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