Friday, August 31, 2012

Board President calls for referendum to void CBA

Neshaminy School Board President Ritchie Webb issued the following statement in response to last night’s NFT press release which included information about a confidential meeting with a Bucks County judge earlier in the day:

“When I read the latest NFT press release, quite frankly I was shocked.

NFT leadership has shown no respect for our community, our students, or its own membership, and now they have disrespected a Bucks County court. Judge Baldi requested a meeting yesterday with the attorneys in his chambers without board members or union reps present, just the attorneys from both sides.

It is my understanding that anything said in Judge’s chambers is confidential and privileged information, and certainly is not to appear in a press release several hours after the meeting.

Once again the NFT has shot itself in the foot, and any assistance Judge Baldi could have given to these negotiations has been severely compromised, in our opinion, as a direct result of the NFT releasing these details.

NFT attorney Tom Jennings showed a total lack of discretion and respect for the court by publishing a private conversation occurring in Judge Baldi’s chambers.

This serves as a perfect example of what is wrong in Neshaminy. We have a rogue union who, in our estimation, is led by a rogue attorney, and an NFT president who shows no respect and will do and say anything, including using Judge Baldi to get what they want.

The answer to Neshaminy’s problems does not rest with a Bucks County Judge but rather in Harrisburg.

We are getting very close to an unsolvable impasse and I believe that a public referendum that would allow the taxpayers of Neshaminy to void the current contract is the only solution.

Out of respect for Judge Baldi and his court, I will not comment on what I was told had occurred in his chambers. I do want to emphasize that William Gross, the Director of Bureau of Mediation for our State, has attended our negotiation sessions previously and is welcomed by the Board to attend in the future.”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Board to NFT: 15% H/C contributions will allow for salary and step increases

Negotiation Meeting #49, August 30, 2012

The Board incorporated the twelve items tentatively agreed to on August 29th into an updated proposal, a copy of which will be placed on the district's negotiations website in a few days.

The Board once again asked the NFT, through the mediator, to contribute fifteen percent towards their healthcare premium. This is the same amount that our custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, etc., pay towards healthcare. A fifteen percent healthcare premium contribution allows the district to offer both salary and step "educations credits" in the amount of $3.2 million, which the Board would be willing to do.

We hope the NFT leadership will consider the welfare of their members and work with the Board on this request.

The two parties never met face to face, but through the mediator.

The next meeting is September 06, 2012 at 6:00 pm.

Board President disappointed by Union Leader’s “waste of time” comment

Reacting to last night’s NFT press release in which Union President Louise Boyd referred to yesterday’s negotiations as a “waste of the NFT's time,” Ritchie Webb issued this brief statement:

“Considering that more was accomplished last night than in the previous four years, I believe Ms. Boyd has done a great disservice to our negotiations by derailing some important progress both sides achieved.

The twelve items agreed to from the Arbitrator’s award included some significant concessions by the Board, and for the very first time since talks began in 2008, we have a partial, tentative agreement over some key issues.

After these items were agreed to, the Board then decided to offer a new Rx proposal that was even more generous than what the NFT had originally requested. This was followed by the NFT modifying its offer for employee health care contributions.

Admittedly these are baby steps in what will be a long journey to a resolution, but I am baffled why Ms. Boyd would downplay what happened. Are union leaders so intent on building the case for a strike that they won’t acknowledge positive developments to their own rank and file?

Given Ms. Boyd’s inappropriate behavior at Tuesday’s public board meeting, and now her refusal to acknowledge last night’s accomplishments, I have to wonder why she even bothers showing up for negotiations.

For the sake of our students, parents and taxpayers, I hope union officials show up for tonight’s meeting with a more positive, can-do approach.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Some Progress but Still Far Apart

Negotiation Meeting #48, August 29, 2012
The Board submitted a new proposal regarding the twelve points from the Arbitrator's award. The Board is pleased to report that we did reach a tentative agreement on these items that was signed by both parties.

The Board proposed a new Rx plan, 5/25/30, which would lower the cost employees pay for their prescriptions. Our previous proposal was 5/30/50 plan.  The NFT had proposed 10/25/30.

The Board had previously agreed to a customized health plan that the NFT had chosen, which was contingent upon the NFT contributing 15% towards health care premiums. This would have been a major concession on the part of the Board, however it became a moot point when the NFT countered with an 8% contribution on ratification, and 8%, 8.5%, 9% in subsequent years, all fixed rates.

The NFT also made it known that their proposal for retro pay and retirement benefits has not changed.
The parties never met face-to-face, and remain very far apart on all financial issues.
The next meeting is August 30, 2012 6:00 pm.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Update from Meeting #47

The meeting began at 6:35pm

The Board and NFT met in separate rooms as the Mediator shuttled back and forth. The NFT submitted a rewritten proposal of the Arbitrator’s award regarding the twelve items both parties had previously agreed to. Unfortunately the wording was significantly different from the original arbitrator’s wording, and the Board was unable to agree.

At the suggestion of the Mediator, Mr. Cairns, the meeting ended at 8:00pm. He asked both sides to review past proposals for any common ground, and to return to the next negotiation session on August 29, 2012, with an open mind.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Board's Offer for More Sessions

The following email from Ritchie Webb to Louise Boyd, sent on Monday, August 13, 2012, extends the Board's offer for more frequent negotiations to the NFT with the provision that NFT attorney Tom Jennings be present at future sessions in his role as lead negotiator. This email was submitted to Judge Baldi during Tuesday's hearing (8/14/2012) to demonstrate the Board's willingness to continue negotiations in good faith.

