During the last meeting between representatives from the Neshaminy School Board and the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT), it was agreed that the union would turn over to the district its entire collection of supplementary covenants to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
More commonly referred to as “side letters” or MOU’s (memorandum of understanding), these agreements have long been a source of controversy in Neshaminy because they were arrangements between the NFT and district administration, almost all of them without school board knowledge or approval. In many cases, these MOU’s obligated the district to abide by some extreme policies with far reaching operational and economic implications.
Some of the more infamous agreements include the $27,500 retirement perk, and the insurance opt-out compensation plan. There are many MOU’s out there, many of which the district had lost track of. But what the NFT recently revealed came as a complete surprise to the members of the school board – an accumulation of 201 MOU’s.
While some of the agreements are fairly trivial in nature, others are counterproductive and unreasonable. Several notable examples are:
• Security badges for teachers – a prudent security measure – can be encouraged, but not required
• The district cannot “demand or coerce” the teachers to complete performance assessments, which help the district assess the students’ grasp of curriculum while providing program effectiveness data, but rather the completion of such assessments could only be encouraged
• The insurance and dental opt-out programs, which compensate employees 37% of premium costs if they do not participate in the district’s insurance plans, are extended to retirees
• A retiring or terminated teacher under the age of 55 who withdraws money from their Neshaminy investment program will receive from the district an amount equal to the 10% early withdrawal penalty imposed by the IRS
School board president, Ritchie Webb, expressed his concern about the impact the many MOU’s have on teacher accountability and student achievement.
“Years ago, Neshaminy adopted an educational philosophy known as the Essential Elements of Instruction. Now I ask you to consider the very first word of that phrase – Essential. However, one of the MOU’s says that while EEI has been effective, teachers are concerned about the prospect of EEI’s practices becoming a basis for observation and evaluation. The MOU goes on to say that EEI practices will not be used as part of teacher observations.”
Webb continued, “This contradicts the philosophy of sound education – we find out what is essential and then hold no one accountable to it.”
The board plans on making all 201 MOU’s available to the public as soon as a thorough internal review has been completed. In the meantime, Mr. Webb is drafting a board motion which, if approved, would forbid such agreements in the future without board approval.
“Council Rock had only a few side agreements to their CBA,” Webb noted, “and those are being incorporated into their contract.”
Webb went on to say that he was “greatly disappointed” by previous district administrators for making such agreements without the board’s knowledge. “For reasons I cannot comprehend, our administrators feel like they have to walk into every meeting with the NFT waiving a white flag of surrender,” Webb said.
Webb summarized his feelings of the MOU’s by saying, “This is why union officials are refusing to give up on past practices as a contract demand. They say it’s because past practice is fair, and it somehow benefits our students. But one glance at some of these side agreements proves beyond any reasonable doubt that past practice exists solely for the benefit of the union, often to the detriment of the district and our children.”
Mr. Webb emphasized the importance of eliminating past practice by saying, “We now have a dynamic superintendent in place with the vision and ability to lead our district forward, and this board will not saddle him with a teachers’ contract that stifles progress.”
Webb concluded, “It should be obvious to the union that the board can never agree to past practice, which is the last major obstacle to a new teachers’ contract. The time has come for NFT officials to let their members vote on the board’s offer, and they should do so immediately before the board votes in May to take salary increases for the current school year off the table permanently. Sadly, union officials aren’t showing any sense of urgency in giving their membership a real voice concerning the board’s offer.”
Click here to see the Side Letter Agreements cited in Mr. Webb's statement