Saucon Valley School District is an academic institution with responsibility to our students, our residents, and to our community. The essence of what we do as a school takes place in the teacher's classroom. We, your school board, understand that completely. Our administration and school board can guide and improve our schools, but we can not create that classroom experience. Only the teacher can.
With that acknowledgement, we regret to say to the community that in the board's opinion, the teachers' union is on the wrong path. They have just voided two years of work and a settlement that was at hand.
The process, including the Fact Finding, has largely been chosen by the teachers. The Fact Finder herself, on reviewing the evidence, stated that we were close to an agreement before she started, and that her services should not have been necessary.
And yet even with board approval of the Fact Finder recommendations, the union leadership could not inspire membership approval, their bargaining team has been disbanded, and their association has fired its PSEA counsel. They have hired new counsel who is essentially at war with the PSEA. And now our district is in the middle of this turmoil. There are no new meetings scheduled because we do not know the teacher's team with whom we are negotiating.
This process has delayed important work by the board and administration on behalf of the district. It has interfered with all the other employee agreements. It needs to end now with the approval by the union of the tentative agreement for the Fact Finder report.
Rather than settlement and progress, we have instead this list of misleading statements from the union leadership at our meetings, in the papers, and on their "Our Saucon" campaign site. It is a sad state for our school district that we feel obliged to write this following analysis.
A. Here is what the union leadership has stated in the papers and at board meetings:
(1) "The teachers want dialog, true negotiations and a contract that is made up of compromise, not just concession."
This implies that with two years of negotiation managed by the state mediator, and with the state Fact Finder's compromise report now on the table, that somehow the board has managed to maintain all of its starting negotiating positions. In the regulated labor law system that we have, the idea that either side could avoid compromise is simply not possible. We have both moved substantially to get to this final stage.
(2) "The union leadership has made the following specific statements about the Fact Finder compromise:
(a) We do not understanding the salary schedule - when in fact it is almost exactly the structure proposed by the union.
(b) We object to the elimination of the last teacher day - when in fact they chose to eliminate this day.
(c) We object to the additional hours at the end of the day - a total of ten hours per year of meetings for which the district was required to compensate the teachers with a shorter work year. Saucon Valley is the only district in the area without this ability to bring teachers and administrators together after school for meetings, rather than as currently required during school hours, and resulting in substitute teachers in the classes.
(d) We object to the increase in the health care contribution - which will bring the contribution to approach 10% of cost. This compares very favorably to any other option in our community.
(e) We do not understand the need for such an "overwhelming contract" proposal - when in fact they were displaying the supporting evidence package presented to the Fact Finder, not the proposed contract.
B. Rather than discuss the Fact Finder report, which we are not sure has ever been reviewed in detail for the union membership, we have instead a teacher campaign web site with these statements of questionable relevance.
(3) "7 out of 9 Saucon Valley School Board members do NOT have children in the district. As of June of 2014, that number will climb to 8 out of 9."
This is a statement about the passage of time, not about the nature of the school board. Our children grow into adults. The union would allege that a board member whose children have graduated from Saucon Valley is no longer a parent. And that further, we wish to preclude the next generation from having the same scale of benefits that our children received. We might tell such critics that becoming grandparents actually sharpens our focus on the future of our children and grandchildren.
(4) "10 teachers have resigned from Saucon Valley School District since June of 2013. This does NOT include teachers who have retired."
Teachers change jobs, and professions, and residences, and states as a matter of their life course. To imply that all these changes are unusual and related to these negotiations is disingenuous. Perhaps a little introspection by the union leadership is also in order.
(5) "3 Saucon Valley School Board members have charter school affiliations. Saucon Valley spent $946,930 in 2011-2012 ($245,930 OVER budget) and budgeted $830,000 in 2012-2013 on charter school tuition."
This is misleading and totally irrelevant to the negotiations.
(a) The board has no control over the number of students who choose to attend charter school.
(b) The board has no control over the tuition that the charter school bills the district.
(c) The board has no choice but to pay the bills received for charter school students.
