix (across: M+30, down: 8). The salary values are $63,330 to $80,580. The value understates the increase caused by aggregate migration down and across the matrix. (If anyone could share the matrix for 2004-8, that would enable additional meaningful analysis)

    Note 3: The median weekly earning information does not take into account the higher healthcare deductibles and co-pays of the median worker, nor any change in future retirement benefits through changes in value of 401k plans, IRAs and other defined contribution plans.

    • Thanks for providing this information Ray. It is interesting to compare the cost-of-living increase vs. the TESD millage increase.

      I am trying to understand your Note 2 — Does it mean that the average teacher salary has increased 27.2% from 2008/9 to projected 2010/11? Does that +27.2% include benefits (pension, health care, etc)?
      Thanks –
      Pattye

      • Pattye:

        That increase is for the one point on the salary matrix that is as close to the middle of the matrix as I could get. I don’t know the distribution of teachers on the matrix to be able to calculate the actual average increase. (That distribution, by year, would be another useful data set for us armchair analysts!)

        The salary for that one point in 2008/9 was $63,330, in 2011/12 will be $80,580. The number is salary only and excludes the cost of healthcare, pension and any other benefits. That’s a compound annual increase of 8.4%. CPI seems to be running currently at 2-3% per year.

        Note: the increases by year are: 11.9%, 0.0%, 13.7%. Strange.

  15. Nothing like some actual facts to bring the conversation to a halt!

    Here’s another data point to explain why the whole country, not just Tredyffrin, is fed up and so disappointed with the turn that the country’s affairs have taken.

    Part of the financing for the Senate healthcare bill was to come from an excise tax on “Cadillac” plans like those enjoyed by our teachers. That tax was also an element in the overall cost control strategy.

    But now we find that the Democrat negotiators in Congress have agreed to a union demand to exempt from this tax any health plan that is part of a collective bargaining agreement, or that is provided to state and local workers (mostly in the first set, of course).

    The $60 billion that this will cost is likely to be replaced by extending the 2.9% Medicare payroll tax to capital gains, for the first time.

    Is it any wonder that taxpayers are reaching their limit? Perhaps a D loss in Massachusetts will be a wake up call at all levels of government.

  16. The 499 out of 501 is growing as an urban legend. It has nothing to do with millage rates — it has to do with the percentage of property wealth put towards education — and I have yet to find a study that produces that outcome.

    Ray – the previous salary schedule as well as the matrix are available if you do a RTK request of the district.

    • Shouldn’t have to do a RTK request. It’s clear why the teacher union does not post that info on the web.

      • The full contract for the current four year period is on the TESD website. The contract requires the district to provide a matrix (where the bodies are on the schedule) every fall. It would be great if someone posted it — but otherwise, an RTK will get it.

  17. The PSEA website asks members to work to make that happen — http://www.psea.org/healthcarereform/

    Perhaps the teachers commenting here can tell us what their health care benefits are like — so that we are not talking hypothetically about “gold plating” — which is an accurate description, not a perjorative term in my view. But it’s not about the teachers — it’s about the collective bargaining process and where the power lies (teacher strike website earlier offered)

  18. Obviously, there is a lot of anti-teacher sentiment here but most community members I speak to are supportive and grateful of all the opportunities the T/E district has offered them.
    I have taught in many different places and this is by far the best group of professionals, dedicated to students, that I have ever had the pleasure working with.
    In speaking to other teachers in the district, I think you will find that most are realistic about the current economic climate, care about the quality of education in the district and are reasonable people open to compromise.
    We are all in this together and we all care about the same thing. We should be able to make it work without insulting each other or pointing fingers.

  19. It’s unfortunate that this budgetary/economy driven crisis has resulted in anti-teacher rhetoric. I can assure you that it’s just that — rhetoric — hyperbole too — because this is anti-union rhetoric and a community report of disappointment that rather than the union wanting to work with the schools to help share the problem (to save their own membership jobs), they instead demanded (though an email by the union president) that the taxpayers pick up the full tab.
    All teachers want to be respected and appreciated for what they do — but in truth, all workers want the same thing. When a teacher posts (here) that someone can sell their extra SUV to pay their taxes, it’s just anti-community rhetoric.
    It’s all borne out of frustration and a feeling of powerlessness. The Union membership does have power, but the public is held hostage by their street address. As hard as it is to get a job in another district after your first five years, it’s equally (more) difficult to switch school districts for your kids.
    So — people do their research and move to a district (or go work for a district) and hope that the partnership between home and school can include home and school and tax base — and what that falls out of balance — it’s not pretty.
    The hard fact here is that almost half of the budget problem is due to the increased cost of a health care plan that the board and union negotiated that has gotten out of control — and the teachers expect the board (the taxpayers) to bear the full burden. That is the nature of collective bargaining — but it puts the tax base in a very fragile positon. The “delicate balance” is now a wreck — and the public for the most part has hopeful expectations that the teachers will step up and bear some of the costs of their own benefit increases either by negotiating a less expensive plan or picking up part of the increase. The sad part is that program reduction will result in furloughing the least expensive (least senior) employees — so simply cutting positions won’t get as far as we would expect, because the average cost per FTE is 40% higher than the cost of a likely furloughed employee.

    I believe that the teachers are dedicated and sincere in their goals for our kids and our schools. The PSEA, like all unions, is about preserving power. That’s not a value that will solve any problems for anyone. The board was taunted into dismissing the possibility of requesting exceptions — so now the question is not IF we will cut something, but WHAT we will cut.

    Perhaps Pres.. Obama’s 3-year freeze will apply to wages? probably not.

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