Is the Teachers Union Aiding in the Fact vs. Fiction Component of the TESD Budget Crisis

Reading comments from teachers, school board members and taxpayers, it would seem that the teachers union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is adding to the element of confusion and misunderstanding.  I am struggling to figure out if the misinformation is ‘by design’ from the PSEA to confuse the teachers (and therefore confuse the taxpayers).  It is well understood that this school district like so many in this country is facing a financial crisis.  It would appear that this is the time for all of us to work together instead of against each other.  As a good first step, I would propose that the information disseminated be supported.  Unfortunately when situations reach a crisis level within an organization (whether it is the school district, local government, corporations, etc) rumor mills explode and before you know it, things are out of control. 

I certainly do not claim to be an expert on the school district or its budget by any stretch.  Our daughter was not in the public school system so I admit to not being as involved as I should have been as a taxpayer.  So I am coming at this subject at a distinct disadvantage with minimal background of experience.  However, I am beginning to think that the teachers union is coloring the picture to its membership slightly different from reality.  Or am I just reading the situation wrong?  What is your opinion of the teacher unions . . . are they helping the case for the teachers or are they a contributing factor to the current budget crisis (and unrest) in the community?  Is it unthinkable that teachers unions may re-open their teacher contracts for additional negotiations in light of the economic crisis?  Or is that simply pie in the sky thinking?

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8 Responses

  1. Pattye…

    You don’t need to be expert on the specific workings of the TESD. Unions are political and business entities. Think for a moment what the senior level mgt of such organizations make. In that regard, there is to some degree, opposing goals of the rank and file vs. union leadership. Leadership, to one degree or another, thrives on and relies on a certain amount confusion. This is but one reason why we often see corruption in unions. As political and business entities, they tend to serve their own interest. By “their own”, I mean the overall entity. The only thing the PSEA may care less about than the specific issues facing its rank and file members – is the education of our kids. The PSEA spends more time fighting reforms than embracing them. As soon as you talk about accountability as a way of pegging compensation, they balk. And the formula is pretty simple – right? Lower comp means less money going into the union. The pension aspects of the picture are huge.

    At the end of the day, unions, by and thorugh its leadership, ultimately serves it’s own goals. Most of the rank and file members don’t have much of a clue as to the substantive matters that go on.

    And if you are thinking that an analogy to rank and file union members are us the taxpaying voting public – you would be dead on right…

  2. Pattye, the energy and passion on this blog is more exhilarating than watching the UFC.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. The definition of insanity….this is an excerpt from a letter to the editor from 2002…two tax studies ago.

    “Our community faces some very difficult decisions. Rising property taxes strain longterm and fixed income residents, but in fact, rising property values (and prices) stimulate increased expectations from new residents. It is likely that any increases in property taxes are more than offset by increases in property value (equity), but long-time residents are traditionally reluctant to tap into that equity build-up. That is an issue that state and federal bodies are struggling to address as well – property tax reform.

    From the school district’s perspective, when an empty-nest house (no costs to the school) with a $5,000 tax bill sells to a new family, the tax revenue is still $5,000, but the cost of that house just went up about $15,000 per school-age child. We all pay that increased cost. The district does NOT want to run off empty-nesting taxpaying residents on fixed income, but the implications of collective bargaining, the demand for services (and the increase in costly state mandates) puts ever more pressure on the school budgeting process. There is not an obvious solution. We all need to pay attention and contribute to the solutions.”

    Sigh.

    • Andrea,

      It is an unsustainable situation. Something has to give. I can tell you that once our youngest is done (in 3.5 years) – we are probably going to leave the township. (I can hear cheers in amongst the TTRC for that!! ;).

      Seriously, this whole situation has been mishandled. Whether you are talking about Pete Motel, Lianne Davis or Kevin Mahoney, all three have been acting beyond their core competencies re: the school district.

