Last night the school board voted 8-1 to approve the Fact Finder’s report. The UCFEA approved the same report last week. As result, the two sides have effectively agreed to the terms of a new four-year contract, covering the period July 1, 2015 to June 30 2019. (More info on the Fact Finding process, under the PA Labor Relations Board, is here),
(I expect more information will be released on the District’s website soon, including the full fact finder report, which, under the Byzantine laws and regulations of Pennsylvania, could not be released to the public prior to the board vote.)
I have reproduced below my full remarks delivered at the board meeting. The short version:
- The compensation provided to our teachers is affordable within the taxation limits of Act 1
- By approving this agreement, we can turn our energy toward initiatives to further improve our schools
- Although the settlement is more generous than might be necessary, it is a fair compromise
First, I would like to thank the Board’s negotiating team, Mr. Dupuis, Mr. Lindner, and Mr. Knauss. Your conduct during the negotiations has been professional, respectful, and admirable. You have led the board and the community very capably.
I would add my thanks to Mr. Cochrane for his able financial analysis, providing the board with solid information to support our decision-making.
Article III, Section 14 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution, requires that: “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” The commonwealth has delegated this responsibility to 500 local school. So it is our job to provide for a thorough and efficient Unionville Chadds Ford School District.
In evaluating this contract, how do we balance these two objectives … provide the best for our students, while also being disciplined, careful, and efficient with our community’s resources?
We must balance multiple interests, because the contract proposal before us effects not just teachers, but tax payers and students. Indirectly, it potentially impacts the compensation of the rest of our employees. As board members, we have a responsibility to consider all stakeholder interests and arrive at the best total solution for all.
In deciding how to vote, I have tried to answer three questions:
- Is the proposed compensation for our teachers too high, too low, or just right?
- Is this contract affordable within Act 1?
- What is the impact on students?
- Is the compensation we are offering below, at, or above market?
The compensation of our teachers that is proposed in the Fact Finder’s report is, in my opinion, a generous package. Why do I think this?
- At UCF, our pay scale is already higher than at 95% of the districts in the state of Pennsylvania. And within Chester County, our pay scale puts us firmly in the Top Quartile (see prior analysis here).
- Our benefits are comparable (see prior analysis here).
- And we also offer a great work environment: competent and engaged colleagues, reasonable job autonomy, orderly and safe schools, great facilities, competent administrators, a supportive and engaged community, and kids who (for the most part) come to school ready to learn.
So our compensation is very competitive. That’s the first reason I think the package is generous.
Employees everywhere also send their employer messages about pay every day … not with their words (all employees want a raise and will make a case for why they deserve it) but with their actions. When compensation is not competitive, employees go down the street and get a better deal. In the US labor market, voluntary resignations far exceed layoffs month in and month out, because of this very fact: employees are always testing the waters.
If our pay was not competitive, we would have a hard time retaining our experienced teachers, a hard time filling open positions, or both. We have neither problem today, thank goodness.
So retention and recruiting success also tells me that our total package is very good. That’s the second reason I think the package is generous.
Finally, we can compare compensation increases to general wage increases in the economy. The average teacher will receive a 3.25% annual increase under this contract. Some less, and some more. But 3.25% is a better increase than most companies are giving their employees. That’s the third reason I think the package is generous.
So on the first question, my conclusion is that our pay is somewhat above market today, and the contractual increase that sits before us is a bit higher than it needs to be to keep our talented teachers and to attract new ones. So on the first point, this contract is not the best we could do in fulfilling our responsibility to our taxpayers – being efficient.
- Is this contract affordable within Act 1?
Broadly speaking, this proposed contract is affordable within Act 1. As some of my colleagues have pointed out, there may be challenges in Year 1 of the next contract – the 2019 contract.
But for the next four years, the District’s analysis shows that we can absorb the cost increases of this contract and still meet all of our financial obligations without cutting any programs, assuming normal economic conditions.
So the Fact Finder contract meets this important test – we can afford this contract within Act 1. But I don’t want to gloss over the risks: A 4 year contract means less ability to adjust if there is an economic downturn.
So the contract does pass my second test – Act 1 affordability.
- What is the impact on students?
The contract has little direct impact on students. But approval of this contract may give our teachers a little extra boost of energy and perhaps a sense of relief and fewer distractions.
More importantly, there are several district initiatives “on hold”, awaiting settlement of the contract. Those initiatives could help us improve our schools, and we will need teacher energy and engagement if they are to succeed. More progress can be made on these initiatives with a contract than without. And the sooner we get after those improvements, the better it will be for future students.
On Balance, my conclusion is that the fact finder recommendations are acceptable.
- It is affordable under Act 1
- Approval now allows us to redirect our energy toward improving our schools
- However, pay is higher than it needs to be, and the contract does create risk, especially if economic conditions change
Could we have done better? Yes, but the contract is acceptable. I understand and respect those who will vote no. But I will vote YES.
I would like to take a moment to make a few final comments.
What are we all about here at Unionville Chadds Ford?
- This board takes very seriously our duty to provide a thorough and efficient education for every student in this district. Our job is to make sure this district delivers a high-quality education to every student, and that it is done in the most cost-effective way possible. We must preserve this great district by keeping standards up and expenses down. That is the Unionville way, and it is working.
- Our teachers must have a competitive package of salary, benefits, and work environment. As should our other district employees and contractors. We can do that. This is Unionville.
- I and the rest of the board have great respect for the professionals across UCF — our teachers, our support staff, our administrators, our contractors. You each play an important role in the lives of our students, and will collectively have a lasting impact on them. Remember that we are all on the same team, serving our students. Principals, teachers, support staff. Board members. One team. The Unionville team.
- At times during the last months I have been disappointed not by the opposing viewpoints expressed, but by the tone of criticisms, and the occasional lack of civility and courtesy, especially online. I get that this is an emotional topic. But we can meet a higher standard. This is Unionville.
- Finally, I would encourage our community to redirect its energy back to our students. Think about all the energy you would have spent mobilizing and lobbying. Let’s direct that energy toward new initiatives and innovation in our classrooms. Let’s work together to improve student learning and wellness, keep improving the school climate, and to embrace the opportunities presented by technology? I hope our teachers will keep coming to board meetings to lending their expertise. Let’s work together hand-in-hand, to make our school system the best around – providing the highest quality education, and doing it with the highest level of efficiency. Let’s be world class. That’s the Unionville our community wants. And the Unionville that our students deserve.