(6) "Saucon Valley School District has spent almost 150,000 taxpayer dollars in legal fees this school year."
This is another case of the union tying to use a number out of context and without taking a hard look at itself.
(a) These negotiations have dragged for 2 1/2 years and the board is obliged to have legal representation as a steward of public funds. The cost is indeed high over such a long time period.
(b) To this point the union also has legal representation at a similar cost, but which is paid by the PSEA.
(c) The state PSEA has a staff with hundreds of millions of revenue to support the actions of the union team at the bargaining table, against which the board must compete at taxpayer expense.
(7) "How long have the teachers been working without a contract?"
Using a counter for the number of days we have been negotiating tries to shift the focus from the obvious question of why the union three times rejected the Fact Finder compromise that the union requested and that the board approved. The Fact Finder report was issued in November 2013. It is now April 2014.
C. The Our Saucon campaign site goes on to make these statements that require close scrutiny for accuracy and objectivity.
(8) "Some Board members believe there is no value in an Elementary School teacher having more than a Master’s Degree, yet one of the most important issues in educational research today is Early Childhood Education."
This is an attempt to falsely link three issues - (a) the importance of early childhood education, (b) teacher professional development, and (c) teacher post-masters graduate study.
The board has warmly welcomed Dr. Scott of NCCC to address this issue of early childhood education. As to the question of how best to prepare our pre-K teachers, it is surprising the union would link this to graduate study, given our history in this area of low quality courses and inefficient programs. The board analysis has shown an ongoing cost to the district of more than $500,000 per year of salary, in addition to the wasted tuition payments.
(9) "Some Board members believe that graduate courses do not provide “return on the investment,” yet Saucon Valley High School scored a 94.7 on the PA School Performance Profile for the 2012/2013 school year. This was the HIGHEST score in both Northampton and Lehigh Counties."
These data for the revised testing format in 2013 are in fact correct. However, let us not be too quick to declare success in light of our more substantial testing data for 2007-12.
In the old test results, our district score was in the lower half of Lehigh Valley and State testing results for Reading, Math, Science, and Writing, despite spending in the upper 10% of all local and state school districts.
(10) "Some Board members believe that teachers have not been concerned with the financial interest of the taxpayers, yet in the past 10 years teacher salaries have been frozen 4 times."
We have three components of our salary increase every year - cost of living, annual longevity salary increases, and salary increases from graduate study. Every year, each teacher may not get all three components, but it is rare that at teacher would get only two, and very rare that a teacher would get only one. Our historical individual increase is more than 5% per year, and for some teachers it can be more than 10% in a year.
Unlike every other employee group in the district, the teachers union did not accept the voluntary 2012-13 wage freeze, choosing instead to bring that to the negotiations as a "concession."
(11) "Some Board members feel that the teachers work only during their contracted hours. Yet before and after school, teachers are grading papers, preparing lesson plans, contacting parents, researching new educational trends, reading professional journals, etc"
Our teachers work a 7.5 hour day in the contract, usually with 5 hours of classroom student contact. There is extra pay and stipend for a large amount of staff activity that takes place outside the 7.5 hour day or the 190 day year.
(12) "On Tuesday, January 14th, the Saucon Valley School Board approved a 3% raise for many of the essential employees in the district. This 1-year contract is retroactive to the beginning of the 2013-14 school year and expires at the end of this year.
This is a good (but frustratingly short) contract for employees that devote their time and efforts into making Saucon Valley a better place for our community
Now if only teachers were equally compensated for their efforts, we'd really have something."
This two year negotiation with the union has tied the school board's hands with respect to the other employee groups, since most of the terms of employment have links to the unsettled teacher's contract. The board can not obtain more than one-year agreements with the other employee groups, despite the unfairness to these employees.
In addition, had the teachers' union accepted the Fact Finder's agreement, the average salary increase over the four-year period from 2012-16 (including the district-wide 2012-13 wage freeze year) would have been in excess of 2.5% per year. This compares exceptionally well to the private sector over this same four- year period.