Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Board, NFT reach tentative contract agreement

School Board President Ritchie Webb released this statement just moments ago . . .

I am very pleased to report that there is a tentative settlement in the 5 year contract impasse with the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT).

The deal between the two parties is essentially the same proposal that has been on the table since December 2012 with the addition of some contract language changes.

The recent board vote to remove teacher raises for the 2012/2013 school year from our offer is temporarily suspended since the NFT notified us prior to May 31st of their intention to vote on our proposal.

Union officials will be bringing the proposal to their membership for a vote in the coming days. After the NFT has held its vote and assuming it passes, the School Board will release the proposal to the public so that they have ample opportunity to review the details.

A special public meeting is being scheduled tentatively for June 13th, at which time the Board will field questions and comments from residents prior to a vote on ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement.

While the proposal is awaiting formal approval from both parties, I would like to extend my sincerest appreciation to union officials for working with us around the clock over the holiday weekend to bring a possible end to this impasse.

Ritchie Webb
Neshaminy School Board President

Friday, May 10, 2013

Webb encourages NFT to follow Pennsbury lead, allow members to vote

Earlier today, Neshaminy School Board President, Ritchie Webb, commented that he was pleased to see that the Pennsbury Teachers’ contract situation has been resolved.

“I remain hopeful that NFT officials will follow the lead of the Pennsbury union leaders and allow their teachers to vote for the proposal that’s on the table,” said Webb. “Depriving their own members of a true vote is a disservice that serves nobody except those in power who will do anything to protect that power.”

The Pennsbury school board approved a new contract following a state-appointed fact finder’s recommendations that Webb referred to as “remarkably fair.” He added that previous fact finder reports for Neshaminy “seemed to ignore the financial and educational needs of our district.”

Responding to comments from a Federation official earlier this week about the many memorandums of understanding (MOU’s) that the board does not want to include in a new agreement, Mr. Webb noted that the last contract is a lengthy 78 pages long but that amount is dwarfed by nearly 400 pages worth of these MOU’s.

“An NFT official said she wants to sit down and go over 112 of the 201 MOU’s they want to keep, one by one. My reaction is that I have zero interest in understanding the union’s desire to keep remnants of an outdated contract that didn’t work for the district,” said Webb. “We are looking to move this district into the future where collaboration is the result of a commitment to excellence, not because our administration’s hands are tied by burdensome contract language.”

Webb added that both Pennsbury and Council Rock had only “several” MOU’s to be negotiated into their new agreements.

When asked why NFT officials have not allowed their members to vote on the current offer, Webb said, “I don’t know why union leaders keep saying they can’t let a vote occur when what they should be saying is they won’t allow a vote. With most of the financial and student related issues already addressed, most of what remains are the “power” language issues that the majority of the teachers don’t really care about. Federation leaders know that if given a legitimate chance to vote, the rank and file would more than likely accept the board’s offer.”

As for the fate of the board’s offer, Webb said that they’ll keep it on the table for a while in hopes the NFT will come around.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

New negotiation format yields same results

It has been a while since you have heard anything about negotiations with the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers, so I wanted to bring you up-to-date where things stand.

Our last official negotiation session, which was our 68th meeting thus far, took place nearly 3 months ago back on February 13th.

At that time, the board restated its belief that its offer on the table was fair both in terms of its financial compensation and in its contractual language, and we encouraged union leaders to put that offer to a true vote before its membership.

Regrettably, such a vote has never occurred as NFT officials insisted that some of the language needed to be clarified or altered. The situation became even more complicated with the revelation that there were 201 MOU’s out there that had become addendums to our teachers’ contract, and of course, the concept of past practice arguably makes those MOU’s binding today.

After a couple of months with no formal discussions between our two sides, both the NFT and board decided to try something a little different. We agreed that NFT Vice President, Anne Schmidt and I would meet privately to discuss the issues that were hindering our negotiations.

Now before I go any further, let me stress that these meetings between Ms. Schmidt and me were conducted with the full knowledge of the board’s negotiation team. At no time was I empowered to act independently of the board. For all intents and purposes, Ms. Schmidt and I were simply talking.

This isn’t exactly a new tactic as we have had alternative style meetings in the past. On one occasion several years ago I met with the NFT president, Louise Boyd. And on other occasions, our attorneys met independently. Unfortunately those meetings did not yield any significant results, but then again we did not have a viable framework for an agreement on the table as we now have.

Ms. Schmidt and I have met a total of 4 times, most recently last night. The meetings have been civil and professional, and we have cleared a path for resolving some of the points of disagreement between our two sides such as student class size, and the long term sub pool.

The NFT, through Ms. Schmidt, asked us to consider changes to the contract language which covered 38 clauses of the board’s proposal. In turn, we asked the NFT to revisit the list of 201 MOU’s to assess which ones they deemed were absolutely essential.

After a thorough review with our solicitor and superintendent, we were prepared to accept changes to a little less than half of the 38 clauses that the NFT asked us to reconsider. Unfortunately when I reported this to Ms. Schmidt last night, she conveyed that the limit of our concessions was not acceptable by NFT standards, and that the Federation would make no further concessions. She strongly recommended that the board accept ALL of the language changes requested by the union.

As far as the 201 MOU’s are concerned, the NFT would only acknowledge that 89 of them were outdated, meaning that 112 of the remaining MOU’s were deemed essential.

I had little choice at this point but to inform Ms. Schmidt that the board could not accept all the contract language changes and the 112 MOU’s that they demanded. Regrettably this brought an abrupt end to the talks between Ms. Schmidt and me. No further meetings have been scheduled.

I do want to acknowledge Anne Schmidt’s efforts and willingness to speak with me these past few weeks, but ultimately it was the mountain of MOU’s and the threat of past practice that doomed us.

Our offer remains on the table even though union leaders continue to deny their members a legitimate vote on the matter. Most of the financial issues have been settled. Virtually all of the student-related issues, such as class size, have been worked out. What we cannot come to an agreement on is who is in charge of running this school district. The board will not accept contract language that in any way compromises or diminishes the decision-making authority of our administration.

By our next public meeting on May 22nd, the board will have withdrawn officially its offer for teachers’ salary increases for the current school year, 2012/2013. Another year’s worth of increases will have been lost forever. That is, unless officials from the NFT do the right thing by their people and allow them a real vote on the board’s proposal.

If the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers doesn’t accept our offer within the next two weeks, then unfortunately it appears likely that our impasse will extend into the next school year. So all any of us can do is continue to ask that our teachers be given a prompt vote by their union.

As always, we will continue to keep the public informed of any developments in the negotiations. And once again, on behalf of all 9 members of your Neshaminy school board, I want to convey our sincere gratitude to the community for its overwhelming support during these difficult times.

Thank you.

Ritchie Webb
Neshaminy School Board President