Dear Ms. Boyd:

​​As you are very well aware there has been an extraordinary amount of energy expended by the NFT, including multiple court filings seeking more bargaining.  The idea of “more is better” is sometimes correct.  The District does not necessarily believe that to be the case in these negotiations because a settlement could take place quickly if the NFT had a sincere desire to address the District concerns.  However, in order to give NFT a major opportunity to deliver a settlement the District advises you as follows. Our Board and Negotiation Team has agreed to allow Mr. Sweet, it’s chief negotiator, effective immediately, to make himself available for every day, all day bargaining . The remainder of the Neshaminy Board negotiation team in this intensive bargaining process is committed to attending as many bargaining sessions as possible within the constraints placed on each of its members by jobs and other commitments.
                    You are assured that Mr. Sweet continues to have authority, subject to a final public vote by the Board, to reach a tentative agreement on behalf of the District. Mr. Sweet will be in constant contact with the District negotiating team, updating it on the progress of negotiations much as we do now, when a member is absent due to work, commitments or illness.  

                  The only condition the District places on starting this process is that the NFT commit to Mr. Jennings’ participation for the entire length of each bargaining session. With due respect to Mr. Gelman, who has replaced Mr. Jennings at numerous sessions, Mr. Jennings has been the chief negotiator for the NFT throughout the entire negotiations.  As we enter this critical phase of bargaining, the District believes his committed presence at all sessions is crucial to the success of the process.​
​The District has decided to accept the NFT’s request for intensive bargaining because it is attempting to create the best environment it can for a successful resolution to these negotiations.  The District can only assume, since the NFT is clamouring for these intensive bargaining sessions that it has proposals to make to address the District’s needs in these negotiations.
​Please confirm the NFT’s commitment to this process with the single condition noted above and have Mr. Jennings contact Mr. Sweet as soon as possible so that dates for bargaining can be scheduled immediately.  While it would be the District’s preference to have the Mediator in attendance at each session, Mr. Sweet is prepared to meet without the Mediator in the event he is not available.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Note of Thanks

I don't think I can ever find the words to properly thank our community for the unwavering support it has shown this Board throughout our negotiations with the NFT.  This afternoon's hearing at the Bucks County Courthouse is a perfect example of your commitment to Neshaminy.

Imagine my surprise as I'm walking to the courthouse, and I come upon a group of 18 residents who took time off from their jobs to participate in a rally of support, undaunted by the threat of severely inclement weather.  Most of these residents joined us in the courtroom, which made the judge's ruling in the Board's favor all the more gratifying.

Whether you attended today's rally, or come to school board meetings, or voice your opinion on social media pages, your support means more to us than you can possibly know.

On behalf of the entire School Board, I thank all of you!


Ritchie Webb

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NFT Creates "Toxic Atmosphere"

Meeting # 46, Neshaminy Contract Negotiations Update

The meeting began at 6:35pm.

The negotiation session went as expected. The NFT had no intention of negotiating in good faith, instead putting all their hope in a Bucks County judge to negotiate for them.

At the negotiating table, NFT Lead Negotiator, Tom Jennings, continued to create a toxic atmosphere that was not conducive to productive negotiations.  It is the Board's position that videotaping of the sessions would produce some results and eliminate the hostile atmosphere.

Before the meeting ended, the NFT requested updated employee numbers since we have layed off some certified staff and cut programs.  The NFT apparently feels entitled to any savings as a result of staff attrition.

We are disturbed by the NFT's lack of commitment to these negotiation sessions.  The Board already agreed to reschedule yesterday's meeting to today at the request of Mr. Jennings.  Tonight he requested for the second time to move a scheduled meeting, this time from August 15th to August 16th.  When asked for a reason why the change was needed, Mr. Jennings refused to answer.   It was only due to the strong encouragement of the Mediator that the Board agreed to accommodate this second request.

The next meeting will be held next Thursday, August 16, 2012. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

NFT Again Seeks Judge's Intervention

Earlier today we learned that the NFT filed a request with Judge Robert Baldi seeking his intervention in our contract impasse. While I am not surprised by this move, I am disappointed by the hypocrisy of union negotiators as they claim it is the School Board that is not negotiating in good faith.

The last proposal from the NFT would have cost us over $21 million in the first year alone! That increase is more than 12 times the taxing authority we are currently afforded under Act 1. Even if we raised taxes to the Act 1 limit, we would still fall short by nearly $20 million. We could slash every nonessential curriculum program in business, music and art, and still we wouldn’t have enough money.

As if the costs of the NFT offer aren’t daunting enough, the union doesn’t even want to acknowledge the staggering $100+ million jump in Neshaminy’s PSERS contributions** over the next 10 years.

Recent actions by the union negotiation team demonstrate they have no desire to help us achieve an affordable, sustainable contract. Lead negotiator, attorney Tom Jennings, has missed 4 of the last 5 negotiation sessions. And NFT President, Louise Boyd, admitted on Facebook that she arbitrarily skipped a recent session because she didn’t like how the meeting was progressing.

The NFT can complain all they want that the Board is being inflexible because when it comes to our students, we are inflexible. The bottom line here is simple and clear – we are trying to preserve, if not improve, our educational programs; the NFT’s contract demands will decimate them.

When you consider all the financial and educational concerns confronting Neshaminy, it’s quite obvious which side isn’t negotiating in good faith. The Board is trying to save a school district. The NFT is trying to protect the status quo.


Ritchie Webb

(**) Currently the State reimburses school districts for 50% of their PSERS contributions, however that contribution is subject to change or even elimination.