Tuesday, October 30, 2012

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

WCASD School Board Meeting:  Monday, October 22, 2012

Walking into Stetson for this month’s board meeting, it was evident that there would be much less fanfare than the last one.  The teachers weren’t holding a rally in front of the school, gone were the Fox News vans and, thankfully absent, was Mrs. Adsett’s voyeuristic friend with the video camera.  On a side note, I hope that the District continues hold the meetings at a larger venue in the future since it was so much better than cramming everyone into a small room in the Spellman Building.

I always really enjoy hearing the reports from the Student Representatives from our three high schools.  They told us about what was going on in their schools – homecoming events, community service efforts, interesting projects, awards and accolades. They each had a reoccurring theme of school unity.  The students are trying to end the division between the grade levels and work together as one. Brilliant idea!

Unity.  Interesting.  u·ni·ty: the state of being united or joined as a whole; harmony or agreement between people or groups.  One can only wish that our school board can learn a lesson from the students in our District.


There was but one public comment on Agenda items this week.  Matt MacKenzie offered alternatives to closing an elementary school.  The District could: increase class size by 3 students in the elementary schools, ask some students to transfer to different schools, or – my favorite idea – just redistrict EVERY SUMMER.  I’m all for innovative ideas, but really, it’s obvious that he doesn’t have kids in school or understand that these are not feasible options.


On this note, please save the date: Sean Carpenter, chair of Property & Finance Committee,  encouraged all in attendance to attend the 11/19 Property & Finance Committee meeting (held at Spellman, 6:30 PM) to voice opinions/concerns/suggestions on the “10 to 9” plan.


Here is a link to the summary that the school district posted.  All agenda items passed unanimously with the exception of the Personnel Recommendations.  For some reason, Mrs. Snook abstained from voting.


Board President Vince Murphy prefaced public comment with the latest Board statement on negotiations.

Click here for statement.

Mr. Murphy pointed to the recently negotiated Tredyffrin/Easttown School District teacher's contract as a frame of reference. He stated that it should sound familiar because it is the same compensation package that is being offered to our teachers in the WCASD. He would like dialogue that yields results. He stated that the School Board has been waiting for a month for a response from the teacher's union and urged them to "sharpen its pencils and prepare a health insurance proposal and a response to our salary proposal that demonstrates a commitment to balancing achievement and affordability."

Deb Fell, WCAEA (Teacher's Union) President responded during the 2 minute public comment she is permitted to have during the school board
 meeting.  She pointed out that T/E beginning salaries are $51,000; WCASD begins at $46,000. T/E’s top salary is $110,000 while WCASD’s is $99,000. T/E took a salary freeze this year; WCASD took one last year - saving the district $2.6 million. To date, salaries are still frozen. Regarding benefits, T/E is just beginning to pay 9%.  WCASD has been paying 10% for almost 10 years.  The teacher's union has compromised over $19 million dollars during negotiations and has collaborated to save the district more than $10 million in the past 2 years.

Bob Marks, teacher and Teacher Union Representative, stated that the WCAEA has compromised while the School District hasn’t moved at all from their original offer.  Minnie Porter, President of the Support Staff Union, tried to paint of picture of the climate of the support staff.  She said that they would just like to make a living wage and she explained that some employees are on welfare and some work multiple jobs.  They need the benefits they earn, yet their services are currently being threatened with outsourcing.
I requested, once again, for the members of the school board negotiation team to begin attending negotiation sessions.  I called for them to step up to do what is right for our school district and its children.  The members of the School Board's Negotiations Team - Vince Murphy, Sean Carpenter and Karen Miller have not attended a single negotiations session; instead choosing to spend taxpayer money on lawyers and a PR firm to write statements, press releases and updates. In reference to T/E School District, their members were not participating in negotiations sessions with their teacher's union for a long time.  They settled their contract during the very first meeting that they attended. See Patch Article.
Former Board President Rick Swalm paid tribute to Marc Bertrando, our Assistant Superintendent, since he will soon be leaving our District to be Superintendent of the Garnet Valley School District.  Jack Hurd, our Human Resources Director is also leaving the District for a position closer to his home.  Hopefully, this is not the beginning of a mass exodus of administrators being driven away from a school district led by an unreasonable school board with a political agenda that does not take into consideration what is best for the children and education in West Chester.  Members of our current Board may have made political promises to their party in order to get elected, but now that they are school board directors they need to put their personal philosophies aside and serve in a nonpartisan manner.

The question remains if a portion of the $6.5 million the school board expects the teachers to "find" in order to balance the budget includes the 5% the district would like the Union to pay as a service fee for the cost of taking out the dues from their check even though, in reality, the actual cost of performing this service to the District is negligible.   The sticking point in negotiations may be that 5% service fee for payroll deductions which is not done by one other district in the state.  Is this merely a tactic to union bust?  The teachers seem to think so.  The actions of the Board seem to support this view.  Let’s hope that the School Board will step up to their responsibility and do what is best for the entire school district – the taxpayers, the teachers and especially the students.


Please consider contacting the School Board to urge them to attend the next Negotiations session on November 29th.  You can send an email to the School Board Secretary Pauline Bachtle and she will see that the School Board Directors promptly receive it. 

The Teacher's Union made a video with some meeting highlights that is worth watching:

To read more:

Teacher Contract Still Not Settled - West Chester Patch (10/23/12)

West Chester school officials eye T-E settlement - Daily Local News  (10/23/12)


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