  4. John
    I cannot agree about the individuals, but I will agree that people are elected to the board of school directors (and every other volunteer job for that matter) without specific regard to their competencies. But it’s not a failure of the TESD — I’ll point to the IUs and the PSBA for failing to bring boards together to develop strategies in the same way that the PSEA brings locals together. I tried to create a coalition when I was on the board through some IU meetings — and districts just are too competitive (in hiring and in comparing test scores). When I was Pres of TESD 100 years ago, I met with the then president of Lower Merion and a Radnor board member. The LM person explained patiently how they HAD to pay their superintendent more than any other in the state because they expected the best. Likewise the mentality with the teachers contract. I used WC, Radnor and LM numbers when doing our contracts in TESD, but I also was clear to our teachers that I believed the cherry-picking of terms was not going to work for us.
    LM and RADNOR — both districts have had political infighting keeping them from accomplishing the things that TESD has — and at much higher costs. One of the reasons I left the TESD board was the constant barrage from some in our community who wanted us to use the LM “model” for facilities review — which of course you can drive by LM today (I left the board in 2002 once the Stoga renovation was approved) and see how that “model” works….
    So TESD has not been mishandled — but there are egos involved in delivering the message and handling things on their own. When I attempted to learn more last year on the budget process, I was stonewalled by the board bigtime — to the point where I had to do a RTK request to see the contract, to see the fund balance details, to read administrative contracts. That didn’t come from the admins.
    I will state again that TE is not over-taxed based on our property wealth — but until the community is willing to look at balancing needs with some use of income (after all Tredyffrin township gets 1% of real estate sales — the school district gets 1/2% — and which body do you think experiences costs when an empty-nesting house is sold and a family moves in?) and is willing to recaptuer the EIT that is already being paid by our residents to other jurisdictions, we are going to feel over taxed.

    • Andrea

      You make some really excellent points. I’m trying to leverage the discussion for a viable list of actions that the Board should be encouraged to take. Here’s my starter list:

      1. Demonstrate intent to regain control by aggressively pursuing cuts of programs with marginal benefit and high cost. Pay more than lip service to the Administration list to be produced on February 8th.

      2. Immediately connect with counterparts at Radnor, which I believe is currently in negotiation. Do everything to convince them to get on the same page as T/E. Make it clear that if they set a positive tone, we will follow.

      3. Set in motion a collaboration with the Townships to implement an EIT and thus reclaim the money we are sending elsewhere and claim the non-resident money we are leaving on the table.

      4. Make it explicit with the unions that it’s jobs or above-CPI salary increases: their choice.

      5. Follow through on the idea at the last Finance committee meeting, and use reserves to pay for any benefit payment that is above the amount that will be acceptable in the next contract.

      6. Provide to citizens all the data that’s necessary to allow for informed analysis of the options (eg staff numbers by matrix position, details of program changes and their impacts).

      7. Implement a Board Meeting process along the lines of Tredyffrin’s that allows for real dialog and opportunity for meaningful contributions from residents in support of whatever strategies and set of tactics (such as the above) that they prefer. (And why not move the Board meetings out of phase with Tredyffrin BOS meetings, or is that intentional?)

      I’d be interested to see others’ lists like this. Maybe if we all team up to advocate the best set, the Board will actually listen?

      • Ray
        Thanks. I’ve got most of the information we talk about on my computer — and files of it in a box somewhere in the basement. Keep talking Ray. I thought the last finance meeting was interactive — but that’s probably because I don’t maintain boundaries very well and asked questions as they occured to me. Maybe we should put together our list of issues and give it to the business manager prior to the meeting (via Kevin M) to avoid any obfuscation. I think they are earnest in wanting to solve this issue — but I am also earnest in wanting to examine it all — not just make cuts. We have a fabulous school district that supports a healthy (relatively) real estate enviroment. People do move here for the schools. I wouldn’t count on the BOS moving towards and EIT when they use contributions to fund fire departments — but no doubt they would be happen to accept the spoils of war.

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