I recently shared this in an email with neighbors.
From a recent Chester County Action Alert:
Pennsylvania remains the “Teacher Strike Capitol” of the U.S. In the past 7 years, PA has had 82 teacher strikes, more than all other states combined, including two strikes here in Chester County.
Pennsylvania is one of 13 states that still permit teachers’ strikes. We are fortunate in TESD that we have not had to experience this, but as pressures on the economy increase, our starting salary for a teacher right out of college (which is now at $45.1K for a bachelor’s degree with no experience) may well reach a level where “just say no” to the negotiators results in a strike threat. Our current teachers work hard for their money – but 16 years of teaching puts you at our maximum salary – so a 38 year old reaches our “top step” and will still get raises every year from then on. And they get tenure after 3 years in public education. The old claim that teachers are underpaid is no longer relevant in our region. Teachers in TESD work a 7:35 day by contract for 190 days, and they all are eligible for a pension system that results in a pension of 2.5% of their final average salary for each year they teach . In other words: Start teaching at 22 years old and teach for 40 years — retire at 62 after a tenured career at 100% of the average salary of your final 3 years. (free of PA income tax). This year,TE’s most senior teachers earn in from $86.5 to $100K in this contract year– pay based solely on seniority and education. (difference between low and high is due to educational attainment). No one minds paying for great teaching. Negotiations, however, are not just about good teachers and experienced ones. At the end of this four year contract, our most senior teachers will earn salaries ranging from $90K to $110.9 depending on educational level, and newly hired teachers directly out of college will get a starting salary of $52.2 . Market presures and inflation are how Unions demand and boards grant annual increases in starting salaries. The market comes from neighboring districts who offer more salary to new recruits — so in effect boards bid each other up. The teachers across the state meet together every summer to set goals for negotiations and salary/benefit demands. Boards from varying districts do not typically share strategies.
The difficulty of strikes is that it costs your family and your children important educational time – but it does not cost a teacher in Pennsylvania a dime. Work missed is either made up by cancelled vacation time (winter/spring), adding days to the end of the school year (but still ending before June 30) or not made up – but teachers still receive their full salary. They are not docked for any time missed. Teachers are paid for a full school year at their full salary, whether or not the full year takes place. SO _- the decision to strike has no true economic cost to the striking employee. Likewise Pennsylvania requires all teachers to pay “fair share” Union dues whether or not they choose to join the teacher’s union. This bill advocating a “no strike provision” does not alter a union’s ability to collectively bargain – only to keep them from holding families hostage to wage demands by threatening the quality of a classroom education.
That sounds dramatic –but it should not. The PSEA (the PA teacher’s organization) is the largest lobbying organization in the state. These issues do not necessarily affect people who can afford their homes — but in this difficult economy, will that be true always? In this economy it may not be true now. Contracts are done years in advance.
Click on my CALL TO ACTION page to read a request for action from Stop Teachers Strikes.org. It is an opportunity to try to help Pennsylvania join the other 37 states in this country that recognize that wage and benefit bargaining should not affect time in the classroom.
I was on our local school board for 3 terms and negotiated with our unions multiple times. TE is fair – but the state organization PSEA does try to call the shots way too often. Right now, the ability to strike is NOT a local issue. (but the reality that the union can strike certainly influences the bargaining strategy of the Board of School Directors.) This is about the children in our state. Please take a moment and read about this bill – and if you agree, please write a letter and pass this link on.
Check out this week’s Main Line SUBURBAN Life
I can scarcely begin today’s post because I don’t know which item to tackle first. For those who don’ t have the paper or haven’t seen it yet — here are my choices:
I think what I would like to tackle today (in light of the fact that tonight is TE’s Finance Committee meeting) is the 4th one — which is sort of back there in the paper and might not get noticed. It’s online from the Feb 15th Daily Local. http://www.dailylocal.com/articles/2009/02/15/news/srv0000004699694.txt
The purpose of the article is to outline budget planning for 2010 — “Chester County finance officials have told department heads and elected officials they should plan to reduce their operating budgets 2 to 4 percent for next year.” (Note: The Chester County Finance Director is Denny Bolton, who was a long-time business manager for Owen J Roberts School District — so he knows the ins and outs of school spending as well as government spending). It is unlikely that any school district would plan for a spending decrease (which is where the editorial about doing things different (sic) comes in),
Key comments from article:
As the article continues, some speculate that they do this worrying often and don’t believe anything will come of it. There are some sounds of indignation that county employees would not get the 3.75% raises that (apparently) some feel they are entitled to. But there is also the comment by County Controller DiGiorgio
Citizens of our community need to engage in the budget process. T-E (and many districts across the state) see the state-mandated “cap” as the floor to their tax plans — not the ceiling. A 4.1% increase does not have to be voted on by the public (beyond that increase, there are only specific reasons to increase taxes without triggering a referendum–so the “secret” is to stay at or below the cap line). So instead of worrying about what to spend, boards are more concerned with how much they can increase without scrutiny. How about a rebate?
Many school districts (and TE is certainly a leader in this) have significant “fund balances” — reserve money that has accumulated in the good times of real estate transfer tax growth and investment interest. T-E’s fund balance exceeds $50 million. So with a budget of $100+ million, and no plans to reduce spending, they are planning a 4.1% tax increase AND to use approximately $4 M from the fund balance to offset spending increases.
Taxes are a funny thing — people don’t talk about the tax bill — only the increase. Hey — you pay the whole thing. Has anyone thought about using fund balance to pay half the taxes? Give today’s residents our own school tax holiday? Sure that means next year (or maybe not until the year after) taxes would “double”, but it’s our money they are sitting on and not spending on these increases or costs. Future residents are not stuck with our debt — they are spending our savings.
There are lots of reasons this would be complicated — and would require some serious “out of the box” thinking. ( I live by the notion that if I have an idea — it can happen. It just takes effort.) But as our teachers sit in negotiations and see our reserves piling up, why would they ever step up and participate in the real economy — the one that doesn’t have annual raises OR tenure OR lucrative employee benefit plans OR pensions OR collective bargaining with the right to strike and shut down a community education program? (That sounds like a knock at OUR teachers, but as I have stated previously, and will talk about again — our local organization (TEEA) is strongly encouraged [read: pressured] by the state organization PSEA….you know — the one whose goal is a starting salary statewide for BRAND NEW TEACHERS right out of college, no experience — of $50,000 — accumulating 2.5% a year toward a pension with 10 years to the top salary).
More later. Tonight (Thursday) is the TE Finance Meeting. Maybe some of us should plan to be there? Check out the TESD.net website for time and place. In the meantime, please share your thoughts about these topics and any you want to talk about.
Posted in Commentary
Tagged budget, PSEA, spending, strikes, unions